There is always a heightened level of excitement ahead of walking into the lobby of a processing company’s office or checking in at a plant’s security gate before touring a slaughtering facility or further-processing operation. After months of schedule syncing, agenda setting and confirming airline reservations and lodging arrangements, it all comes down to this. Visiting processing facilities, especially when accompanied by an executive-level company official, is one of the best parts of my job. The perspective of what occurs in a plant at the ground floor, where sights, sounds, chilling temperatures, aromas and sometimes blood are all a part of an experience that can’t be duplicated by attending trade shows, watching videos or reading a brochure.
My latest opportunity to do just that was in late July, when, after months of planning I spent an entire day with Mike Townsley, a meat-industry veteran who is president of BEF Foods, the food-production and distribution division of Bob Evans Farms Inc. We met at the company’s new, $47 million-plus headquarters in New Albany, Ohio.
Through the years, I’ve discovered that accomplished leaders like Mike have an uncanny ability to recall minute details of past events that might seem irrelative to most people. The months and years he started and stopped working at IBP, Smithfield and Premium Standard Farms are forever locked into his memory. He recalls the name of the person he was speaking to on the telephone decades ago when IBP’s boss, Bob Peterson, came to the sales department to congratulate him on his upcoming marriage. It was a Tuesday, by the way; and the name of the person he was speaking to on the phone was Mike.
And despite his executive status and title, Mike Townsley is hardly averse to going into the trenches. In fact he jumped at the chance to show off the fresh sausage plant in Xenia, about an hour’s drive from the headquarters, with me riding shotgun. Having worked on the sales and management side of the business for years, Mike made it his business to know his way around processing plants. Not surprisingly, he can recite production figures and details like average hog weights for his two plants in a given year without blinking. The man who served as co-CEO for Bob Evans just over one year ago, seemed to relish waltzing through the harvesting area where he explained to me the finer points of pre-rigor vs. butcher kill operations at the sow plant.
The plant manager at the Xenia facility, Aaron Eskridge, shares Mike’s passion for the operational side of the business and admitted he has the utmost respect for his boss and is thankful for all that he has learned from him during his three years working at the plant.
After the tour and on the 80-mile ride back to New Albany, Mike resumed telling his fascinating stories about the people and places that have had an impact on the industry and on his role as a leader. Opportunities to observe and listen to people like Mike Townsley and many others, who so graciously share their time and experiences, make me appreciate this industry more each day and I am privileged to tell their stories. Find out more about Townsley, his background and his tenure at Bob Evans in the September issue of MEAT+POULTRY.