In the February issue of Independent Processor, I gave a brief background about a long-standing Southwest Meat Association’s (SMA) member of 50-plus years, Columbia Packing Co. Columbia Packing is an independent family-owned business, located in Ennis, Texas, approximately 40 miles south of Dallas along Interstate 45. Follow along to a quick Q&A interview with Amber Ondrusek, the first woman president of Columbia Packing Co.

SMA: How long has Columbia Packing Company been in business?

Amber: Columbia Packing has been operating for 110 years, since 1913.  I am the fourth generation to lead the company.

SMA: How long have you been president of the company?

Amber: I have been president of the company for five years. I am honored to lead the company my great-grandfather, Josef Ondrusek, started near downtown Dallas.

SMA: What products are produced at Columbia Packing Co.?

Amber: At Columbia Packing, we are a federally inspected further processing facility. Our main products include smoked ham, smoked bacon, smoked hocks, and smoked neckbones.

SMA: What advice would you give to women pursuing a career in the meat industry?

Amber: Find your squad. Find your advisers, your trusted confidants, and lean in. Consult with people inside and outside of the industry. Remember that everyone has a different viewpoint. Keep in mind there will be conflict, so don’t take it personally. It rarely is about you and more about the situation or other person.

SMA: How has SMA helped you as a woman in the industry?

Amber: Education is a game changer. SMA has various resources for women in the industry including educational sessions, hosting seminars, and peer networking. In this industry, regulatory rules and regulations are constantly changing. It is important to stay updated on all things that could affect your operations. Having a team like SMA to lean on has helped our company stay in business for over 100 years and has assisted me as the first woman president of the company.

SMA: Columbia Packing recently opened a further processing facility in Ennis, Texas, a few years ago. What is your favorite feature of the new establishment?

Amber: If I had to pick just one, it would be layout. Coming from a location that the previous three generations of Ondruseks added on to over time, it is game-changing to have the flow of products and storage.

Columbia Packing Co. is deeply rooted in the meat business -- from the first generation in 1913 to today. Without a doubt, the fifth generation of Ondruseks will soon leave their footprint in the family business.

In my next few articles in Independent Processor, I hope to shed more light on the women in the industry from business owners to food safety and academia. Each year there is an increasing number of women entering the meat industry and taking on leadership roles. SMA’s scholarship program has even shown an influence on females pursuing a degree and career in the industry. From 2020-22, the SMA Scholarship Foundation awarded scholarships to 68%, 78% and 60% women, respectfully. This is an exciting time for our industry.