After 22 years, a Mountaire stalwart steps down

Posted 1/7/21

SILER CITY — Mark Reif, the human resources and community relations manager for Mountaire Farms in Chatham County and across most of North Carolina, has officially retired after 22 years with the …

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After 22 years, a Mountaire stalwart steps down

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Posted

SILER CITY — Mark Reif, the human resources and community relations manager for Mountaire Farms in Chatham County and across most of North Carolina, has officially retired after 22 years with the company.

His responsibilities at Mountaire have been multifaceted. A human resources manager’s scope, he said, is “fairly broad.”

“In the beginning, we didn’t have this many people to cover all the different roles,” he told the News + Record from his office last Thursday, his final day work, “but my role has been to ensure that we were deploying the employees according to the Mountaire creed, and, of course, according to our vision statement. And so, whatever it took to do that, I was the one that helped steer people in that direction.”

Mountaire is many times larger now than it was two decades ago, employing 10,000 people at facilities in five states. It’s the sixth-largest chicken company in the country, but for Reif, his basic mission has remained constant.

“All the while, the standard was that we were needed to be good stewards of the assets that God had entrusted to us,” Reif said, “because this is a Jesus-centered company — just a tremendous company, a people-focused company.”

Reif’s work in human resources started long before his career with Mountaire.

After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas, he enlisted in the military and served four years in the transportation corps as a helicopter pilot for Army Aviation, one year of which he spent in Vietnam. Unsure what to do next, he resumed his education at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, finishing with a law degree.

“And before I even got out of the door, General Foods was recruiting at that college, and they had a terrific position, and I liked it,” Reif said. “I was good at labor law and liked labor law, so that’s what I did for six or seven years. And then I moved over into general human resources, where you cover everything — not just labor law, but recruiting and retention and all that sort of stuff.”

After 16 years with General Foods, Reif was again looking for a change when he remembered an old college classmate. Ronald Cameron had attended the University of Arkansas at the same time as Reif, but the two young men had infrequently crossed paths. More than 20 years later, Reif wanted a new adventure, and Cameron — now president and CEO of his family’s poultry company, Mountaire Farms — had just the opportunity.

“I contacted him,” Reif said, “and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this plant that I just bought. Go down there and see how you like it.’ And of course, the rest is history.”

The new plant was Piedmont Poultry’s former facility in Lumber Bridge, North Carolina, and it was the first acquisition in Mountaire’s aggressive expansion from a largely unknown, Arkansas-founded, Delaware-based family business into the behemoth it is today.

“When I started at the plant in Lumber Bridge, there were 300 employees there, and 30 supervisor-management-type people,” Reif said. “The offices were located in trailers and the parking lot was dirt. It’s been quite a change over the years, and now (the Lumber Bridge site) is the largest poultry processing plant in the world.”

By the time Mountaire was negotiating purchase of the former Townsend facility in Siler City, Reif was responsible for human resources management at Mountaire locations in Lumber Bridge, Mount Vernon, Candor, Statesville and elsewhere.

“So, I always had all of that,” Reif said, “I just picked up Siler City as another responsibility.”

Though he maintained his residence in Pinehurst, Siler City became a second home to him, he said.

“It was so important to us that I started officing out of Siler City, so I spent a good two thirds of my time here … and I think it’s a terrific place to be, to live and to work,” Reif said. “If I wasn’t already settled in Pinehurst, I’d sure be considering some place in Chatham County. I just love this town.”

Reif’s affinity for Siler City inspired him to spend much of his time beyond work engaged in local civic activities. He was president of the town’s Rotary Club, and served on the board of directors for the Chatham Chamber of Commerce. After retiring, he expects to step back from such positions, but in his tenure, Reif has organized many charitable events and contributed to the county’s economic development. For his philanthropic spirit and tenacious work ethic, Reif was awarded the Distinguished Person of the Year Award for 2020 at the Chamber’s annual awards ceremony in November.

“Mark Reif is the epitome of a leader — he is the best of the best,” said Cindy Poindexter, the Chamber’s president. “I met Mark quite a while before Mountaire Farms opened in Siler City. He engaged with the business and residential community early on. His impact in the community was impeccable. Through Mountaire Farms, he supported many, many causes. Mark will be sorely missed in Chatham County.”

Supporting causes as part of Mountaire’s staff was among the most rewarding parts of the job, Reif said.

“We have always wanted to give back as much as we can in the communities where we have operations,” he said. “So, we’ve continued — and this has been going on for many years — to donate over $15,000 a month to the food pantries out of Lumber Bridge.”

During the coronavirus pandemic especially, Reif has been integral in Mountaire’s relief efforts.

“I thought we responded really well to the shortage of protein when COVID became an issue,” he said, “when you couldn’t find it in grocery stores. If there was a need that was brought to our attention, then we would bring a trailer or two or three or four and sell events at discounted rates to people that couldn’t find it. And at the same time, we were also giving it away to other organizations.”

Generosity is central to Mountaire’s mission, according to Reif, and it’s one thing he may miss the most.

“I think we had an impact on a lot of people’s lives,” he said, “and that’s what’s amazing about this company.”

But he won’t miss everything about Mountaire Farms.

“I’m certainly not going to miss the chicken — I’m just not,” he said, laughing. “But it’s the people, the employees. They’re all hard workers, they do a great job and produce a terrific product and you can just walk into the plant and everyone is extremely friendly.”

Reif may be retiring from work, but he doesn’t plan to slow down.

“Luckily, I still have my health and my brain,” he said, “so we’ll see what I’ll do.”

Several friends and associates have extended offers for new work opportunities including mediations at the state court in Wake County and “something in the educational extension area with labor law” at Sandhills Community College. But Reif hasn’t committed to anything yet.

Traveling is on the docket — Italy and Spain top the list of must-visits. And while he only considers himself a “recreational golfer,” he will be glad to spend more time on the green.

“But I think most importantly, I’m excited for the freedom to go and visit my children and their families,” Reif said. “So, I’ve got a plethora of things that I can do, I just haven’t zeroed in on exactly how I want to do it. And I guess first I’ll have to see if I even like being retired.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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