Today, I run my own company, Range, Inc., a meat marketing and education firm located in Chicago, Illinois. I am the author of the James Beard nominated book, The Art of Beef Cutting. I’ve been on the Today Show, featured in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, Martha Stewart Radio, and many other local and national media outlets. I get calls from companies and individuals all over the world, asking for help with their meat related challenges. How did I get here? It all started with my desire to get an education.
As a young girl growing up in the 70s, my role models were Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels. I’m an official card-carrying member of the Lindsay Wagner Bionic Woman Action Club! My mom was an artist – a sculptor, a painter, a dreamer – who worked at a number of low paying jobs. I watched my dad struggle with his career choice as a butcher and butcher shop owner. We lost the shop when I was a kid, and my dad finally retired just a couple of years ago making $13.00 an hour as a butcher at the local supermarket.
“With the goal of putting myself through college, I worked nights cleaning up the supermarket meat department after the meat cutters were done with the day’s production.”
With the goal of putting myself through college, I worked nights cleaning up the supermarket meat department after the meat cutters were done with the day’s production. I took classes at the junior college but soon learned that with my paycheck, it would take forever to get through school. I began to wonder what it would take to make $12.00 an hour like the meat cutters. The answer was a three-year apprenticeship program.
I inquired into the program and was encouraged to take a more traditional “female” job in the deli or as a cashier. But those jobs did not pay well enough, so when my opportunity arrived, I became the first female butcher’s apprentice. I started at the smallest store and I ended the program working at the largest store in the company. I worked during the day and went to school at night.
“You can imagine the typical, sophomoric humor of a meat room. I often had good fun with some of the guys. But I was also harassed and threatened. “
You can imagine the typical, sophomoric humor of a meat room. I often had good fun with some of the guys. But I was also harassed and threatened. I was “dialed in” by the lead butcher (in case you are unfamiliar with the term, this is when when your breasts are grabbed and turned like a radio dial). One of my co-workers once stood in the cooler with his pants pulled down to his red underwear and asked me if I thought it was sexual harassment. I knew it was, but I did not say a word. I even had a knife thrown at me by my manager in the cooler. The guy had good aim, and it hit the box right next to my head. But still, it was unnerving. I didn’t feel I had any choice but to ignore the problems and just continue working hard. I was afraid I wouldn’t be promoted. After all, these guys were my superiors.
When I finished my training, I learned the company offered a college tuition reimbursement program. I could not believe my ears! I graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University and was promoted to corporate office work. But my excitement was cut short when I learned that the promotion meant I would have to take a 20% pay cut! It was a step back, but not backwards. I knew that this would be temporary, and the new skills and business relationships would prepare me to enter the professional work force. I learned how to negotiate price, prepare budgets and analyze department profits. I would walk out with a Bachelor’s degree, a skilled trade and corporate level experience. And by the way, remember those guys who harassed me in the meat room? I became their boss.
Soon I was offered a job in Chicago working for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. They hired me to help develop software to analyze the economics of the meat case. I worked for them for three years and learned how to represent an entire industry, not just a company. I traveled the country and developed my public speaking skills. After being passed over a couple of times for promotion, I realized that in order to get ahead, I would have to leave. I had been exposed to the world of niche marketing and independent consulting, and realized I had the tools to be successful.
I made the decision to start my own independent consulting business. It was another step back: no insurance, no retirement plan, no vacation pay, no security. I wanted to be responsible for the decision-making, and wanted the freedom and autonomy to make a strong impact in the meat business. I had the entrepreneur gene. I guess you could say I’m a hopeless entrepreneur. I thought if I fail, I could always fall back on my trade as a journeyman meat cutter.
As fate would have it, my first client was the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association – my previous employer! They hired me to help implement and develop cutting techniques for the Flat Iron steak. During this time, I also noticed a need for a quality butchery book, so I wrote, produced and developed The Art of Beef Cutting.
The most satisfying work I’ve been involved in has been leading Women in the Meat Business butchery workshops and speaking to groups of women farmers, processors, butchers, chefs and media. I am happy to see a resurgence of consumer interest in buying foods that are crafted by hand. That means we have an opportunity to bring back skilled labor to our community– butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.
I believe women can play a big role in this “buy local” shift. I not only want to help women be good technicians of their trade, but I also want to give them the skills to be successful business owners. That’s how they will make money. When I hear women talk, that’s what I hear. They want to be successful, they want to support their families, they want to make more money. And why shouldn’t they?
My vision is to have a Range Master Butcher Academy in several locations around the country. The business plan is done but I still need investors and help. People tell me to scale back. And no matter how many steps back I must take along the way, I’m moving forward.
- Harvard Business Review: The Global Rise of Female Entrepreneurs
- Top 10 Tips for Female Entrepreneurs
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