#47: Luke Thedford – Plant Manager at Pederson’s Farms
Luke Thedford Podcast Transcript
Neil Dudley: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pederson’s Farms podcast. We are so excited you’re here. We appreciate you joining us. And we look forward to sharing these conversations with thought leaders from our industry. They’re going to paint a picture from every perspective – consumer, customer, vendor, employee, and peer – that I think is going to be super valuable, and we’re really excited to share. So, thanks for tuning in. Remember don’t tune out, and grab life by the bacon.
Okay. Hey, everybody, welcome back. We’re on the Pederson’s Farms Podcast. This happens to be one of those employee episodes we do and I look forward to every time because I know there’s just so much value in this team, this group of people that we have at Pederson’s. Today, we’ve got Luke Thedford, he’s our plant manager. And I want to tell his story and I’m going to pull it out of him because I guarantee he’s sitting there right now saying this son of a gun, he made me do it. How did I end up here? Is that true?
Luke Thedford: Yeah, that’s very true.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, right. But Luke runs the plant. I mean, this guy has a huge job, a huge impact in where your food comes from and how Pederson’s does what they do. And look, we just have to explore that. So, I made you do this earlier, but you’re going to have to do it again. For those who don’t know, just tell us where you come from, who you are, like maybe two or three minutes of just like have you got brothers and sisters, what’s your mom and dad like, where’d you grow up again?
Luke Thedford: Again, name’s Luke Thedford. And I grew up in a small town, Gustine, Texas. Currently live in Hamilton, been in Hamilton the last eight years. I got one brother. He lives here in Comanche. My parents, they still reside in Gustine, Texas.
Neil Dudley: What’s your dad’s name?
Luke Thedford: Ike Thedford.
Neil Dudley: Oh, come on. What’s everybody call him?
Luke Thedford: Scooter.
Neil Dudley: I didn’t even know that. I was thinking Ike-y. Is that totally wrong? So, Scooter’s what his nickname is?
Luke Thedford: That’s what all his family calls him.
Neil Dudley: There you go. Your dad’s family’s so interesting and unique. It is like every one of them, all the brothers and sisters have a nickname.
Luke Thedford: Yeah, it’s a huge family.
Neil Dudley: Yeah. It’s huge. It’s fun. Now, people listening don’t know this, we’re connected kind of through the grapevine, through Stacy and Stacy’s dad and marriage. His sister married your uncle. So, it’s like, okay cool, we’re kind of family. You can draw a line that way if you want to. I do because I just think it’s cool. So, for those who don’t know, Gustine is like a town of a hundred people, 200 people, not many. Comanche’s a town of 4,000. Hamilton’s a town of a couple thousand. So, we’re kind of in the country. I mean, we absolutely are. That’s where Pederson’s products are made. Those people working in our facility come from this area. I think that’s a really fun story to tell. It’s a fun truth. It doesn’t make us better or anything. It’s just, hey, this is the reality of it.
Luke Thedford: Yeah, probably 25% of them come from Gustine.
Neil Dudley: Half the town of Gustine. So big shout out to Gustine. Man, you’re kicking out awesome people that we really love working with. Luke’s kind of- that story, your experience, your journey at Pederson’s is really awesome. It’s cool to me. Maybe help me paint that. So, do you remember what your first- like, why did you even come to work at Pederson’s?
Luke Thedford: Well, I was working here in Comanche out at a [metal ten kit 3:35], and it closed down. And Chrissy gave me a call. And the next day, I started working in the shipping and receiving at Pederson’s. Then just from then, gradually moved my way up to where I’m at today.
Neil Dudley: When was- do you remember when-?
Luke Thedford: 15 years ago.
Neil Dudley: 15 years ago. Wow, time flies, man. I remember counting inventory, pulling every single thing out of the freezer, counting it. And just, what do you think made you willing or interested in moving up or having more responsibility?
Luke Thedford: Just when I got there, just seeing that there was opportunity to move up and just took advantage of everything that I could to get where I wanted to be.
Neil Dudley: Well, yeah. I mean, that’s cool. I like that. You did do that. But there’s something innate about you that makes you want to do better. Like really. Like, what do you think makes you want to do that? Because there are people who say cool.
Luke Thedford: Probably just the way I was raised. I mean, that’s my parents, it didn’t matter if we were playing sports or showing livestock, we wanted to be at the top. I mean, they just instill that in you.
Neil Dudley: Where do you think they got that?
Luke Thedford: From their parents. I mean, my grandparents.
Neil Dudley: It’s family, isn’t it?
