A Prideful Catch

By Barbara Young, Editor-In-Chief

Pilgrim’s Pride’s new chief ends CEO search.

Although he only recently moved into the executive suite at Pilgrim's Pride headquarters in Pittsburg, Texas, Clint Rivers is a proven leader with 21 years of poultry-industry experience and a degree in animal science from a prestigious agricultural university — Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. Rivers seems to be fulfilling the university motto UT Prosim (That I May Serve).
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 — 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 — 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 — especially grain costs — 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 — see the areas where we can be successful, develop those goals and work toward achieving them.
Résumé: Clint Rivers
Education: Bachelor of Science degree in animal science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Va., in 1981.
1981-1986: Quality assurance work leader and microbiologist in the cooked fowl operation at Golden West Foods, Bedford, Va., a further-processing operation producing poultry and breaded vegetables. The company built a new plant during his tenure to produce other further-processed products such as onion rings.
1986-1987: Quality assurance manager in Pilgrim’s Pride’s newly built prepared foods plant in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, for 11¼2 years. During that time he moved from quality assurance into production, overseeing further-processing lines.
1987-1989: A stint at Perdue Farms’ facility in Bridgewater, Va.
1989-present: Rivers returned to Pilgrim’s Pride as plant manager of its Mt. Pleasant, Texas, production facility, the same further-processing plant he left two years prior(1987). His career development from that point paralleled the growth of the company’s prepared-foods business. In 1992, he was promoted to vice president of prepared-foods operations, senior vice president in 1999 and executive vice president in 2002. He was appointed chief operating officer of Pilgrim’s Pride in 2004.
Headquarters: Pittsburg, Texas
President and Chief Executive Officer: J. Clinton Rivers
Annual Revenues: $7.6 billion (fiscal 2007)
Chief Operating Officer: Robert A. Wright
Chief Financial Officer, Secretary and Treasurer: Richard A. Cogdill
Senior Chairman of the Board: Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim (company co-founder)
Chairman of the Board: Lonnie Ken Pilgrim
• Employees: 54,500 (approximately) in U.S. and Mexico
• Production-related operations: 37 chicken processing facilities (34 in the United States, three in Mexico); 36 feed mills; 49 hatcheries; 6,400 chicken growers
• Prepared-foods facilities: 12
• Processing capacity: 45 million birds per week to total 9 billion pounds of poultry per year; 42 million dozen table eggs annually
• Operating locations: Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
• Distribution channels: Foodservice, retail and restaurants throughout the United States and Puerto Rico and in the northern and central regions of Mexico.
Other facts
• Pilgrim’s Pride is the largest chicken company in the United States and Puerto Rico and the second-largest in Mexico. The company currently ranks 432 on the Fortune 500 list of largest U.S. corporations and has been named to Fortune’s list of “America’s Most Admired Companies” six years in a row. In 2007, Forbes listed Pilgrim’s Pride among the “400 Best Big Companies” in America, the sixth time the company has appeared on this list.
• Pilgrim’s Pride processes approximately 25 percent of total chicken sold in the United States.
• Pilgrim’s Pride operates one the largest prepared-foods plants in the United States in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, with the capability of producing 2,000 different products and the capacity to turn out more than 7 billion pounds of finished goods per week.