Christian Leadership:Out of Control Company

English: Tyson FoodsMadison, Nebraska.

English: Tyson FoodsMadison, Nebraska. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Author's note: While I believe everything in here and it comes from multiple sources, at least two and often four or more independent sources, there may be pertinent facts of which I am unaware. That said, I believe it offers a fair look at the company from the production and maintenance employee level. ]

The other day my friend Rebecca Hamilton of Public Catholic featured five companies that bring their Christianity to the market. Four of them, as far as I know, she is absolutely correct about. One of them, I have some serious disagreement with. This is not a knock on Rebecca because this is the image they work very hard to present to the public, and it’s not false either, exactly. That company is Tyson Foods. Here’s the applicable part of Rebecca’s article:

Tyson Foods: Tyson, yet another company that refuses to hide its faith, offers employees chaplain services at plants across America. If people are saddened after the loss of a loved one or coping with a family emergency, these individuals are brought in to pray and assist those in need with coping.

John H. Tyson, the current chairman of the company, is a born-again Christian who believes his values shouldn’t be pushed to the side when he enters Tyson’s doors.

“My faith is just an ongoing evolution, trying to understand what faith in the marketplace looks like, giving people permission to live their faith seven days a week,” Tyson said back in 2010. “If people can talk about the football game on Monday, why can’t they talk about their faith?”

Tyson Foods is also known for donating mass amounts of food to America’s poor.

5 Companies Like Chick fil A That Share Their Christian Faith

Read Rebecca’s article here.

John Tyson is a legitimately good man and a good Christian from everything I know of him. I believe however, that he doesn’t have a good handle on his company. Why would I say that? That’s what I’m going to tell you.

The meat-packing business is extremely competitive as it has been since long before Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. That it is so is one of the reasons why Americans eat so well for so little. That said, there is more than one way to be competitive.

In full disclosure, I worked maintenance in a Tyson plant for about 10 months, actually most of that time it was an IBP plant during that time Tyson bought the company (by all accounts it wasn’t a good deal for Tyson).

Maintenance in a production facility is always a pressure filled job, every minute the line is down costs the company thousands of dollars that they will never recover. That’s a fact of life, there is nothing that can be done about it, when the line is down, maintenance is on the spot, no two ways about it. I’ve been in auto plants that when the assembly line goes down, the emergency maintenance equipment has absolute right of way, even over the fire department, it’s that important.

Maintenance is divided as many fields are, into two areas, the first is crisis. These guys (and occasionally girls) are often incredible geniuses at getting things going again, right now. I’ve rarely been more impressed. Often their work isn’t overly neat, and is sometimes crude but, it works and it works right now.

The other side of the equation is preventative maintenance (it also includes guys we called projects that could, and did, literally build the plant). A good PM system can forestall breakdowns, I’ve seen systems that can give you a weeks warning that a bearing is going out, and there are other sensors that can detect faults before they happen. These systems are not cheap to install, and they are a capital expense but, they work and they make your plant far more productive.

If you don’t do things like this, you’re entire maintenance program will eventually do nothing in maintenance other than crisis work because your people won’t have time to do their PMs. That’s where Tyson (at least in the plant I know) is today. That works, for a while, but is full of stress, and is dangerous. Disassembling a cow takes pretty good-sized machinery.

But the thing is, to accounting, this system looks cheap. Maintenance is always a cost center, because there is no bottom line return on it. Nobody can really say what (in numbers) what fixing that bearing before it burned out saved, there are entirely too many factors involved. So a real PM system is very hard to sell at the corporate level, far too many companies are run by accountants that only look at the quarterly bottom line, and will ruthlessly get rid of anybody (in their view)who lessens that profit. It makes for a very stressful life for everybody. Tyson is one of these.

