CHICAGO — Change is fast in every area of today’s meat and poultry industry. But when industry execs look in the mirror, do they see the best of times or worst of times, asked Phil Clemens, chairman and chief executive officer of Hatfield Quality Meats, Hatfield, Pa. He posed this question during a general session presentation titled "Embracing Change," at the 2009 Meat Industry Management Conference in Chicago, sponsored by the North American Meat Processors Association.

Mr. Clemens pointed out in 1979 there were four major pork companies in the U.S.: Swift, Armour, Wilson and Morrell. Today, the leading pork companies have totally changed and include Smithfield, Tyson, JBS USA, Hormel and Cargill Meat Solutions.

"What happened to the top players of 30 years ago?" Mr. Clemens asked. He said that unless businesses embrace change, they would become "a statistic."

"(Hatfield) would have been a statistic if we didn’t change," he added. "Many businesses in the past refused to change and they couldn’t survive. Change is hard, but you have to have complete control and take responsibility for your choices."

Mr. Clemens asked attendees if their companies keep long-time employees and vendors who no longer do their jobs. "They see entitlement; you see loyalty," he said to those who might.

"The biggest obstacle of change is you," he said. "Embrace change. Control what you can. Keep your values and integrity. You must also know what won’t change in your business and communicate this."

Change can be evolutionary or revolutionary. "(Hatfield Quality Meats) has always been a profitable company," Mr. Clemens said. "Our goal has been to be twice as profitable as our competitors."

But he explained there were years in the not too distant past that despite increasing sales year after year profits remained the same. As a result, in 2000 Hatfield made several revolutionary changes including changing its board of directors (which included members of the family who owns Hatfield), bringing in outsiders to replace these board members and retiring some long-time employees who weren’t doing their jobs, among other things.

"Over the last eight years, (Hatfield) has seen evolutionary change," he said. "We hired only forward-looking people and we are challenging management to be the best it can be."

Change is hard but a way of life and requires being proactive; encouraging others to be "change leaders", rewarding those who help change the business and employing "a maverick or two" who are willing to see and do things differently.

"A maverick works with the organization; a troublemaker works against it — and troublemakers need to go," he added.

"Don’t get stuck in today or yesterday and miss tomorrow. 'We never did it that way before’ is written on the tombstones of many dead businesses," Mr. Clemens said. "This can be the best or worst of times — it’s your choice. Build the foundation for the future. Lead, follow or get out of the way — it’s your choice."

Addressing a question about how swift the industry should move, Mr. Clemens answered: "Do it quickly. You’ll make some mistakes along the way, but admit them when you make them...and move on."

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