Minot area native makes it big in small Minn. city

AUSTIN, Minn. – Jody Feragen is the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Hormel Foods, a Fortune 500 company with more than $8 billion in annual revenue. Hormel Foods is headquartered in Austin, Minn., a city of about 25,000 people less than an hour’s drive from Rochester, Minn. Like many of the company’s employees, Feragen lives in Austin, which she calls a wonderful city.

“We really like to encourage all our staff members, particularly those that work in the corporate office … to live in the community, and it’s been fantastic,” Feragen said.

Unlike many of the people who have worked at Hormel for decades, Feragen came to the company later in her career, as the treasurer in 2000.

“We seem to hire great people out of college and keep them,” she said. “I was maybe a bit of an anomaly.”

Born in Minot, Feragen graduated from high school in Deering in a class of nine.

“I was in the top ten,” Feragen joked. “Do the math.”

She studied at the University of North Dakota, graduating in 1978 with a degree in accounting.

After college she worked for five years at what is now known as KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms in the world, before moving on to other various companies until she eventually found herself at Hormel Foods.

In addition to her accounting degree, Feragen has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota.

“I did that in the night program, where you work full-time and go to school at night,” Feragen said, noting she took those courses while in Minneapolis, where she lived for 20 years.

Feragen said her chance to join Hormel Foods came about because of simple networking. She had a friend who knew someone at the company, which was looking to do the largest acquisition in its history at the time and would be going to the public debt market.

“Most of the people that we have at Hormel have careers that have grown through the company, so that’s not a skill set you’d normally acquire,” Feragen said. “They were looking for someone with a finance background to come in as treasurer and lead the bond offerings for the acquisition they were doing. That was at the time that we bought the Turkey Store.”

The company Feragen worked at during this time was going through a transition, so she was looking for a new opportunity.

“To be the treasurer of a Fortune 500 company was the top of my dream list,” she said.

Hormel Foods is a large and diverse company. In addition to its traditional pork-based items, it also is one of the largest turkey raisers and processors in the world, thanks to its Jennie-O Turkey Store subsidiary.

Although Feragen was happy with being just the treasurer, her superiors had other things in mind. In 2001 she added the title of vice president to her role as treasurer, and in 2005 was promoted again to vice president of finance and treasurer. In 2007 Feragen climbed the corporate ladder to even higher heights, becoming senior vice president and CFO. It was also in 2007 that she was nominated to the Hormel Foods board of directors. Then in 2010 she was made executive vice president and CFO.

In addition, she was elected to the Patterson Companies Inc. board of directors and UND Alumni Association and Foundation boards in 2011 and 2010, respectively.

The promotion to CFO was particularly thrilling for Feragen. At the time, she was attending the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School in Boston. Although she knew the promotion was coming, Feragen said it was still exciting when it was finally made official.

“I was actually out at Harvard when it got announced, so that was kind of interesting. I had 150 classmates from all over the world and I was the one that was getting promoted,” she said. “That was kind of neat.”

Feragen works “Hormel half-days,” meaning she gets to work at 6 a.m. and leaves for home at 6 p.m. She’s responsible for everything financial, including accounting, internal audit, all the treasury areas, investor relations, corporate development and information technology services.

“I cover a wide range of traditional CFO-type responsibilities,” Feragen said.

Of the many different facets of her job, Feragen said she loves working with the people at Hormel Foods the most. She enjoys working not only with her staff but with all the people in other areas of the company, such as corporate support and the people running the business units.

“Just a really smart group of people and everyone’s got a great Midwest work ethic and values,” she said. “It’s a great team.”

Hormel has around 20,000 employees worldwide and acquired the Skippy peanut butter brand in January of this year, making the company a giant in the turkey, pork and peanut butter industries.

Feragen said Hormel Foods has a large center-of-the-store franchise, meaning many of the products sitting in the middle of a typical grocery store are theirs. The addition of Skippy complements and expands the company’s footprint in this area.

“We’ve been there forever with our products such as SPAM, Hormel chili, our microwave platforms, and one of the things that we always look for is we want to be the number one or number two brand in any category in the store,” Feragen said.

As the number two brand in peanut butter, Skippy fits in perfectly with this philosophy. It also gave Hormel Foods more of an international presence, which Feragen said was somewhat lacking compared to some of the competitors. And like many Hormel Foods products, peanut butter offers protein, just not in meat form.

When she’s not at work, Feragen has plenty of other activities to keep her busy. She’s very involved with the UND Alumni Association and Foundation in leadership roles, which she said has been a great way to get back in touch with her alma mater as well as the state of North Dakota.

She loves to golf, although she called her game pretty bad. She also enjoys cooking and travel, mentioning a trip to Paris this past fall that was incredibly fun. Feragen also enjoys traveling closer to home with her husband, Duane, who is also an accounting graduate from UND, where they met.

“We kind of have a mission, my husband and I, to get to all the national parks,” she said. “We’ve checked off quite a few but have a few to go.”

Feragen noted she also travels for business as well as pleasure, estimating she spends 20 to 25 percent of her time at work on the road to handle duties such as meeting with investors and visiting the company’s various locations around the country and world.

Feragen has two daughters with her husband, Kari and Kelsey, and is excited about becoming a grandparent in December.

Feragen said she’s already accomplished far more than she ever thought possible. When she first started at Hormel Foods, she was happy just being treasurer and never dreamed she would one day be CFO, which she called an awesome opportunity. Looking toward the future, she is more focused on furthering the company rather than her own career.

“I guess the things that I’d like to see for my legacy is that we’ve made a difference in continuing to be able to grow the company, as well as grow the talent pool,” Feragen said. “I think as senior managers, our responsibility is making sure that we have the next generation of folks that can continue to do the things that our company has done well for almost 125 years for the next 125 years.”

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to mdnews@minotdailynews.com.)