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OSI Operations Manager Wins “30 Under 30” Award

February 26, 2020

When Matthew Lewis graduated college and began working at an OSI plant in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, he didn’t expect to stay at the company for long. “I came in here as a production supervisor trainee thinking I am going to get a couple years of experience and go get something else,” he said.


Five years and several promotions later, Lewis is bringing in his own recruits and winning industry-wide recognition.


The American Feed Industry Association, the North American Meat Institute and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association recently named him one of their “30 under 30,” a program dedicated to outstanding young professionals who work for companies involved in the production and processing of poultry, meat, or animal feed. The award was presented in January 2020 at the International Production and Processing Expo in Atlanta.


OSI’s Scott Ladd, Lewis’ current plant manager, and Byron Petsch, Lewis’ first plant manager and mentor, nominated him for the award after witnessing and guiding his remarkable career advancement.


“Most people [with an] operations manager title have seven to 10 years’ experience just as production supervisor — I have less than five,” Lewis said. “My resume set me apart – you need a lot of people that have the exposure I have had. I’ve really gone around in a bunch of different roles, each one progressing.”

His speedy rise in the company did not happen by chance, or through his efforts alone. As Lewis reflects back on his early career success, he can now see something that wasn’t apparent to him in his trainee days or when Petsch moved him from job to job: The company recognized his potential and had a vision for him that, back then, extended far beyond what Lewis could see.


OSI OPERATIONS MANAGER SEES TRUST AS A TWO-WAY STREET

Like most college students and recent grads, Lewis began his career with just a vague sense of the sort of job he wanted. He knew he “wanted to be the boss” and had an interest in manufacturing after working during college at a Lands’ End factory. His experience there inspired him to pursue a minor in industrial technology management — an unusual complement to his criminal justice major at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. When it came time to apply for jobs, he no longer aspired to be a police officer, as he did when he first began at the school. But beyond “being the boss” in a manufacturing role, he didn’t have a clear plan. “I started sending out my resume to any job that said ‘production supervisor,’” he recalled.


He eventually landed in a production supervisor training program at OSI’s Fort Atkinson plant, which produces everything from hamburgers and meatballs to sausage patties and chicken nuggets. Critically, he also landed under the wing of Petsch, who was plant manager at the time. “[Petsch] said to me, ‘If you work hard, stay focused and follow the path we have planned for you, the opportunities for advancement are endless,’” Lewis recalled.


Less than a year later, Lewis became production supervisor on the 2nd shift, in charge of things like scheduling, training and making sure people and equipment were properly allocated. After settling into that role, Petsch came to him with an unexpected offer. “He said, ‘Hey, I have this opportunity for you in sanitation.” It was a completely different role from the job he had been doing, and the 3rd shift hours didn’t appeal to him. But he decided he had to trust his manager.


“When I got the opportunity to be sanitation supervisor, I thought, I don’t want to do 3rd shift and go into the night and clean,” he said. “But the leadership knew I needed to know how to manage that whole shift and department in order to get to where I am now. They saw a plan for me. All I had to do was trust and go with it.”

It turned out to be an important move. From sanitation supervisor he was promoted to sanitation manager, before returning to the 2nd shift as operations manager. That led to his current role, operations manager on the 1st shift. As he puts it, he is now the “highest you go for running the plant floor.” In other words, he is now living his earliest career vision of being “the boss.”


OSI OPERATIONS MANAGER SEES SUSTAINABILITY AS CRITICAL PART OF RESPONSIBILITIES

Such a key position comes with a lot of responsibility. Any potential disruption to operations — a shipping hiccup, for example — falls under Lewis’ purview. His bosses entrust him to solve day-to-day problems and make the right decisions. “If I find an issue, I am encouraged to take ownership and find the solution. They give me the freedom to do that,” Lewis said. “That’s trust. That’s opportunity.”


But besides “putting out fires,” as Lewis calls them, he also has a key role in ensuring that all workers go home safely at the end of their shifts and that the food they help process meets top standards for consumers. He recently helped run a “food safety week,” a week of games and prizes intended to raise employee awareness about the topic. And he’s also on an ergonomics and safety committee, where he brainstorms better ways to protect workers. “We meet once a month. We do plant tours and get everyone involved, from the guy at the line to top of plant management,” Lewis said.


He’s also constantly looking for new ways to make operations run even more smoothly. “It’s hard to find labor with such a good economy and I’m excited to see technology change and more automation,” he said. “There are cool opportunities to streamline and make the plant more efficient.”


PASSING OPPORTUNITIES ON TO THE NEXT OPERATIONS MANAGER IN LINE

Five years after Lewis’ first plant manager, Petsch, offered him career advice and the sanitation job he wasn’t sure he wanted, both men have made big advancements in their OSI careers. Petsch is now Regional Vice President for North America Operations. And as operations manager, Lewis has inherited Petsch’s role as mentor to young talent.


Lewis recently recruited a friend to OSI, who began as a supervisor six months ago. “I sold him on what the company has done for me. I came in here as production supervisor trainee thinking I am going to get a couple years of experience and go get something else,” he said. “The place took care of me. The work environment is fantastic. I love what I do. I realize how big OSI is in the food industry and how many plants there are world-wide and nation-wide. I said to him, ‘If you come here and work for me and get under this leadership team you can have the same’.”