At HyLife, we are proud to share our story, our values, and our community-driven focus whenever possible. Recently in Windom, Minnesota, Thor Eiriksson, Executive Director of Operations, had the opportunity to sit down with the local paper to do just that.
The Citizen published the following article dedicated to introducing our HyLife leader to the community.
Glad to be here
Eiriksson enjoys living in Minnesota, leading HyLife plants
HyLife Executive Director of Operations Thor Eiriksson moved from Canada to Mt. Lake in early 2021.
It has been nearly a year since Thor Eiriksson and his wife, Naida, made the move from Neepawa, Manitoba, Canada to Mt. Lake and already the couple feels right at home.
Then again, Thor who is the Executive Director of Operations at HyLife, sees a lot of similarities to his former home in Neepawa. The communities are roughly the same size, the weather is similar (although a bit colder in Canada) and Minnesotans, like Canadians, love their hockey.
As he shared the similarities, the 53-year-old Brandon, Manitoba native chuckled and added, “It’s warmer here. I don’t mind that.”
Now there’s a comment area residents don’t hear every day.
As Executive Director of Operations, Thor not only oversees the Windom plant, but also plants in Neepawa and Mexico. He joined the company 27 years ago, starting at an entry level floor job, packing pork shoulders.
Thor’s story is the embodiment of HyLife’s ideals – the fact that everyone matters and the ability to rise up through the company and succeed.
Thor and Naida have two children, Brandi, 32, and James, 28.
Describe what you do for HyLife.
My job is to oversee the operations at our three plants in Mexico, Neepawa, and here.
I need to facilitate the team to move the company ahead and make sure there are no roadblocks or impediments from us advancing.
Operations are the key to our success. It touches all departments. That covers everything from receiving of hogs to shipping to customers, the support teams, the quality teams, the HR teams.
I need to keep these things moving smoothly, providing direction from the company’s perspective. At the same time, we need to uphold the values of our company. Part of my job is to meld the team together and move everything in the same direction.
So, you’re like the quarterback, right?
Yes, that’s a good sports analogy.
The quarterback is only as good as his offensive line. I could not do it without the support of our teams and they could not do what they do without the support of myself.
We work together.
What led you to the Windom HyLife plant?
I came here as part of my role and responsibility at HyLife.
Prior to this year, I spent a year in Mexico (where HyLife has a plant). I need to live and work near where we are in production. It is too hard to jump in and out (of a plant’s region). You need that stability and need that clear direction on how you move forward.
Although this was part of my role and responsibility, when we discussed it, there was no hesitation on my part to come down here.
Tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I started working in restaurants right out of high school. From there, I moved into the hotel and restaurant business.
I had a lot of friends working at Springhill Farms (in Neepawa) before HyLife bought them. They convinced me to come out there. It was something new, a new venture.
I have worked in all of HyLife’s departments – shipping, logistics, kill floor, cut floor, planning and sales. Finance is the only department I didn’t go into.
What are your hobbies?
I like socializing with friends, camping and a little golf.
I’ve been participating in some community activities in Mt. Lake, also. Recently, we attended the play, “Beauty and the Beast,” at Mt. Lake High School. It was a fantastic show.
I also like watching sports. I really enjoy hockey. In fact, I’ve already gone to a hockey game, the Wild vs. the Winnepeg Jets.
Those are my two favorite NHL teams right now.
Who did you cheer for?
(Laughs.) Well, it had to be the Jets. Everyone around here (the plant) knows I’ve always been a Jets fan.
What is your biggest challenge?
Like everyone, we have to overcome some labor challenges.
We brought folks up from Mexico, which has helped. We also instituted a “We Care” team, which is four hand-picked individuals with one manager overseeing them.
The team’s job is to communicate with all employees – floor workers, supervisors and managers. They bring forth any challenges that they see on a daily basis.
We Care was launched with that sea of blue shirts you might have seen during Riverfest. What we’ve found is that we now have a lower turnover rate than we had a year ago.
In fact, right now we actually have a waiting list of people who want to work for us.
Our workers go home and feel positive about the place they work. That message easily spreads to family and friends and they want to come work for us.
We’ve definitely seen a change and the proof is in the number of people actually coming to work here.
What do you like about your work?
I really enjoy working with the people and groups.
I like having the ability to influence positive change within the company and working with multiple cultures between our plants in Mexico and Neepawa.
We see people happy at the end of the day, turnover is down and our safety record is improved. Our people come to work safe and go home safe.
I also like helping to build the company and watching it grow. It has come a long way in 27 years. It continues to grow and improve.
How many people does HyLife currently employ locally?
There are 1,050 in Windom. About 110 of those are in administrative positions throughout the operation.
What have you learned about the area since coming to work here?
One thing is the number of festivals that happen here. HyLife wants to participate in these and we’ve participated in all of them.
You get that sense of community at a parade, a county fair and smaller events. We don’t see as many of these in Canada.
Another thing is the number of family farms still operating. I grew up in a farming community in Canada. But we had maybe one house per section. Here, there’s a house every quarter section. The density of rural population is still strong in Minnesota, which is nice.
It has been a nice transition to this area.
What is your favorite HyLife product?
As a company, we are more specialized for the Asian market. We do a lot of boneless product for Japan. They demand quality.
We also do products for Korea, fresh chilled.
We are proud to have some local products available. You’ll see them at Johnson Meat Market in Windom and St. James.
I enjoy the pork butts. We turn it into pulled pork using a smoker.
What is the best part about working for HyLife?
Our leadership team.
Our leaders have a vision to be the best food company in the world. That vision goes back to 1994.
The founders have retired, but that vision still lives on with the management team.
Our core values are also important. We are all proud of what we are doing. You’ll see those values posted around the plant. We all try to live up to those values. They are not just words on a wall. We live it as part of our daily work.
We empower people. I’m an example of that, starting on the floor and working my way up.
I’m not alone in that. Others started on the floor and worked their way up. We look to promote within whenever possible.
What do you like best about the plant in Windom?
We have seen huge transformations here since I’ve been here and since we took possession of the plant.
We’ve seen fundamental changes and that’s always hard to achieve. But once you get the ball rolling it becomes easier.
The team here will continue to work to make this the employer of choice, here in the area.
How has the plant changed since you came here?
We have done modifications to the process with new equipment.
We will continue to look at expansion plans and to make our cut floor and coolers bigger.
It is exciting. As we continue to grow, so does the workforce and so does the community.
Back in 2008, when HyLife purchased Springhill Farms (in Neepawa), that was a retirement town. It really had little life in it.
Now it is growing, more businesses and services are coming to town. For Windom, we want that same positive impact. We want to be that partner.
How would you like the public to view HyLife in the community?
Our goal is to be a community partner.
We were very fortunate to receive the award from the Windom Area Chamber of Commerce. We really want to continue our involvement with the city council and Chamber of Commerce. They have been super to work with.
One of our directors now sits on the Chamber of Commerce board. We want to continue to be recognized as an industry that is here to support and help build Windom.
Also, we started the We Care team in the plant, for the employees. The next step is to bring them to the community, to meet people.
We want to be more involved with church events and things that are going on in the community.
If you weren’t in this career, what would you be doing?
(Laughs.) I would probably still be in the restaurant or hospitality industry.
I went to school and took up culinary with the idea I was going to be a chef. I changed my mind when I realized being a chef didn’t pay that well.
My friends convinced me to come and work for HyLife and I am very thankful that they did.
As published in the Citizen on December 8, 2021.