Hormel partnership leads to training, career opportunities for business students
An increasing number of UW-Eau Claire business majors are paying attention to SPAM these days for reasons that go well beyond their need for affordable groceries.
With three UW-Eau Claire graduates serving as executive officers at Hormel Foods Corp. and more than 50 Blugolds among its employees, the Minnesota-based maker and marketer of SPAM is an international corporation that pays special attention to UW-Eau Claire graduates.
“The university has been successful in producing students who fit well with the culture of innovation here at Hormel,” said Larry Vorpahl, group vice president at Hormel and a 1985 UW-Eau Claire marketing graduate. “UW-Eau Claire students have the work ethic, are results-oriented and have the integrity that integrates with the corporation’s values.”
As a result, Hormel regularly recruits UW-Eau Claire graduates, Vorpahl said. These graduates often thrive in the Hormel environment, which is reflected in the impressive number of alumni serving in leadership positions with the company, he said. In addition to Vorpahl, other UW-Eau Claire graduates serving on Hormel’s 31-person executive team are Tom Day ’80 and Kurt Mueller ’79.
“It’s the largest number of officers from one university,” said Vorpahl, noting that two of the corporation’s directors — 1994 accounting graduates Melanie Faust and Jana Haynes — also are UW-Eau Claire alumni. “We’re proud of it. It speaks well of UW-Eau Claire.”
The multinational manufacturer and marketer of brand-name food and meat products (including hams, bacon, stews, chilis and microwaveable entrees) believes so strongly in the quality of UW-Eau Claire graduates that the corporation has been investing in a growing partnership with the university, said Gretchen Hutterli, assistant dean of the College of Business.
“Hormel has always been ready to help us whenever we’ve asked,” Hutterli said. “The help from these alumni was crucial in getting Hormel to fund the development of the Hormel Foods Team Project Lab in the College of Business.”
The lab is a state-of-the art facility where small groups of students use Web-based technology and software for problemsolving. Sitting at specially designed conference tables, students can view and edit network based presentations, proposals
and data on 50-inch plasma screen monitors.
The alumni also were instrumental in getting Hormel to be a major sponsor of the Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up Competition held in November at UW-Eau Claire, Hutterli said. In 2008, 48 students from nine schools in five states competed for cash prizes and the title of top salesperson in the competition, which is designed to increase student interest in sales as a profession and to give students an opportunity to “warm up” for the National Collegiate Sales Competition, held every spring at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga. “For the past two years, Hormel Foods has participated in judging, provided written profiles, served as buyers and given us important feedback to make the competition better,” Hutterli said. “They’ve also coached our marketing team going to the national competition.”
UW-Eau Claire stays connected to employers of alumni in the corporate world and is responsive to suggestions on how to better prepare their graduates when they enter the work force. – Kurt Mueller
All contestants deliver two 20- minute sales presentations — one for a Hormel product, the other for a Cintas service — to an individual buyer. Sales calls are evaluated by a panel of sales professionals who viewed presentations via cablecast at a remote location.
“We were asked during the conception of the Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up Competition to be a major sponsor of this event,” Mueller said. “We eagerly accepted this offer as it gave Hormel the opportunity to further promote the profession of sales with college students considering sales as a profession. This event also allowed Hormel an opportunity to support the efforts of the business school’s sales program and the national recognition the program is receiving.”
Hormel also sponsors internships for students in marketing, finance, operations and information systems. The internships give students opportunities to participate in solving realworld business problems, said Day, senior vice president of foodservice.
“If you get an internship here at Hormel you are provided a jersey that puts you on the playing field and not sitting in the stands cheering,” Day said. “It’s part of the work ethic here. We expect the interns to be involved in day-to-day operations and demonstrate the skills they are learning at UW-Eau Claire, with the goal of joining us full time after graduation to begin a career at Hormel Foods.”
Day knows about teamwork. When he was a student at UW-Eau Claire, he played Blugold football for four seasons, 1977-80. Since graduation, he has maintained a connection to the football program as an adviser and supporter. He also has a family and personal partnership with UW-Eau Claire; his younger brother, sister and son are Blugolds. His brother Jeff graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1990 with a degree in communication and theatre arts; his sister Kathy graduated in 1992 with a degree in finance; and his son, Matthew, is currently a senior marketing major at UW-Eau Claire. Both Jeff and Matthew also played football for UW-Eau Claire. Matthew has played with UW-Eau Claire’s football team for the past four years, and Jeff played from 1983-86.
The Hormel executives give UW-Eau Claire high marks for developing and maintaining strong relationships with their alumni and others in the corporate world.
“UW-Eau Claire stays connected to employers of alumni in the corporate world and is responsive to suggestions on how to better prepare their graduates when they enter the work force,” said Mueller, senior vice president of business planning and support for the consumer products sales division. “We serve as the conduit between business and UW-Eau Claire.”
For example, when Hormel and other employers noticed that UW-Eau Claire graduates needed to know more about business etiquette — what to wear, how to behave at a business lunch and other corporate manners — UW-Eau Claire developed a new program, which required students to participate in student professional development and addressed those issues. More recently on the advice of the Hormel executives, the College of Business added marketing analytics to the curriculum.
“Analytics has become a big part of our business, and we said there needs to be an analytic track at UW-Eau Claire,” Vorpahl said.
UW-Eau Claire changed the curriculum to match the needs of the current business environment, Vorpahl said.
The three executives continue to be actively involved with their alma mater as advisers. Vorphal is a charter member of the Marketing Advisory Council for the College of Business at UW-Eau Claire and has served on it for 14 years.
