Interview with Ryan Kippers, Planning and Analysis Team Lead at Conestoga Meats

Over the past year FoodGrads has had the opportunity to speak with professionals across the food and beverage industry with our webinar series with CareersNow!

This time we are focusing on Ryan Kippers , Planning and Analysis Team Lead at Conestoga Meats. Conestoga Meats is a processor of premium quality, fresh pork that has been in operation since 1982.

In this interactive interview we learned:

  • How Ryan transitioned from life sciences to business
  • What a typical day looks like for him
  • How the food and beverage industry hires within
  • The top skills required for a finance role
  • Misconceptions about the meat industry

It was a great time talking to Ryan and we are excited to show that the food industry welcomes everyone from all walks of life. This interview is chock full of great advice on how to develop a lifelong career in the food and beverage industry.

Want to watch the entire interview instead? Click on the video below!

Now let’s get on with the interview!

Ryan can you introduce yourself?

Ryan: My career started at McMaster. I did my undergrad in honors life science. I graduated in 2017 and went into my master’s of business administration. I did three co-ops there – one as a policy analyst for the Ministry of Finance. Then I did two at Ford of Canada, one in government relations, and then I pivoted into parts and service marketing. From there, I got hired as a pricing analyst, pricing out new vehicles across all the dealerships in Canada. I had the opportunity to come for a tour at Conestoga and I immediately fell in love with it. I loved how busy and fast-paced it was, the growth that Conestoga has. I’ve been here now for two and a half years, and it’s been a great two and a half.

Was the food and beverage industry promoted at your school or during your education at McMaster?

Ryan: Food and beverage wasn’t heavily promoted during my MBA, and there weren’t many opportunities for me to jump into it. However, I wouldn’t have necessarily pictured myself in the food and beverage industry until I came to Conestoga and saw all that was happening. I had some misconceptions and didn’t know what opportunities were available to me. But when I came here, my eyes were opened and I was amazed by all the opportunities provided and the growth within Conestoga and the industry. There are many opportunities that could come my way in the near future.

Did you always think you’d be in your current role or did you fall into it?

Ryan: So I started off my university experience in honors life science. I thought I was gonna do something in healthcare. But then as I got closer to the end of my undergrad, I realized, you know, there’s so much more potential and I don’t wanna do another four years. My brother was also in business school at that time and he suggested that I check out the business side of things. As I took additional courses on top of my undergrad, I soon came to realize that the skills that I gained in my undergrad while doing the science courses could actually be applied to the business field, particularly in the data analytics side of things.

After realizing my interest in data analytics, I pursued my MBA and fell in love with the field. I was able to apply my knowledge of analytics and data analysis to drive real insights and changes within the business, particularly here at Conestoga, where we have access to vast amounts of data on hoc and sales. I never would have thought I’d end up in the meat industry, but I love the opportunities it has provided for me to apply my skills and drive meaningful results.

How big is the team you’re currently in?

Ryan: The finance team is divided into the IT and accounting teams. The financial planning analysis team, which I lead, has two analysts and a co-op student. The accounting team consists of about eight members, while the IT team has around 10 people. It’s a great team to work with.

What does your typical day look like for you as a Planning and Analysis Team Lead?

Ryan: My day is structured around different projects involving data analysis. We have a lot of data, including hog data, operational data, and sales data, and we use it to drive real metrics. Depending on the project, it could be ad hoc analysis or creating business cases to see if expansion or capital investment is worth it.

The food industry is known for hiring within and people don’t like to leave it. Can you comment on that?

Ryan: Yeah. I think that’s important. Understanding, especially at Conestoga, the culture and fitting in with that culture is huge. We constantly want to promote people who show the Conestoga way and its values.

Especially if they’re achieving their company and personal objectives, it’s important to continue promoting them because they’re our future leaders. Those who are following within the culture, growing in it, and showing they’re doing a great job is important.

If someone joins your team, what would be like the top skills, both soft skills and technical skills that you look for in finance?

Ryan: Yeah, I think the biggest thing with me is all about curiosity. I think curiosity, asking the right questions, being open to learning new things. Oftentimes those hard skills are able to be taught, what isn’t is the softer stuff that you really are looking for. So being able to ask the right questions, being open to learning new things, being honest and truthful. And then on the hard skills, I would say really looking at your Excel skills on that intermediate side or advanced side and just being honest about them as well. I can’t stress that enough. How many times I’ve interviewed someone who says that they have advanced skills, and then you kind of start prying a little bit and you understand that maybe you’re not as advanced as you think you really.

What misconceptions might someone have of the industry?

Ryan: For me, the supporting departments often get overlooked. On the production side, operations is the main focus, whereas finance, QA, and other departments also support operations. Oftentimes, those are really overlooked. We have the accounting team, payables, and receivables, just like every other company.

When I came for a tour, I was blown away by how clean everything is. We have a full wash down every single day, which is pretty insane, and they work throughout the night. Also, the automation. We incorporate robotics and automation into our process, which is not as traditional anymore. We’re continuing to evolve as a company to include better automation that creates better products, drives greater value, and provides our producers back.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face with your job? You know, the days that you come in and you feel really challenged?

Ryan: Honestly, that depends on the different project that I’m working on. One of the biggest challenges, especially as a growing company, is trying to prioritize properly. I may have a million different things, a million different requests coming at me. It’s all about prioritizing and talking through with my manager what needs to be done and what can be pushed off for me is the biggest challenge.

What’s the best piece of advice you received when you were starting out?

While I was a student, the best piece of advice was to continue to network, connect with people, play that student card because nine times out of 10 people will respond back to you, whether that’s on LinkedIn or shooting them an email. Most people are willing to sit down with you and help you.

So using that student card and really leveraging your network, building out your network and understanding what people are working on in order to try to see if you can see yourself doing that is a big thing.

What advice would you give to new grads or people who are unsure about their next steps?

I would say don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with people who have been successful in the food and beverage industry. Continue to look at opportunities as opportunities and seize them when you can. Building out your network and talking with people will help them understand what opportunities there are. Even here at Conestoga, we’re growing so fast, and over the last five years, we’ve grown so fast that there are always more opportunities to grow in your career.

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