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True Story: Karen McCarty

True Story: Karen McCarty

Tell us about where you grew up

I grew up mainly in Minnesota.  My dad worked for 3M so, we moved around a little; spent my early years in Rochester, NY, then back to a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota until high school.  We moved to Brussels, Belgium, the summer before my senior year of high school so, I spent summers and my holiday breaks in Europe through college.

Tell us about where you went to school and what for:

University of Wisconsin- Madison, Wisconsin

Major: Bacteriology

Tell us about you career path and how you have gotten to where you are today. 

I had a job with the USDA Forest Product Service department during my senior year of college, working with a team doing pulp and paper research.  The objective was to use a fungus to pre-treat the wood chips before refining and mechanically pulping them to determine if we could improve the strength characteristics of the paper.  I stayed with that team conducting all the QC testing for a year after I graduated until the grant funding my position expired.

I focused my attention on positions more related to my Bacteriology major and received an offer from Deibel Laboratories.  The job started in WI, with the understanding I would transfer to their new operations in Tulare, CA, to open a new lab supporting the dairy operations in that region.  Three years later, I followed another opportunity and helped construct and open a new Deibel location in the San Francisco area, working primarily with the meat industry.  Both of those opportunities provided new and difficult challenges that put me in situations to learn just about every lesson related to contract lab management and food safety consulting the hard way!  It was a great opportunity; Bob Deibel and his team were great mentors that helped me expand my skills into broader food safety and manufacturing areas.

After getting married and determining the cost of living in the Bay Area in the late 90’s was getting out of control, we moved to Minnesota, where I accepted a position with Davisco in the Corporate Quality Office as a QA Manager. My role initially focused on our HACCP and laboratory programs; however, my responsibilities quickly expanded into more general quality assurance policy and factory-focused functions.  As opportunities arose, I accepted changes in position to Assistant QA Director, QA Director, and now into my role as Senior Director of QA, following the acquisition by Agropur.  I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have great mentors who have trusted and challenged me with some unique opportunities to expand my knowledge and continue to develop my skills.

How has Agropur supported your growth within the company?

The Agropur team, in particular, the QA team I work with now under the leadership of Chris Simon, has been amazingly supportive and encouraging as I have progressed into the role I have today.  In a QA role, it’s easy to focus just on the technical skills and knowledge.  I wasn’t able to move beyond technical expertise until connecting  with some additional leadership development resources provided by Agropur.  The support and training provided by Agropur have helped me transform my technical skillset to better support and lead our QA team.  We are striving every day to support Agropur’s objective to be a leader in the dairy industry with a world-class Quality Culture!

What does your current role entail and what kind of things do you work on?

Fundamentally speaking, our team is responsible for defining and supporting all quality assurance, quality control, and food safety policies and objectives within the US organization.  We define procedures, assist in product disposition and investigation for quality of food safety defects, ensure regulatory compliance, help troubleshoot issues, share learnings across our factories, and provide education and training support. All while working to support and grow our quality culture.  The expectations around quality and safety in the food manufacturing industry, along with our customer expectations, have changed dramatically in the last 5 years, so we are constantly challenged to improve existing programs and develop new ones that are best in class. Changes in best in class standards come quickly, so we work with the factories to find mitigation strategies, understanding CAPEX projects aren’t always a practical solution.  Since quality touches so many parts of our business, we focus on collaboration with other departments to ensure we can meet all the food safety and quality demands.

In my current role, the team and I are currently spending time working to refine, and in many cases re-define, our workstyles.  Our focus is to create a team structure that is designed to implement quality programs and practices as a support function of our business operations.  Within our team, we have identified vital quality skills necessary  in areas such as process control, laboratory, cheese manufacturing, whey/dry powder processing, supplier management, sanitation, microbiology, training/education, policy/regulation, validation, auditing, etc.  We intend to build further on our team-based culture to provide the best possible quality support to the organization, which we will  promote through project management fundamentals, communication, and transparency.  Under this structure, we can always fit the right solution/team member to the problem and will be positioned to escalate an issue across the organization when needed.

Why do you love Agropur? 

During the initial stages of the acquisition and integration several years ago, I admit I was a little apprehensive about how I would fit into what I perceived as a large organization.  My previous experience had been with a smaller, family-owned business, and I had some preconceived notions about what it would be like working for a “big” company.   I tried to keep an open mind, and now I can’t imagine working anywhere else!  The company’s focus on strategic vision, employee engagement, and core values has  helped connect me to Agropur and has empowered me to work with my co-workers to define and achieve our goals.  Go team!

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