Luke Thedford: It just pushes down to-
Neil Dudley: That’s right. That’s how it ends up being at a business, I think. I would argue business operates a lot like family. I would say Cody expects me to do good. I want to make him proud. He’s my best friend since kindergarten. He’s not some dictator or some brilliant person. He’s just a person I care about. I want to do good because we’re in this thing together. I think you feel that way a lot.
Luke Thedford: Well, yeah, it’s just like one big family there anyway. That’s what- that’s the whole- that’s one of the best things about the job. Start from the president down, I mean, it’s just one big family.
Neil Dudley: Man, if you- and in reality, like exactly, Cody, Chrissy, they’ve lived in Gustine forever. They’re almost like family with the Thedfords. Now me, Stacy, we’re all- it’s like not just this work family, but there’s actual deep-rooted connections from outside of work with a huge portion of the Pederson’s family, Pederson’s team. For everybody listening- Okay, cool, that’s great. I think that paints a pretty good picture of who you are, where you came from. You started out in shipping and receiving, just was willing to raise your hand and say I’ll do that. So now as the plant manager, what are you thinking about- How are you finding people with that same kind of, I don’t know, work ethic, expectation, willingness to take responsibility within the team today to try to help them get the best out of their skillset?
Luke Thedford: Well, I mean, it’s hard. Today now in time, it’s a little bit different, but I mean, I’m not saying every one of them that comes in there is that way, but there’s a few that come in there, and you can tell when you see them or just talk to them, you know which ones are going to be that person. And the ones that have put that forward, they work their way up. They’re my main guys or women.
Neil Dudley: You got to have those guys and gals you can count on so you can come do podcasts. That way you can be out here doing a podcast and you don’t have to worry is the plant- is everybody just going home. I just think even Pederson’s team members that listen to this, it’s my chance to say, man, I appreciate y’all. This is me saying I appreciate you. I mean, that’s the reason I try to kind of get people on the podcast because they’re people I appreciate. And I appreciate everybody, I just haven’t got them all on here, but we’re kind of slowly working through everybody. And it just makes my life happier to be involved with a bunch of cool people that are hardworking and trustworthy. In your job, in your tasks, in the things that you do, what’s the- maybe just pick one. I didn’t even- everybody should know, I haven’t prepped Luke at all, which is another reason he’s nervous as heck. He’s got no clue what I’m fixing to ask him. I said, Luke, I’m only going to ask you about stuff you know and live and do every single day so it’s not going to be a surprise. This is a little bit of a question you might have to think about. If you can’t pull it off the top of your head, well that’s okay, we’ll go to the next kind of topic. What’s like one of the favorite- your most- what is something you just really enjoy about what you do?
Luke Thedford: There’s a whole bunch that I enjoy about it. I mean, the whole job in general, I enjoy it. I don’t come to work any day disliking my job. So, that’s the perk of it.
Neil Dudley: Well, you know you like it. Listen, I know you like it. I was going to say you know you like it. Well, of course you do. But I know you like it because it might be- I might send Luke a text saying, hey, I think we got this order coming in, and he’ll go up there at 2:00 AM to sort things out within his production schedule and those kind things. You got to like it a little to do stuff like that.
Luke Thedford: Yeah. When we’re real busy and it is a challenge of all the sales wanting everything out and figuring out how to do it, it might sound a little weird, but whenever it puts pressure on you, I kind of like that part of the job, being able to figure out all the puzzles to get it all done on time and fill everything.
Neil Dudley: Yeah. That is pressure. Like just, I look sometimes at somebody doing the job of construction worker or something that’s holding that sign all day that says stop or go slow. I’m just like my gosh, I mean, I got to take my hat off to somebody that’s able- because I couldn’t do that. Like I’d just have to go hungry. I couldn’t do it. That doesn’t make me better or different or anything. That’s just not my- it’s not how I’m tweaked. It’s not the thing that I can do. So that being busy, that having pressure to get some stuff done. Like being at the top of an organization, you know this as well as I do, there’s pressure to keep a good paying job for all these people. There’s pressure in that.
Luke Thedford: Yeah, they depend on us just like- they’re the most important people. They’re more important than us.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, sure. You can just Google people and business, and you’re going to find so much information about it really all comes down to the people. Whatever industry, any industry, any organization, it is going to be as good, as successful as the people inside it. What about some R&D stuff? Like you dabble in that a little bit.
Luke Thedford: Yeah, I do a lot of that it seems like sometimes.
Neil Dudley: So I think that’s a thing you really like.
Luke Thedford: I do like that. It’s kind of neat sometimes.
Neil Dudley: Well, and I think that comes because you kind of do barbecue. Don’t you think a little bit of that comes from just who you are, like your family and how y’all get together?
