2017: Rick Benson

Swine Manager of the Year Article

Finding a manager who acts with integrity, inspires loyalty, embraces change and prioritizes the well-being of his team and the pigs they care for above all else can be challenging; but to find one who has been a member of the same team for over 25-years is rare.

Hugoson Pork recognizes how privileged they are to have a team member like Rick Benson, the 2017 Swine Manger of the Year.

“You can teach technical competency, management skills, even communication skills,” said Kevin Hugoson, “but what you can’t teach is what Rick has – the capacity to motivate, drive, develop and inspire loyalty in a team; that takes character.”

In 1986, after discovering that the family construction business was not his passion, Benson took his first on-farm job where he discovered that he enjoyed working with pigs and the people involved in the pork industry.

A couple years later, Benson was recruited by a friend who worked for Preferred Capital Management to manage a gilt multiplier in rural Martin County. In 1991, intrigued by the opportunity to work with progressive and innovative people, Benson became the manager of WelCam, a gilt multiplier that later transitioned to a commercial sow farm in the mid-nineties.  Benson remains the manager of WelCam today which is owned solely by Hugoson Pork.

Over the years, two things have remained constant for Benson: the desire to be on the leading edge of innovative practices being introduced into the pork industry and his passion for mentoring and developing members of his team.

Under Benson’s management, WelCam was one of the first farms in Martin County to introduce artificial insemination.

“In the early days it was an absolute failure,” said Benson. “The important thing was we didn’t give up and learned from the experience.”

Time and time again Benson’s willingness to embrace new technologies has resulted in a step forward for the industry. Whether it has been biosecurity measures associated with filtration or the adjustment of on-farm standard operating procedures, Benson has lead by example inspiring his team to seek challenge and an innovation in order to be industry leaders.

Today, Benson is instrumental in the planning, development and execution of a significant expansion at WelCam. The expansion will allow Benson to embrace change and innovation once again as the expansion includes the installation of a filtration system, Z wall, cool cell technology and free-access stall system which is the first of its kind within Hugoson Pork.

“Rick’s dedication to the hog industry and drive are second to none,” said Hugoson. “He thinks like an owner and takes full ownership over all aspects of his operation.”

Benson’s innovative way of thinking allows him to have the vision to see the needs of the unit, the animals and staff, long before they become a reality.

Benson knows that being a good manager entails balancing people and production.

When asked why he has been so successful in his management role Benson said, “Most importantly it is a result of a great deal of patience; second, it is the ability to build relationships within our team, embrace change, take care of our people and always do what is right for the pig.”

The tenure of Benson’s team speaks volumes about who he is as a manger.

Benson’s assistant manager, who has been with him for 18 years said, “Rick evaluates and determines each employee’s skills and then helps them use those skills and abilities to their advantage.”

The most common reason why someone has left the WelCam team has been because of a promotion into a leadership role at a different farm.

“I’m really proud when members of our team move up into leadership roles,” said Benson. “It is sad to lose them but it is humbling and rewarding to know I had a hand in their development.”

When recognizing managers we often think of the responsibilities they have that make themselves and their teams successful within their unit however, Benson’s role has evolved to have broader impact.  In 2015 Benson took on a mentoring role within Hugoson Pork allowing him to share his knowledge and expertise with other units.

“Expanding Rick’s role into a mentorship capacity has empowered him to provide motivational guidance and foresight to all our sites across Southern Minnesota,” said Hugoson. “Having Rick as a mentor has been one of the best decisions our organization has made for our employees, managers and animals.”

Benson is proud of his accomplishments as a manger but more proud of the accomplishments of his entire team.

“Being a manager means thinking sensibly and always doing the right thing for animals and our team,” said Benson. “It is my job to make sure they are appreciated, engaged and they have everything they need to be successful. If they are not successful, I am not successful.”