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Interview with Gary Ray, Chair

1941-2016.  “There’s a virtuous circle at work in that the success of Hormel Foods makes the Foundation able to do more; the more the Foundation can do, the better it is for the community; the better the community does, the better Hormel Foods does. Those relationships are what has made it possible for us to contribute almost $197 million to the community over the last 75 years."

Gary Ray

In recognition of The Hormel Foundation's 75th Anniversary in 2016, the following is an interview with Mr. Gary Ray, Chair of The Hormel Foundation since 2011 and board member since 1996, reflecting on the impact of The Hormel Foundation and its key relationships impacting the community and beyond.

Q:  Congratulations to The Hormel Foundation on reaching its 75th Anniversary.  Could you share with us a bit about its origins?

GARY: The Hormel Foundation was founded in 1941 by George A. Hormel and his son Jay C. Hormel. There were five board members and the first donation was $10.  Since then we've grown far beyond what even the Hormels probably imagined, but in some ways we do things just like we did 75 years ago.  We invest in projects and programs that deliver real benefits, that help real people, and that make a real impact in our community.  The people who make those decisions live and work here, have their roots here, and share the same commitment to Austin that the Hormels demonstrated.

Q:  What particular initiatives over the past 75 years is the Foundation most proud of?

GARY:  There are many places in this community where you can see the Foundation’s work in action, but if I had to pick one that I’m most proud of, it would probably be The Hormel Institute. There aren't many other communities of our size that host world-class research centers, much less research centers that are making fundamental discoveries at the leading edge of their field.

In addition to this, adding several non-profit organizations to the board allows the Foundation to reach across the community to provide support that is transformative.  It is thrilling to see the broad reach of The Hormel Foundation and the many positive ways it touches people in the community.

Q: What initiatives are in the pipeline that you are excited about?

GARY:  There are several outstanding new initiatives envisioned by the board for now and the future.  Vision 2020 will bring about several projects to enhance the quality of living and working in Austin.  The Hormel Institute and the commercialization of discoveries aimed to grow new business and become an economic benefit to Austin are hugely exciting.  Riverland Community College's new Center for Agriculture and Food Science Technology program will merge technology, science, and agriculture and perhaps turn RCC into a global leader for training future farmers.  There's a lot to be excited about.

Q:  How do you assess the positive impact of the Foundation on Austin, our state and society at large?

GARY:  The Foundation plays three very important roles: one, we’re a source of direct support to projects and initiatives that benefit the Austin community.  Two, by virtue of ownership of more than 48 percent of Hormel Foods Corporation stock, we guarantee the company’s stability.  In that role, we have played a part in keeping Hormel Foods independent, growing and - perhaps most importantly - based here in Austin.  Three, we provide for the financial welfare of family heirs for the duration established by family trusts.

The positive impact of the Foundation on Austin, our state, and society at large can be measured in different ways. Keeping Hormel Foods based in Austin has had a significant impact on jobs in the community and the number of people living and working here.  In terms of philanthropic giving, nearly $197 million has been gifted since 1941, which is significant in particular for a small city the size of Austin.  The Hormel Foundation is the second largest donor to University of Minnesota because of support given to The Hormel Institute - that is a major impact for Austin and the state of Minnesota. 

To measure in terms of achievement of charitable giving, the list is long - we aim to reach and benefit virtually every aspect of living and working in Austin and help all people throughout the community, from gifted and talented youth to people with special needs.  Education, scholarships, success coaching, housing, underrepresented students being first in their families to attend college, childcare, bike trails, arts and music, groundbreaking cancer research - the impact is deep and far-reaching, benefitting our entire community - organizations, businesses and most importantly, people's lives.

Q:  Most of us are aware of the positive and far-reaching impact the Foundation has on the local community, but can you share a bit about how it operates on the inside from a governance perspective? I imagine that has been a key to its sustained success over the past 75 years.

GARY:  You're right.  We've been fortunate to have both great leadership and tremendous resources, two powerful instruments for change. We also have an important responsibility as controlling shareholder of Hormel Foods Corporation - we take that role very seriously.

We have a board of directors made up of appointed members from most of our supported organizations and we have elected directors.  These directors work to invest in projects and programs that deliver real benefits, that help real people and that make a real impact in our community.

Q:  Interesting, and I'm glad you mentioned Hormel Foods.  Can you share a bit more about the relationship between the Foundation and the Company?

GARY:  Sure. Although we are the majority shareholders of Hormel Foods, we are not involved in their day-to-day business activities.  Hormel Foods has its own separate Board of Directors that provide governance to the company.

There’s a great tradition in our country of respected companies that have historic ties with founding families, or local communities, and therein lies the role and relationship of The Hormel Foundation to the company. The genius – and I use that word deliberately – of the Hormel family was in setting up our Foundation in a way that benefitted the family, the company, and the community here in Austin, as well as the wider world through the great and innovative work of the Hormel Institute.

Q: So is the Foundation similar to the Hershey Trust, which has been in the news recently because of its relationship with Hershey, given an approach to buy that company?

GARY: It’s actually qualitatively different, and that also goes to the foresight of George A. and Jay C. Hormel in setting up the Foundation. The Foundation has a long standing and explicit responsibility – which includes both supporting the local Austin community and preserving the independence of Hormel Foods. Through the Foundation’s continued and enduring ownership of a strategic shareholding of Hormel Food’s voting stock, I’m pleased that the Foundation is well positioned to continue living up to that mandate.