Meat+Poultry - August 2018 - 17

Tyson's Chris Rupp has a 34-year track record of hard
work and passion for improving the meat industry
BY J O E L C R E WS | j c r e w s @ s o s l a n d.c o m

Photos: Photography by KJ


aving never learned to swim, Chris
Rupp might be the most unlikely
candidate to own a pontoon boat, two
Jet Skis and a house overlooking the Missouri
River on the Nebraska-South Dakota border. In
many ways, Rupp, vice president fresh meats
beef operations at Tyson Foods Inc., is the
product of thriving in challenging situations.
Thirty-four years ago, Rupp never imagined
himself going from a hard-working farm hand
in western Kansas to eventually overseeing
some of the biggest beef processing operations
in the US for one of the largest meat companies
in the world. But none of his success is
unlikely to those who have had the opportunity
to work alongside Rupp as he's spent his
career ascending the industry ranks - learning,
teaching and adapting to changes at every turn.
When he started at IBP Inc. in 1984, Rupp
was a bit reluctant to go to work for a big
company after spending his life living on a farm
near Garden City, Kansas, his family didn't
own, but where his father and his six siblings
worked until a few years after he got out of high
school. His first taste of change would come
after he applied for a job at a big beef packing
plant outside of town. Embarking on a new,
non-farming career path was a leap of faith for
Rupp, who was then a green 23-year-old.
"I loved farming; absolutely loved it," he
says. What he didn't love was seeing his father
work tirelessly most of his life for a farmer
only to retire with almost nothing to show for
it. Rupp was one of seven kids where hard
work was a part of life, but a big salary wasn't.
"Growing up without was part of what we did.
But we didn't really know we were without.
"I could see myself going on that same
path and I had to make a decision," he says,
recalling his exposure to the beef industry was
limited to a couple of years he spent working
at a neighboring farm where about 3,000 head
of cattle were in production at any given time.
"That got me into the cattle business," which
required round-the-clock attention to the herd.
"Working 12- and 14-hour days is what I grew
up on," and he figured working in a beef plant

couldn't be that much of a stretch.
In his early 20s and starting a family, Rupp
was enticed by the prospect of applying his
farming know-how and cattle production
knowledge doing a job that offered more than
working on a ranch without benefits like health
insurance, retirement plans and the potential
to move up the ranks.

"I watched my dad retire with nothing and I
knew that wasn't for me," Rupp says, so he
applied for a maintenance position at what
was then IBP Inc. in Finney County, Kansas.
After finding out there was a six-month waiting
period for most maintenance jobs at that time
in the industry, Rupp heard there were more
immediate openings working on the fabrication
line at the giant plant. "I told them I wouldn't
have a clue about how to cut meat," but he was
assured that he could easily be trained.
He took the job working as a meat
cutter and was pleasantly surprised by the
predictable regimen of his new role compared
to his previous on-farm employment. It was
almost shocking, he says.
"They paid me for every hour I worked; if I
worked overtime they paid me time-and-a-half;
I knew what my schedule was going to be every
day," which were all things he wasn't at all
used to, but he quickly learned to appreciate,
all while learning the craft of cutting meat. He
went on to learn about 20 other jobs on the
processing floor and supervisors soon saw
Rupp as a prime candidate to move up in the
company to supervisory roles. However, these
were opportunities he routinely declined. "I
don't really see myself making a career out of
this," he would say when approached about
potential promotions. He had a different career
path in mind. "I didn't know for sure what, but
I knew it wasn't going to be working in the
packing house," he says.
While working at IBP, Rupp didn't use many
of the skills he learned on the farm as a kid.
Discovering how things work and building
things came easy to Rupp. "Still today, I love

"All through
my career the
only thing
I've looked for
is the little


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Meat+Poultry - August 2018