Luke Thedford: Oh yeah, absolutely. Back eight years ago, we used to have a Pederson’s barbecue team. We went out on the road and we’d pretty much R&D everything out and see what the people like. And it was pretty neat.
Neil Dudley: See, isn’t it funny how you lose sight of some of those things that got you where you are? You just get busy, pandemic hits. I mean, we got to keep kind of bringing those things back because- this podcast is an example. It’s my way of trying to kind of do a thing we did 20 years ago when we were just talking. Every customer we had, we talked to them because we only had three. I mean, it was just different. So now we’ve got a lot more customers. We’ve grown the business. We’re going to continue to try to grow the business. A philosophy within Pederson’s is if you’re not growing, you’re dying. So, we’re going to always be leaning forward to try to grow, try to put new products out that people like. So, it gets harder than to talk specifically to every customer. So maybe this podcast is a way that customers can get to know people that otherwise they might not could have in just the way we run our business today or the truth about the thing. What about ERP systems? What do you know about ERP systems? How do you like that? You got any advice for people that make those things? You know they’re going to be listening. Just tell them the truth.
Luke Thedford: I’ve gone through two since I’ve been here, learning them.
Neil Dudley: First off, what’s an ERP system? There’s a lot of people listening that’ve got no clue what that is.
Luke Thedford: The side that I work in is the production side of the ERP system. I mean, you get one that actually works, and you don’t want to change. And it seems like we’re always wanting to change. And I always have- I’m just now getting it figured out and all the employees figure it out and then it’s time for a change.
Neil Dudley: Then a different one. For somebody who doesn’t know, ERP, I don’t even know what the acronym stands for, but it’s basically a software, computer software that runs your accounting, your chart of accounts, your production system, inventory, keeps up with the inventory, sometimes it keeps up with your quality and lot tracking, all those things. Well, this stuff is super important to Luke because that’s his job. I mean, he is scheduling and thinking about how we produce product so that we have it when customers need it. I mean, and it’s a complicated thing. Like the smallest thing, I don’t even know what an example would be, but sometimes a number gets transposed, it really causes sometimes days of searching to find out, man, how did this get messed up? What about, let’s say, let’s just think about for a minute, your journey from shipping and receiving to plant managing. What is one of those things that you found pretty challenging? Do you have a hard time saying, okay cool, let somebody else do this?
Luke Thedford: Nah, the biggest challenge is because you- It’s hard to let go of some of the stuff because sometimes it makes your job worse. So if you just do it yourself, then you know it’s right. That is one of my biggest deals. I’ll just do it, whether how long it takes me or what. I just trust myself.
Neil Dudley: I’ve got to do it because I don’t want to take the chance of being a rat’s nest you got to figure out. It’s like me with my kids. We’re fishing. Albany wants to cast the pole. It’s one of those that will backlash terribly if you don’t do it right. I’m like, no, I’m casting the pole. But finally, one day, I was like she’s going to have to learn. I just said, okay, go ahead, girl. I want to show you one time this is what you have to do, or this is going to be a problem. You’re not going to be fishing. You’re going to be fixing your fishing pole this whole time. And turns out, she’s pretty dang good at it. She’s probably better than me.
Luke Thedford: Back before this new, back to the ERP system, the old one, I mean, I really didn’t even take off, didn’t want to take off because when you got back, it was such a headache. And now we’ve got people in there that are trained and it makes it to where I can actually take off and not fear for my life when I get back, how much work I got. So, we’ve got some people in here now that really help.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, capable, want the responsibility, all those things. We’ll get around to interviewing them. What else do you like in life? And look, I think there’s a lot of value in your journey. I mean, it’s not been just a bed of roses. There’s tough stuff that happens in everybody’s life, getting from anywhere to anywhere. Talk about some of that if you don’t mind. Like before- Just coming out of high school, going to college. Did you go to college? What was all that like? And then how’d you end up getting in the workforce?
Luke Thedford: High school, after high school, I went to Charleston. Went to Charleston, then I did some night classes at Ranger Junior College, then went to Charleston, lived over at Charleston and worked for my dad. My dad ran a fertilizer company in Dublin, El Dorado Chemical. So, I’d worked there. From there, I’d go to college and back and forth. From there, I can’t even, it’s been so long, I’m getting so old, I can’t even remember where all I’ve been.
Neil Dudley: Well, what about- okay, so never mind. I want to jump onto, did you play sports? Where you like into sports?
Luke Thedford: Yeah, I played every sport. I mean, we grew up with six men. We played like six-man football.
