Long-time meat industry veteran Earl J. Skahill has enjoyed a 44-year career that has seen him manage beef and cattle feeding operations in the Midwest, open export offices in Asia, establish several export “firsts,” and found his own meat distribution company in Colorado.
Now, more than four decades after starting his career in his family’s cattle feeding business, Skahill is adding the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s Distinguished Service Award to his extensive resume. The award is presented to members of the industry who have worked with special dedication for the industry and the federation and have shown outstanding leadership and contributions in the achievement of USMEF’s export goals.
“I am very proud of this award, and proud that it’s coming from USMEF,” said Skahill. “Exporting was the highlight of my whole career. I enjoyed it more than running meat packing and processing plants or any of the many other things I’ve done in this industry.”
After graduating from Marquette University, Skahill managed his family’s cattle feeding business after his father passed away before joining Dubuque Packing Company as manager of lamb and cattle feeding operations. Over his 18 years with Dubuque Packing, Skahill learned the business from the inside out, managing the variety meat and hide operations, managing slaughter and fabrication plants in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa before overseeing all production at seven plants throughout the Midwest.
Skahill’s exposure to the international market started in 1968 when he added international sales to his resume, introducing Dubuque products to Europe and Japan as well as much of the Pacific Rim. He lists among his most proud accomplishments his introduction of Certified Angus Beef (CAB) to Japan (Victoria Station – alongside USMEF-Japan’s Susumu Harada) and Taiwan (Grand Hotel in Taipei), along with expanding CAB business in South Korea and Thailand.
From Dubuque Packing, where Skahill achieved the title of executive vice president and assistant to the president, he moved to Gerber Agri-Export, a South African company with 18 international offices. There, as senior vice-president, he introduced Gerber into the Asian market before he acquired Gerber’s Denver office in 1995. He has grown that single office into a three-office company, Meat Specialty of Colorado, which sells beef, pork and other products throughout the Southwest.
Over the course of his 44-year career, Skahill has seen many changes in the meat industry, none more significant than the evolution of the beef industry from selling carcasses to boxed beef. That is closely followed by the expansion of beef exports to Japan from frozen to chilled.
“Early on, Australia was way ahead of the U.S. industry in terms of shelf life, getting 90 days to 30 or 40 for the U.S.,” said Skahill, who studied the fresh chilled beef program at the Beef City plant in Australia. “Expanding the shelf life and our ability to ship chilled beef to Japan is what’s responsible for the huge amount of beef we export today.”
The Distinguished Service Award doesn’t mark the conclusion of Skahill’s career, just another landmark along the way. Skahill intends to continue running Meat Specialty of Colorado and managing his ranch in Texas. And one of his three sons, Mike, vice president of international sales for Smithfield Foods, helps to carry on the family’s passion for meat exports.
“I want to work every day,” said this year’s award-winner. “I enjoy it. It’s what keeps me going.”