A prideful catch
On March 5, a special search committee of the Pilgrim’s Pride board of directors selected Rivers to serve as the company’s president and chief executive officer following the unexpected death of O.B. Goolsby Jr. last December.
Ken Pilgrim, Pilgrim’s Pride chairman and leader of the board subcommittee that conducted the search, explained that Rivers was tapped for the job because he “has the right combination of experience and skills necessary to lead Pilgrim’s Pride into the future.” He also noted that Rivers has played a pivotal role in positioning the company for operational growth throughout his career at the poultry-industry powerhouse. Specifically, Rivers is credited with leading the integration of several large acquisitions, establishing key performance benchmarks at production facilities and finding new ways to operate more efficiently.
And so it is that Rivers, at age 49, is in charge of the administration of the business at the company he joined as a young college graduate with some experience at another small poultry operation. Did he always know the CEO role would be his professional destination while traveling the road of his career? Not hardly.
Listen to his answer:
“I really never thought about that. My attitude has always been to do the job you’ve got, and maybe you will be thought of if there are other opportunities. When people talk to me about their careers, I have always advised them to not worry about their career, but to concentrate on doing the job. If you worry about your career and don’t do your job, you won’t have either one. That is just how I feel about it. I expected O.B. [Goolsby] to be here for a long time; I did not worry about what I would be doing later.”
In this exclusive report, Rivers discusses how he plans to steer Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. through the enormous challenges facing the industry today by capitalizing on the strength of its size and the depth of its business capabilities.
Q: Describe today’s Pilgrim’s Pride.
A:We are a company that has grown rapidly in size and has experienced a great deal of change. To put that in perspective, when I came to work here in 1986, Pilgrim’s Pride had about $360 million in annual sales. I can always remember that because it translated into about $1 million a day. Today, we have sales in excess of $8 billion.
Q: What are the definitive benefits of being a bigger company?
A: Becoming the largest poultry company means there is no capability that we don’t have concerning poultry products â€” fresh and further processed. Our ability to support our customers and develop innovative products is limitless.
Q: You have been in your new position less than a month. Have you made specific operating changes?
A: One of the first things was to look at how we are structured. I saw an opportunity for some changes we might make that would help us divide and conquer. What I mean is we are a large company that needs to be broken down to focus on key aspects of the business. We can group together the plants that have a primary intended customer base and similar processes, and form a team that includes sales, operations and quality assurance. More specifically, the sales force will now be responsible for the entire food chain.
Q: What exactly can your customers expect with these changes?
A:We will not change the face we have with our customers. This is an internal change in reporting structure to better align sales with the group of plants for which they are responsible. It brings together a team of people to oversee all of those aspects â€” the production and the sales for those plants to work more efficiently and more directly.
Q: How do you see the company evolving as you grow into your position?
A: I think what we have to do now as a company is to understand our full capabilities and understand how best to leverage them. The responsibility I have going forward is understanding what those strengths are and what steps are necessary in order for us to take advantage of them. Then, developing a strategy that drives the kind of success we expect to achieve as a company. There is no perfect structure, but you have to determine what structure you believe will give you the best chance of reaching your goals. Aligning the business in a different way allows us to have teams focused on that particular aspect of the business. This will allow us to better identify those strengths and opportunities.
Q: Describe your growth expectations.
A: There is opportunity and room to grow our marketshare from where we are today, which is about 25 percent. There is also potential for international growth. The reality is that given the challenges we are facing with high grain costs, coupled with our size, we have a lot to get our hands around in terms of efficiencies, strategies and plans for maximizing the company we have become. We have much to do in the near future. Looking at what we face â€” especially grain costs â€” our industry needs to change and we need to see a different profit picture. It is tough to focus on growth and acquisitions with the challenges we currently face, but we know that will change.
Q: What are your objectives for ending the next fiscal year coming in September?
A: The first thing on my radar screen is dealing with the immediate challenge we have, which is high costs. That led to the closing of one plant in North Carolina and six distribution centers. We’re continuing to evaluate our operations in an effort to reduce our costs and operate more efficiently. Making these types of decisions immediately is important. Another challenge is getting supply and demand in balance. We have made some adjustments to balance what we see with our sales demand and what we see in the overall industry.
Q: Is there additional restructuring of Pilgrim’s Pride in the forecast?
A:We are trying to organize the company so that the different divisions are able to operate on a day-to-day basis having the authority and the necessary tools so that we are successful. I understand [that] my responsibility, along with the rest of the executive team, is developing strategies and making sure we move in the right direction. This new structure should allow me to use my time more directly to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses â€” see the areas where we can be successful, develop those goals and work toward achieving them.