Features

Kim Pryor – JBS USA 

She gets to the meat of the legal matter 

The worst of COVID-19 may have passed, but on goes a $100 million commitment that the world’s largest meat processor, JBS, made during the height of the pandemic. 

It is called Hometown Strong and has the company’s North American division partnering with the 75 U.S. communities where JBS maintains a manufacturing presence. While the communities have wide parameters in seeking JBS’s funding for projects, it’s up to General Counsel Kim Pryor and her national team to wade through the legalities. 

Kim Pryor | General Counsel | JBS USA 

Kim Pryor | General Counsel | JBS USA

And there tend to be many, whatever the wish list might be. A rural community wants a new wing of a hospital that’s yet to be absorbed by a major chain. Another community wants a water park to keep its children refreshed during the summer heat. Food banks, child-care centers, athletic fields, seniors’ programs, afterschool activities, affordable housing to sustain a workforce—JBS fields those requests and so many more. 

“Each project includes many legal details,” Pryor tells Vanguard from JBS headquarters in Greely, Colorado. “Permitting, contracts, environmental compliance, IP rights—you name it. But my team has had fun working on these projects that uplifted our communities during – and even long after – the pandemic. When our communities were stressed, we stepped up and helped them.” 

As of late spring, JBS had bankrolled around $80 million worth of projects, and she’s now helping the company assess applications for the remainder. It’s been among the most satisfying initiatives Pryor says she’s immersed in her 11 years on the JBS legal team, one that exemplifies the company’s concern for its partnering communities.  

“JBS’s core mission of feeding the world healthy food is noble, but it’s equally important to take care of our employees and communities. They are the backbone of our success, and their well-being is paramount. We demonstrated the sincerity of our commitment to our employees and communities through our Hometown Strong efforts. While other companies may speak loudly about their respective commitments to employee well-being, our actions speak louder.” she says with characteristic candor. 

Empathy for employees 

She’s just as proud to have a role in enhancing working conditions for the hired hands charged with responsibilities that might make others uncomfortable. From Pryor’s observations, there’s no more demanding job than in a slaughterhouse or meat-packing plant, and the company has an obligation to make these people feel valued. 

“Few care to learn how bacon winds up on their plates,” she muses. “But the number of people, the amount of effort, and the resources it takes to make that bacon cheeseburger so many of us enjoy is shocking to everyone who walks through JBS’s doors.” 

In a further effort to thank and support the JBS workers, JBS established its Better Futures program, which offers free tuition to employees and their departments at community colleges, trade schools and other institutions where JBS has forged partnerships. Pryor and her department also support all legal aspects of this initiative.  

She says JBS is filling a much-needed gap by encouraging vocational education, a curriculum many high schools have reduced or ended despite the demand for skilled labor in many industries, including meat processing. Thus, the tuition plan is mutually beneficial, and it helps provide JBS with an experienced workforce while enabling those in it to advance their careers. 

“We have some of the highest starting wages of any industry, including Walmart and Amazon,” she says. “We’re proud to have a unionized workforce and are further proud of the wages we pay for the hard work of our employees.”          

At last count, some 4,500 employees have taken advantage of Better Futures, which Pryor says complements the company’s other progressive initiatives, including JBS’s environmental and sustainability goals. On this note, she’s helping guide a $1 billion green bond and a $100 million research and development fund by partnering with research teams, universities and vendors who also have a stake in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“It takes a village to accomplish ESG goals (environmental, social, governance) and requires everyone in the supply chain to be involved,” she says. “The partnership, support and resources we’ve established are and will continue to be instrumental in our efforts to lessen JBS’s environmental footprint.” 

When bigger is better 

Being bigger means more ability to achieve such ESG goals. JBS, a Brazilian-owned company operating in 24 countries, has the ways and means to set industry benchmarks for sustainable agriculture and processing. Whereas one slaughterhouse might be hard-pressed to maintain a lagoon for treating animal parts and waste, JBS can be relied upon to have state-of-the-art processes for mitigating environmental hazards.  

JBS, the largest food company in the world, is trying to change awareness and transparency of the food-making process. It’s a complicated business, with so many crucial links in the chain, and Pryor is proud to be a part of such a hard-working, important industry that keeps the chilled grocery bins stocked with beef, chicken and pork. 

She’s been aiding the process from the legal end since leaving the Boulder, Colorado, firm of Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti to be an associate counsel at JBS in June 2013 and ascending to general counsel seven years later. A Saint Michael’s College undergrad who earned her law degree at the University of Colorado in 2010, Pryor cut her chops as a litigator. Still, as much as she enjoyed courtroom drama and preparation, she felt frustrated by how painstakingly slow the litigation process often moved. How different she says it is in-house. 

“I can solve 20 problems by 9 a.m. and before my second cup of tea,” Pryor says. “It’s fun being part of a company’s strategic growth and having that company as my only client. Each day is different, and it’s never dull.” 

It is, however, becoming more demanding, and on her watch, the legal department has expanded 10-fold, with Pryor heading the North American load. It’s a true generalist position with responsibilities including mergers and acquisitions, real estate, governmental relations, regulatory compliance, litigation and intellectual properties, among many others.    

But it’s all part of in-house law, and Pryor says she counts her blessings—JBS hired her in her early 30s and provided mentoring and moral support for her to grow on the job. It’s a meritocracy, Pryor says of her employer, where others benefit just as she does.   

Life’s also good in Colorado, where she is raising a 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son and enjoying all the Rocky Mountain State offers in outdoor fun. When she spoke with Vanguard, ski season was wrapping up, but every season provides a reason to be outside. 

Come Monday, it’s back to the office, where Pryor was even during the pandemic. By doing so, she shows she’s not to be siloed. 

“Those making our bacon don’t work from home,” she says. “So neither will I.”    

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2024 Edition here.

Published on: April 16, 2024

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