Neil Dudley: I’m going to just tell everybody a little secret about the Thedfords, they’re competitive. Like all of them, they’re just competitive. I mean, you just get around them, they’re competitive. Would you agree with that?
Luke Thedford: Yeah, the most competitive family I’ve ever seen.
Neil Dudley: Dominoes, I mean, just walking from this corner to that corner, there’s going to be some competition in it. What’s that like now being a dad and watching your kids? How does that- like, can you give me some advice? Because you’ve got kids that are older than mine. Mine are coming into those ages.
Luke Thedford: Well, my oldest daughter, she’s going to Charleston now. She was super competitive. I mean, well, all of them at the house. I got two- Well, I didn’t even say, I got two daughters and a son. Oldest daughter’s in college. Middle daughter, she’ll be a senior this year. Then my son, he’ll be a sophomore. And it doesn’t matter what- we play corn hole, washers. It didn’t matter. It was- I mean, lots of fights. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing. My son’s probably the most competitive out of all of them. I mean, he’s-
Neil Dudley: Yeah, do you think that’s just because he is a boy or just being the youngest kid?
Luke Thedford: Little of both. I’m probably more harder on him than the girls. And he’s got the competitive, more competitive side like I do and the rest of my family.
Neil Dudley: See, that’s the interesting thing for me is I’ve just got all girls. Although, I push them pretty hard. I don’t- and I think that’s good. I mean, almost every time a kid gets in the car with me after any practice, any game or something, the first thing I do is tell them something they could have done better in my mind, which is not great. I mean, I’ve seen this social post with Mike Gundy, and his dad was a coach and Mike Gundy was a coach. Now, Mike Gundy’s trying to coach his kid from the stands, and his dad’s like, what are you doing? Like just shut up. If you want to coach him, coach him at home.
Luke Thedford: It’s a hard thing not to- I mean, I’m the same way. The girls, I get on them, and they cry. I guess the son, he won’t, so that makes it a little easier.
Neil Dudley: Well, I mean, though, you got to think as a parent, there’s still an effect there, even if it’s not something you can really see, crying or whatever. That goes into business too. Like how do you have those tough conversations in business? How do you think about coaching your team?
Luke Thedford: Well, first of all, you got to coach instead of, I mean, instead of dictate. That’s the number one deal. I mean, each one is just like a football team or basketball team. Each one you got to treat different. You get the most out one this way. And the other one, you get the most out. I mean, it’s just-
Neil Dudley: It’s the sugar and vinegar illustration. And I’m that way. Like you get more out of me with certain pressures than you do with other pressures. And you got to allow in your organization and in your people those differences. And that’s how you get to a leadership position, is realizing okay, cool, I’ve got to find that tool in my toolbox that helps me work with each individual and keep them motivated, excited, accountable. I don’t think that means everybody always just gets to be, oh, yay, you’re perfect. No, there’s rules. How do you think about the realities that everybody that works at Pederson’s has life outside of Pederson’s? And a lot of times that can suck. It just has other pressures. It could be just stuff from death in the family to tough times at home in a marriage to a kid that’s sick, so many things that are just realities in everybody’s life. How do you think about those things?
Luke Thedford: At work, I just try to be there. If any of them have it, it’s open door. If I can help them, talk to them on a personal level, I mean, I’ve done that many times. And I’ve been through the same thing. So, I mean, I’ve talked to them. I’ve got one of my good friends, best friends works there, so that makes it pretty nice.
Neil Dudley: Well, I know that too. Like my best friend since kindergarten works there. We’d talk about, maybe not so much now, but 10 years ago, 15 years ago, we’d just talk about philosophy of how we’re going to do things all the time. And man, this is tough, I don’t know what I’m going to do about grandpa, he’s going downhill. Just stuff like that. What I thought was really valuable in what you said was I’ve been through it too. Humans can’t pretend if you’re in a leadership position or if you’re in any kind of organization, you can’t pretend everybody else is not dealing with the same poop. Because we all got to deal with it and keep trudging forward, keep showing up and not giving up, from addiction to just so many things that I don’t want anybody to be ashamed of. Don’t be ashamed of it. Everybody has dealt with, if it’s not that exact same thing, it’s simpler, it goes along that same vein. So, we just have to pull together. And then there’s great times too. It’s a lot of fun to have fun at work and enjoy it. That’s totally possible. You don’t have to- If you go to work and you hate it, I would advise you, stop doing that; do something different.
Luke Thedford: I mean, 15 years and ain’t a day that I’ve just really dreaded ever having to go to work. So, that means you like it. There’s something going on in that company that’s right.
Neil Dudley: Sure. How are the Bulldogs going to be at football this year?