The Marketing Advisory Council meets twice a year to offer the marketing faculty suggestions and advice on curricular issues. The council also meets with marketing students once a year to get their perspective on the marketing program.
Mueller is on the Business Advisory Council for the College of Business, which consists of 24 members of local and regional businesses. The council serves as a sounding board to the dean on matters facing the college. The council focuses on the big picture and overall direction of the college. Members like Mueller have the vantage point from which they can observe emerging trends and identify the impact on businesses and potentially on business schools.
Day individually has often advised the faculty and staff and spoken to classes.
“The partnership these three have helped us develop with Hormel is a win-win situation,” said Tom Dock, dean of the College of Business. “In today’s economy, companies are reducing the number of places where they recruit. Because we’ve been a key source of qualified employees, UW-Eau Claire is one of the select schools Hormel comes to when hiring.”
It makes sense for Hormel to partner with UW-Eau Claire, Vorpahl said.
“You must invest in a product if you’re willing to buy it,” he said.
Photos by Bill Hoepner
UW-Eau Claire alumni working at Hormel
Employee name/graduation year • Hormel start date • Position at Hormel
Kurt Mueller ’79, July 1979, Vice President Hormel Foods Corp./Senior Vice President
Business Planning-Consumer Products Sales
Thomas R. Day ’80, January 1981, Senior Vice President-Foodservice
James Roberts ’81, June 1981, Senior Customer Executive-Consumer Products Sales
Brad Borland ’82, June 1982, Senior Customer Executive-Consumer Products Sales
Charles J. Peterson ’81, October 1982, Manager Distribution and Provisions
Larry L. Vorpahl ’85, January 1986, Group Vice President Hormel Foods Corp./
President-Consumer Products Sales
Dan Prodoehl ’85, January 1986, Foodservice Account Executive
Marc Lipari ’87, January 1988, Corporate Manager Category Sales/Grocery Products-
Consumer Products Sales
Bill Fleiner ’88, May 1988, Demand Planner
Scott Weisenbeck ’91, January 1992, Group Product Manager-Meat Products
Rita (Kouba) Hendrickson ’92, June 1992, Senior Business Analyst-Information
Melanie (Wallace) Faust ’94, February 1995, Director of Purchasing
Michael Goodenough ’95, June 1995, Senior Customer Executive-Consumer Products
Shanda K. Meier ’95, January 1996, General Accountant
Chad C. Sendzik ’96, June 1996, Category Sales Specialist-Fresh Meats
Matt D. Lubensky ’97, January 1998, Senior Compensation Analyst
Jon P. Sauld ’83, December 1998, Foodservice Regional Chain Accounts Sales Manager
Jana (Haase) Haynes ’94, March 2000, Director of Taxes
Rebecca (Wegner) Lubensky ’96, June 2000, Human Resource Services Manager
Sarah (Thomson) Pitzer ’00, June 2000, Associate National Category Sales Manager-
Consumer Products Sales
Erin (Reinhart) Peine ’00, January 2001, Senior General Accountant
Jason Smith ’01, July 2001, Category Manager-Consumer Products Sales
Jeff Tobak ’02, June 2002, Foodservice Area Manager
Patty (Traczyk) Riedl ’02, June 2002, Foodservice Senior Account Executive
Tom Guse ’02, January 2003, Foodservice Area Manager
Scott T. Nemec ’03, February 2004, Customer Executive-Consumer Products Sales
Stephanie L. Mixdorf ’04, July 2004, Foodservice Account Executive
David Lenling ’04, June 2004, Foodservice Account Executive
Jeffrey Cookle ’92, July 2004, Senior Computer Analyst
Lee Yang ’04, January 2005, Senior Category Analyst-Consumer Products Sales
Ben Kuen ’05, July 2005, Foodservice Territory Manager-AA
Shannon Cookle ’95, October 2005, Computer Analyst
Brad C. Alexejun ’06, January 2007, Supervisor-Grocery Products-Nights
Daniel J. Hofmeister ’06, February 2007, Territory Manager-Consumer Products Sales
Gina M. Trapp ’07, February 2007, Sales Analyst-Consumer Products Sales
Terrill W. Bacon ’03, April 2007, Assistant Product Manager-Meat Products
Lydia A. Duncanson ’07, June 2007, Associate Quality and Process Control Supervisor
David J. Eggenberger ’07, June 2007, Programmer/Analyst
David A. Ostman ’07, June 2007, Supervisor-Meat Products-Days
Tim M. Graft ’07, July 2007, Foodservice Territory Manager-A
Ryan M. Schulz ’07, July 2007, Foodservice Territory Manager-A
Jessica A. (Merwin) Campbell ’96, October 2007, Territory Manager-Consumer
Megan J. Vidmar ’07, February 2008, Territory Manager-Consumer Products Sales
Jens A. Knudsen ’07, February 2008, Foodservice Sales Representative
Jacklyn K. Robinson ’08, June 2008, Territory Manager-Consumer Products Sales
Patrick Lipinski ’08, June 2008, Sales Representative-Consumer Products Sales
Steve Fregard ’08, January 2009, Relief Production Supervisor
Michael Tyson ’08, January 2009, Foodservice Sales Representative
Patrick McLaren ’08, February 2009, Associate Programmer/Analyst
Jenna Weber ’08, February 2009, Sales Representative-Consumer Products Sales
Starting this summer:
Joseph Pichotta ’09, June 2009, Foodservice Sales Representative
Hjordi Danielson ’09, July 2009, Foodservice Sales Representative