A star doesn’t have to be the highest one in the sky to draw attention. Some of the newest stars in the solar system burn the brightest.

Lest that sound a bit cliché, one rising star in the industry is, in fact, real proof that the length of one’s career doesn’t necessarily reflect its depth and dedication. Less than two years after earning his master’s degree in meat science from the Univ. of Illinois, Chad Souza, now production manager for Busseto Foods in Fresno, Calif., is well on his way to a successful industry career.

Souza’s potential was evident almost immediately to his college professor and mentor, John Henson, Ph.D., professor of meat science at California State Univ., Fresno. “Chad is without hesitation one of the most talented and driven individuals I have ever worked with,” declares Henson. “I have personally witnessed his superior leadership and astute business qualities in action on several occasions. I work with numerous meat processing companies across the nation in my private consulting business and Chad is easily the most talented young professional I have worked with.”

Rooted in agriculture
Humble about his quickly earned reputation, Souza says his passion for the industry was borne while growing up on his parents’ farm in the agriculturally rich Central Valley region of California. “The agriculture businesses is all I know,” explains Chad, who was active in the Future Farmers of America in high school and won second place in a national meat judging competition as a senior.

He majored in meat science at California State Univ., where he met Henson and gained important experience as head of the school’s meat processing facility. “It opened up a whole new world to me – the creative, artistic and business side of the meat industry -- and it was a unique opportunity,” recalls Souza.

He parlayed that opportunity to a graduate degree at the Univ. of Illinois and later, in a desire to move back to his home state, to his first professional role as production manager at Busseto Foods, with whom he was familiar as an undergraduate. Although his tenure at Busseto Foods is just under two years, Souza says he has learned a lot from company mentors like Italian specialty meat expert Lorenzo Pagani, and puts his own experience and instincts to work on a daily basis.

“They told me they want me to learn absolutely everything, from the most subtle detail to the most complex things about their process. And this is a place where I can use my education, microbiology background and at the same time, learn the American business model,” he notes. At Busseto, he dove headfirst into projects, including R&D work for a launch of a new line of Old World Italian meats.

It has been a rewarding and enriching experience so far, he says, because he strongly believes in the products and processes at Busseto Foods. “Italian specialty meats are where art meets science and science meets art," he notes.
In his (rare) spare time, Souza often goes full circle – from fork to farm – to help out with his family’s farm. He also enjoys spending time with his wife, his high school sweetheart whom he married nearly four years ago.

As for the future, Souza says he will continue to work hard, learn more about the industry and, hopefully down the line, pursue a leadership role as a company president or owner. “We may gripe about the challenges in this industry, but that’s what keeps us coming back for more. I think challenges would be something I’d like to tackle,” he says.

Lynn Petrak is a contributing writer in the Chicago area.