It also leads to employee abuse, usually but not always, of maintenance people. It is not unusual to get people hurt trying to hold up a 75 pound (or  heavier) motor with one hand while bolting it in, if you demand help you’ll be told, “Get it done or go home.” with the unstated understanding that you needn’t come back. I know of very few maintenance people with over five years experience who have not been injured. One of my better friends has had two hernia surgeries, ripped his right bicep nearly loose, has shoulder problems, and has had 7 surgeries. He finally, after seven years of a lawsuit received well under a $50,000 settlement. I know of a bunch of others, as well.

This leads to a major leadership challenge because very few people with real mechanical/electrical/ pneumatic/hydraulic/fabrication skills will work there if they can find anything else. That includes me, I would not accept a contract in the plant. Neither would my people, who have nearly all worked there.

For production people there are other hazards, few escape Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, many companies avoid this by training employees to do multiple jobs and switch jobs at breaks, but here I know of one person who made the exact same cut on the fore quarter of a cow for 10 years.

Note this please, this is an industrial process and there are unavoidable hazards involved here. It cannot be made completely safe but, it can be made far more efficient and less likely to inflict injuries on people. But the company has to look beyond the quarterly P&L Statement.

I should probably also note that because of the size of the plant and the relatively small size of the city, the medical establishment is effectively owned by the plant, and the plant is self insured (so are its benefit plans) so all roads lead back to the corporate offices. If a doctor goes against the plant too often, he will find his practice dying because Tyson will no longer approve him. You know what, doctor’s have businesses to run too, and have to have sales. I’m not going to go into this today but it’s there.

I should note that not even state government is immune to this sort of pressure. I’ve heard from at least four credible sources that the Nebraska Water Quality people have found continuing violations in the plant  water treatment facility, including downstream pollution in the Platte river, when they told the plant they were going to cite them, the reports that reached me said that they were told that if the plant was cited, it would be closed, losing about 3000 jobs.

As I said before, I believe John Tyson is a good man and a good Christian, I also believe he needs to get far more involved in his company’s operational level, without the knowledge of his headquarter’s staff. I think he would be surprised, and appalled at what people think of the company and by extension him.

[I'm impressed, Rebrecca, Instapundit, no less, congratulations, well deserved, it's a great article]

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Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

11 Responses to Christian Leadership:Out of Control Company

  1. It would seem that Tyson has compartmentalized his life.

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    • In a way, I think that like so many in his spot, he has no idea because he doesn’t get into the field, and nobody at headquarters is going to tell him.

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  2. He should go and be an, “Undercover Boss.”

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    • I think he needs to do something along that line, as well.

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  3. This is really interesting. The Tysons were friends of the mother of a friend of mine (loooonnnngggg connection) back in the day. They weren’t the big company they are now. They helped my friend’s mother by giving her a job when she was desperate. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart toward them because of that. I hope they can get their company running right.

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    • I tried very hard to not make this a rant because I do believe he is a good man.

      The problem is systemic, and it’s connected with being a big company as well. The problem in a very brief matter is that the entire company is focused on production, maintenance has no voice, even at the plant level, as near as I can tell. Part of it I think is differences between beef plants and chicken plants as well, not everything translates well.

      I think it could be fixed, but it wold take an extraordinary effort, probably with an Inspector General reporting to him, only, and it would hurt profitability for something in the range of 3-5 years. because of that, it would hurt the company on Wall St. In other words even if he wanted to, and I don’t doubt his sincerity, I doubt his board and/or investors would let him carry it out.

      This is part of the reason that I don’t work for a large company. And I really do wish him and the company well.

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      • It sounds like this is the downside of success. Tyson’s wasn’t always a big company; they grew themselves into one. Have you thought about writing him a memo and sharing this with him? You never know.

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        • Actually I never did think of it on the assumption that it would never make it to him. But I suppose it would do no harm and might do some good.

          And yes it is a byproduct of their success, and in a lot of ways they are a pretty good company. So, I’ll work it up and send it along, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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        • That’s the spirit!

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        • First of the week. And thanks

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        • de nada

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