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CEO Ettinger reflects on community, Hormel’s future

Adam Harringa, Austin Daily Herald, Minn. –

This story is originally appeared in Progress 2012, which published Sunday, Feb. 26.

From the time Jeff Ettinger started at Hormel Foods Corp. 21 years ago, living outside of Austin never crossed his mind.

As the CEO, president and chairman of the board at Hormel, Ettinger has propelled Hormel’s standing in the global meatpacking industry — Hormel’s annual net earnings have exploded since Ettinger took the helm, increasing by 57 percent in the past five years — all while maintaining a presence in the community.

“I really wouldn’t have it any other way,” Ettinger said of living in Austin.

His four children graduated or are attending Austin High School, and he and his wife, LeeAnn, are active in town.

Hormel’s chief executive grew up in Los Angeles, where he jokes one of the great things he left behind was traffic and long commutes.

“I love being able to get everywhere quickly here in Austin,” he said, adding that he often rides his bike to work in the summer. “I like being able to go to the grocery store and the YMCA and see not only friends from work, but friends from church and friends from other activities in town.”

Ettinger, 53, has been president since 2004 and CEO since 2006.

Hormel has grown considerably under Ettinger — who made nearly $9 million in 2011 — with annual net earnings increasing three years running; by 20.1 percent in 2009, 15.4 percent in 2010, and 19.9 percent in 2011.

The company’s full-year earnings for the 2011 fiscal year was $474.2 million, compared to $301.9 million in 2007. In 2011, it was Hormel’s Jennie-O and international segments that led the way, but Ettinger said it’s the company’s versatility that keeps it viable every year.

“It’s really that balance that helps us thrive through multiple environments,” he said. “We truly have an outstanding, long-term track record for growth.”

In 2012, Ettinger and other executives have their sites locked on the Hispanic market, as the company expects growth in its Hispanic food umbrella company, MegaMex, which distributes its Herdez, Chi-Chi’s, La Victoria, Don Miguel and Wholly Guacamole brands.

“We’ve really chosen to focus our energy on Mexican food because the cuisine is so popular here in the United States,” Ettinger said before the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in January.

That Mexican cuisine could be key as Hormel looks to continue its climb up the Fortune 500 ladder; the company has increased its position on the list each of the last five years, from 403rd in 2007 to 325th in 2011.

If that trend continues, Ettinger said, it’s something in which Austin can take pride.

“It’s unusual to have a Fortune 500 company in a town this size, but it’s really a plus on both ends,” he said.

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