Tracey Erickson envisioned earlier in her life that she would be an equine veterinarian — the fancy term for horse doctor.
She grew up in the community of Farmingdale, N.Y., on Long Island and headed west to study at Colorado State University with every intention to fulfill that goal.
“God did not design my brain to absorb organic chemistry very well,” Erickson said, smiling. “More importantly, I just found a passion for the beef community and the folks within that.”
At college, she became friends with classmates who grew up on ranches in Colorado and Montana and liked their work ethic and commitment to family and community. They in turn influenced Erickson’s growing interest in beef.
“I quickly found a home in that area. Married a rancher,” she said.
She joined the then-fledgling Certified Angus Beef LLC — she was employee number 11 — taking a job right out of graduate school as director of international business.
Now, nearly 21 years later, the Wooster-based global beef organization has 113 employees, and Erickson is vice president of marketing. She was recently named a “Woman of Influence” in the food industry by Griffin Publishing Co. for her work.
“Certified Angus Beef is a brand,” Erickson said. “It is the very best beef you are ever going to eat and that’s because there are science-based specifications that were developed by a meat scientist 33 years ago [at Ohio State University]. Angus is a breed of cattle. Our brand would be owned by the American Angus Association. This brand identifies the very best within that breed. Only one out of four Angus-type cattle would even meet the qualifications.”
Graders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture determine which individual animal, after harvest, meets the Certified Angus Beef’s 10 specifications, she said. Their brand, with a high percentage of fatty marbling and other distinctions, is superior to the “commodity beef” sold at most supermarkets, she said.
Erickson’s responsibilities include promoting and expanding awareness of Certified Angus Beef around the globe. Early in her career, she did a lot of international travel; these days, she doesn’t travel as much, giving her more time with her husband and their five children at their small farm. Their 15-acre property is outside Wooster. “Horses and goats would be our family projects,” she said. “But no beef cattle.”
Her role in the Wooster organization involves staff leadership with the group’s marketing professionals.
“We have over 33 individuals who focus strictly on the marketing of this brand,” she said. “A lot of my time is really working with the individuals who lead those areas, making sure we are working in concert. They are a fantastic team.”
Their focus includes advertising and public relations, Erickson said. “We have the equivalent of an in-house advertising agency, with six individuals that do graphic design, video, audio. We record radio spots. We create ad campaigns and publications. We [also] have a strong focus on education, a whole team that puts together events.”
The organization is now using its newly acquired Education & Culinary Center, a former restaurant adjacent to the headquarters that has been converted to hold conferences, seminars and demonstrations. People from all over the world are brought in, Erickson said.
Being named a “Woman of Influence” in the industry is meaningful to her, she said. “As a company, I’d say we are very blessed to have a unique culture, not only one that is family centric, that supports the individual as part of a bigger team, but very much we aspire to a ‘servant leadership’ culture.”
A servant leadership culture has been in place at Certified Angus Beef since its founding, Erickson said. “It means that I have been able to, hopefully, impact people to be their best, to grow and contribute to this organization in a way that makes us all better. So, as I think of influence, that influence is not absolutely what I have done individually but what we’ve done as a team.”
Her staff is made up of young people, some hired right out of college, to others with 10 or more years at the organization, she said. The younger people at Certified Angus Beef have pushed the organization into using social media, including Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, as well as blogging. “We are taking our website mobile.”
Erickson said her favorite cut of Certified Angus Beef isn’t among the popular tenderloin, ribeye and strip loin cuts.
“My favorite is the top sirloin,” she said. “When it’s cooked right, it’s absolutely fantastic. The flavor is a little bit more intense ... little nicer texture, just fantastic. The Olde Jaol [restaurant] in downtown Wooster does a beautiful job with top sirloin.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org