Luke Thedford: We’re going to be young. We’re going to be really young, but we’re going to be competitive. The next two years, we’re going to be hopefully playing at Jerry’s World.
Neil Dudley: I mean, we are in Central Texas. We got to be talking about football a little bit, especially with guys, like people that don’t know his son, he’s an athlete. He’s a bigger kid. What is Hunter to you? I guess a nephew?
Luke Thedford: He’s my cousin.
Neil Dudley: Cousin. You got a cousin that plays four years in college, maybe even five years in college, gone off, been recruited into the NFL, kind of out, now to the US- I mean, Hunter’s story is pretty fun to follow. I mean, that guy sticks with it.
Luke Thedford: Yep. He’s just waiting for that chance.
Neil Dudley: That’s right. And isn’t that kind of true in life and business too? Like we talk about it pretty often in the boardroom. We’re like, man, we just kind of got to hang in here because eventually somebody’s going to send us that PO that we need to get to that next level. And you’re hanging in there a lot. Just maybe one time we’ve got our retail bacon just banging it and you can’t hardly keep up. And then, I swear, in a month, you look up, hey, Neil, I need some more orders. What’s the problem? I’m like, dude, it’s just this ebb and flow of a real business.
Luke Thedford: That’s right. One line to the next. We try to fix one to fill all the orders and then the next line, that’s what’s all- what’s hot.
Neil Dudley: That’s the problem. Well, you’ve lived through it. That was when we couldn’t- I mean, we couldn’t give ends and pieces away. Like it was the biggest problem. Man, what do we- we’re just throwing away so much quality stuff. And now we can’t have enough. It’s like dang, we need to just make bacon- take regular bacon and start chopping it up. We need the ends and pieces.
Luke Thedford: It is crazy. I’ve never seen it like this before.
Neil Dudley: Well, yeah. And you stay in any business long enough, you start seeing, oh wow, it’s changed, totally flipped around, 180 degrees. All right, everybody, I mean, that’s Luke Thedford. He’s a man of few words, but I promise you, he plays a huge role at Pederson’s, and we couldn’t do what we do without him. And I’m really appreciative for him coming on the podcast, and I’m hoping he doesn’t go out of here and tell everybody else not to do it.
Luke Thedford: No, I appreciate you having me on.
Neil Dudley: Yep, that’s good. Okay, cool, I know you’ve got some other stuff to do. Thanks for being on here. All you PNFers out there, stay tuned. If you’re listening on Apple, iTunes, Apple Podcast, iPodcast, whatever that app is called, go follow the show, tell somebody else about it. Listen to all the episodes. We’ve got a bunch of episodes out from a lot of different people. There’s several employee episodes. There’s a lot of episodes from vendors that support our business. That’s another thing you do. Here we go again. I got to ask this, but you deal with our vendors a lot, like equipment companies, spice people. How important are those people to your job within the greater kind of Pederson’s?
Luke Thedford: Right now, I mean, it’s just getting anything in on a time is pretty well unheard of, and we got some good vendors. I work with vendors daily, and they take good care of us. Without them, we wouldn’t be running.
Neil Dudley: It’s a fact. You don’t get Pederson’s bacon without a big network of really hardworking, quality vendors. And I mean, you have those tough negotiations around price and expectations and those things. Well, everybody along the chain has to be able to make a living too. I mean, you can’t begrudge them. Now, I don’t want them to get to vacation in Cabo every time we put in an order, but I want them to have a viable, sustainable business. So, we try to be a good partner. We have customers that are like that with us. Like we sell product to people who want us to stay in business, who want to make sure we’re able to survive. That’s a big piece of it. I hope everybody understands it’s not all take, take, take. A lot of times it’s give and take. Okay, that’s it. See you later, Luke. Thanks for listening, y’all.
Hey, everybody. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Pederson’s Farms Podcast. It’s been a blast bringing this to you, and I sure hope you enjoyed it and found value. If you did, tell a friend, share it out on social media, hit that subscribe button, or go check us out at pedersonsfarms.com. We sure hope you do. And thanks for being here.
(1:21) – Luke’s background
(3:15) – Luke’s journey at Pederson’s
(6:13) – How are you finding people with great wok ethic as the plant manager?
(8:07) – What do you enjoy most about your job?
(10:36) – Thoughts on R&D
(12:28) – ERP Systems
(14:10) – What are some challenges you face in your role?
(15:56) – High School and College life
(17:32) – Fatherhood
(20:47) – Dealing with issues outside of work
(23:17) – High School Football
(25:27) – Wrap up
The Pederson’s Farms Podcast is produced by Johnny Podcasts & Root and Roam.