Craig Stearns

IMSE Undergrad Class of 2015

Hormel Foods

What does the company do? Hormel Foods Corporation, based in Austin, Minn., is a global branded food company with over $9 billion in annual revenues across 75 countries worldwide. Its brands include SKIPPY®, SPAM®, Hormel® Natural Choice®, Applegate®, Justin’s®, Wholly Guacamole®, Hormel® Black Label®, and more than 30 other beloved brands.


Current role: Industrial Engineer – Fremont Plant

How I get to my current role:

  • Industrial Engineer                              06/2015 – Present


A day in life of an Industrial Engineer– My job revolves around supporting our operations group and pivoting them to a position of success. My active responsibilities include labor standards, labor cost, capacity analysis, ergonomics, and capital projects. The primary focus is on continuous improvement. Across our company, Industrial Engineers can find themselves in hybrid roles such as purchasing manager, safety manger, and operations relief supervisor. This is especially true in our smaller plants.


New industrial engineers typically start out at our larger facilities where senior IEs can coach the newbies and get them ready to go out to our smaller plants. I am currently surrounded by a team of eight other IEs, one of which is our manager, and two of which are our senior IEs. Other than the manager and senior IEs, our team is relatively young with a few years of age between us all.


Our plant is broken up into departments and when I first started I was fortunate enough to oversee the hog processing and rendering operations. While in hog processing, some of my favorite projects revolved around saving new products. Our sales team would often ask if we could save a certain part of the hog, and it was my responsibility to determine if it was possible and the cost. In my year or so in hog processing, we successfully managed to save new products including thyroids, weasand, and pepsin. My role in these projects was to facilitate a cross functional team and to develop the new process and layouts.


After a year or so in a department, the IEs are typically switched around to learn another aspect of the business. When this switch came, I was given our SPAM® department and this is my current role. It was a complete change of pace to go from processing pigs to making cans of SPAM®. I went from a department with a little under 200 people in it to a department with a little over 20. I also went from a single shift operation to a three shift operation. While processing pigs was a very manual task, making SPAM® is largely automated and most of the jobs revolve around monitoring machines to ensure they stay running. We make cans of SPAM® at a rate of 300 per minute. Most of my projects this year have been centered on improving process controls. As you can imagine, when something goes wrong in our process, a few minutes of producing non-conforming products can be very expensive. An example of a process control project would be the vision inspection that I am just wrapping up. This project takes a picture of every single can of SPAM® and verifies that a code date is placed on the can. While this project sounds relatively simple, the technology used is pretty advanced and overall was a blast to work on.


At Hormel Foods, an Industrial Engineer plays a fairly diverse role. Direction can come from many places, but the end goal is to save/make money. I enjoy the freedom I have in my job and truly feel that I am in control of my own destiny.


Why chose Industrial Engineering? Industrial Engineering has given me the opportunity to play many roles. Somedays I am never at my desk and spend the entire day on the production floor learning or working on projects. Other days I am on the computer researching new cost savings initiatives or developing layouts for new processes. Either way, I feel that Industrial Engineering gives me the flexibility to make my career whatever I please. It surprises me the amount of control I have over what I am working on. I am thankful for this because I do not believe I would be successful if I was required to do the same thing every day.


What’s the end goal? My end goal is to find myself in a senior management position. I have debated on staying at the plant level or heading to corporate office, and this is a decision I have yet to decide on. One thing I realized early on however is that I have a passion for working with people and look forward to the day I get to lead and develop other team members.


Most surprising thing that I didn’t expect coming out of college – I did not expect the level of responsibility or freedom that I would have coming out of college. I had no prior hog processing or SPAM® production experience, yet I have already worked on projects that are valued in the millions. I also largely control what projects I am working on, where I originally expected to be told what to do.

Least favorite thing about corporate – There are times where you can have the best idea, yet politics can come into play and control whether or not that idea is accepted. Sometimes it seems that corporate has a loose understanding about what actually happens at the plants.


My 2 cents – My biggest fear coming out of college was the fear of the unknown. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to do some of the things expected of me, and I quickly learned that this fear was just plain silly. No one expects you to be an expert when you are fresh out of college, and as long as you have the right attitude, you will be just fine.

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