KANSAS CITY, MO. – After working at Tyson Foods Inc. for 30 years, Gregg Uecker has been involved in almost every segment of the company’s business and has become a valued leader in many different roles with the company. The senior vice president of operations of Tyson’s Prepared Foods business unit, Uecker’s many achievements in various leadership positions and his reputation as a problem solver and a results-driven operations expert earned him the honor of being awarded MEAT+POULTRY’s Operations Executive of the Year. For the past 11 years, MEAT+POULTRY has presented the award to a proven industry executive in recognition of a career dedicated to pursuing operational excellence and providing leadership while delivering innovative solutions.
Currently, Uecker’s attention is honed on the construction of Tyson’s third, and most technology-rich and automated bacon processing plant in Bowling Green, Ky. Being a part of leading a team designing and building the $355 million, 400,000-square-foot plant is an opportunity he doesn’t take for granted.
“There aren’t too many opportunities in a career that you get to build a brand-new plant from ground zero,” he said, adding that when going through the building process he shared his vision for how the plant will operate well into the future. His philosophy is emblematic of his future-facing career trajectory.
“We aren’t designing the plant for today and today’s processes and today’s problems, we’re designing a plant so that 15 and 20 years from now it is still viable and still highly competitive,” he said.
Uecker’s path to meat and poultry operations excellence started with a major in chemistry coupled with an emphasis in business administration at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. While not the traditional path to processing operations, once in the industry, it made perfect sense.
Uecker never intended to work as a chemist or spend time in a lab. Simply put, he enjoyed the challenge of chemistry, he enjoyed the math and learning about thermodynamics. He enjoyed the science. Most of his chemistry classmates planned to go to medical school or become researchers, but Uecker added the business and entrepreneurial pieces and sought out ways to apply his chemistry degree in those spaces.
“What it did was it really gave me the background for attacking problems in a scientific method,” Uecker said. “I use that today. I’m wired that way. It’s just how it works. So systematic observation, measurements, define an experiment, test it, modify your hypothesis, repeat, and that’s just how it works. And it works for everything, and that’s just kind of how my brain works.”
As the recipient of the 2022 Operations Executive of the Year, the July issue of MEAT+POULTRY will include a cover story highlighting Uecker’s background and chronicling his fascinating career path while providing a glimpse of his approach and motivation to learning and leading during his years at Tyson.