New Foods leader takes over

Published 1:06 pm Thursday, December 31, 2020

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Smithfield Foods’ new leader stepped into his role a month ahead of schedule.

Dennis Organ became president and CEO effective Nov. 27. The company announced in October that Organ would succeed Ken Sullivan, the outgoing president and CEO, at the beginning of 2021.

In a November statement, the company said the leadership transition moved faster than expected thanks to “the close working relationship and shared strategies of Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Organ.” Sullivan will officially leave the company Jan. 3. He spent the remainder of his time as an adviser to Organ and “advocating for vaccine prioritization and visiting with the company’s heroic and essential frontline workers in its facilities across the country.”

When the Department of Homeland Security designated agriculture and food workers as essential personnel this spring, the company focused on two things — keeping employees safe and maintaining production operations, according to Keira Lombardo, the company’s chief administrative officer. She said Smithfield has invested more than $700 million in response to COVID-19 “and that figure continues to grow.”

Smithfield Foods employs about 3,000 in the local area and 40,000 across the U.S. in 32 states. The company also has employees in international markets.

Sullivan and Organ were not available for interviews. However, in comments provided in response to questions from The Smithfield Times, the company explained how it’s protecting employees and adjusting business operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Mr. Organ has communicated a deep belief in building upon our guiding principles of responsibility, operational excellence and innovation — which underpin everything we do and are our keys to success,” Lombardo said in an email. “Mr. Organ lives and breathes our operational excellence guiding principle. At his core, he tirelessly seeks out opportunities to improve the way we do business. We must be operationally excellent to succeed, and Mr. Organ will continue to transform our company into a best in class operator.”

Organ joined Smithfield in 2010 and became chief operating officer for U.S. operations in 2019. For the past two years, he oversaw day-to-day operations of the company’s entire vertically integrated domestic business. Sullivan was CEO for five years. During the first four years of his tenure, he oversaw a period of the highest profits in the company’s history. That growth was on track to continue until the pandemic hit, the company said.

Including Organ and Lombardo, Smithfield’s executive leadership team is made up of eight people.


Operational changes

Initiatives implemented in response to the coronavirus include: on site pre-screening and testing in partnership with third-party health providers, installation of advanced air purification systems, adding “extensive physical barriers at workstations,” and mandating personal protective equipment, such as masks and face shields.

The company also has made facility modifications to allow social distancing, added “thousands of sanitation stations” and prominent banners and signs in multiple languages to encourage safe behaviors and hiring “new employees whose sole job is to ensure distancing and sanitation practices are implemented correctly in our facilities.”

As a result, Lombardo said “we have seen a sustained low incidence of positive cases, including during this latest national wave, and we believe a reason is because of how seriously both we and our employee family is taking their obligation to follow — and exceed — health guidance.” The company has also implemented leave programs for employees in high-risk categories, allowing them to stay home with pay.

Smithfield has offered vaccine storage and distribution space in its special low-temperature freezers.

“We do expect that, working with our health agency partners, we can facilitate the rapid distribution of the vaccine to food and agricultural workers,” Lombardo said. “We stand ready as well to assist, as possible, with distribution to workers in other essential categories.”

Smithfield employees will not be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine at this time but the company does plan “to communicate with employees about the availability and efficacy” of the vaccines, Lombardo said.

At the same time, the company is advocating for food and agriculture workers to get vaccination priority.

“Food and agriculture workers, alongside our nation’s health care workers and other first responders, are critical to the ongoing stability of society and this is why, across the nation, there is an awareness that food and agricultural workers are a high priority for the vaccine,” Lombardo said.

In spite of the unprecedented times, Smithfield has sustained its corporate giving. The company provided more than $50 million in food and monetary donations to people, communities and organizations in 2020.

Lombardo lauded Smithfield’s employees for their work and dedication. “Please know that your food is made possible by some of the finest men and women anywhere, in any profession — and many of them are right here in Smithfield, Virginia.”