Tom Brown Puts People First

Tom Brown joined Hormel Foods straight out of college, and he’s stayed with the Minnesota-based organization ever since. His history with the food company, however, began even before he came on board some three decades ago.

“I’d grown up on all the brands,” Brown says. “On top of that, I had relatives going back to my great-grandparents who had worked for Hormel, so there was a family connection in addition to just my familiarity with the company.”

Brown’s connection to Hormel Foods has only grown as his career within the organization has progressed. Today, as assistant VP of total rewards, he counts many of his long-time colleagues as friends as well as coworkers. Those relationships are part of what has kept him at the company all these years, during which time he has never stopped striving to meet the needs—and exceed the expectations—of Hormel’s twenty thousand global employees.

After majoring in math at St. Cloud State University, Brown got his start as a member of Hormel’s quality assurance team. He received an opportunity to take on a role in corporate HR just one year later, before ultimately finding his niche in the compensation function.

Tom Brown Hormel Foods
Photo Courtesy of Christine Brown/Hormel Foods

“I was in compensation for roughly twenty-four years,” he explains. “As our head of employee benefits was approaching retirement, I was asked, especially given my analytical background, if I would have interest in being a successor to him.”

Accepting that role set Brown on the path to his current position, which he has held since 2020. “To be honest, I never had a vision of aspiring to a total rewards role,” he says, noting that he wasn’t necessarily looking beyond compensation earlier in his career. “But once I started getting exposure to compensation and benefits, I very much welcomed the opportunity to oversee both of those functions.”

The experience of broadening his own horizons within HR directly informs Brown’s advice to other professionals in the space. “Many people undervalue the experience that they can gain in a different area, even if it’s only for a short time,” he says. “The broader your overall experience across the organization and certainly across the different HR functions, the more credible you become among your peers and among the executives you interact with.”

Brown encourages the HR team at Hormel Foods to remain open to cross-functional opportunities—and to different ways of resolving issues. It is easier for Brown to pull from his past experiences when giving advice to his team, but he has found that sometimes he learns more when he turns to his team.

A strong proponent of in-person interactions, Brown encourages his team to explore problems from all angles and come to him with creative solutions. He also strives to be accessible, whether to his team members, his peers, or the company’s executive leadership.

“Having one-on-one conversations can really go a long way toward not only helping the organization, but also helping those individuals better understand how to take action on their own,” he emphasizes. “My leadership philosophy has evolved to be less about telling people how to do the job and more about managing by asking questions.”

Indeed, Brown views many of his day-to-day responsibilities through the lens of coaching. Although he trusts his team of fifty-five to call the shots on many matters, he doesn’t hesitate to step in when complications arise—as they sometimes do, given Hormel’s diverse array of healthcare and retirement plans.

Among his recent initiatives, Brown reintroduced total rewards statements and converted the company’s final average pay pension plan to a cash balance plan. Furthermore, he has worked toward opening a near-site clinic in their corporate headquarters to serve Hormel Foods employees. The purpose of this initiative was to improve access to high-quality healthcare while keeping it affordable with low or no cost options, and ultimately improve the health and well-being of team members and their dependents. They partnered with the Mayo Clinic to identify an organization to operate the near-site clinic, which resulted in selecting Premise Health, whose partnership has been greatly valued since the clinic’s opening in 2020.

Brown finds it rewarding to help team members—and community members—lead healthier and happier lives, and he hopes to dedicate the rest of his career to doing exactly that. They are in the process of opening a childcare center in April 2024 that would not only be available to employees, but the public as well. He envisions continuing to enhance the company’s benefits in years to come by leveraging point solutions to address specialized healthcare needs and using technology to drive employee engagement from hire to retire, and beyond.

“We have an obligation to evolve our plans so that we can attract and retain the right talent,” Brown says. “The goal of putting these programs in place is to allow our employees to have long, successful careers with the company, then prepare to retire and retire well. I’m very proud that we are able to achieve that goal.”

Spring Health is a comprehensive mental health solution for employers and health plans. Unlike any other solution, we use clinically validated technology called Precision Mental Healthcare to pinpoint and deliver exactly what will work for each person—whether that’s meditation, coaching, therapy, medication, and beyond. 

Spring Health supports Tom Brown at Hormel Foods by ensuring their employees and families have the care they need, when they need it. For more information, please visit springhealth.com

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