George A. Hormel was born on Dec. 4, 1860 in Buffalo, N.Y., to parents who had recently emigrated from Germany. He got his start in the meat industry at a young age, working in his parents’ tannery business in Ohio during his childhood. He then held various jobs in the tannery and meatpacking industries before he started his own protein-based business. In 1891, Hormel moved to Austin, Minn. where he founded Geo. A. Hormel & Co.
Because of his exposure to the meatpacking industry prior to beginning his own business, Hormel had a great deal of knowledge on what he wanted his company to look like – and what he wanted to be sure it never would look like. He had developed a distaste of companies who were wasteful and held less-than-ideal food safety standards. In a letter to his mother on the cusp of founding his own business, Hormel said, “If they can run a market profitably that way, imagine how much better I can do running things right.” And so he set off to prove himself.
Hormel married Lillian Belle Gleason in 1892 and later that year they had their only child, a son named Jay C. Hormel. During the first year of business, Geo. A. Hormel & Co. achieved annual sales of $220,000 with only a small two-story packinghouse and a single market shop.
Hormel believed in doing things right the first time and had the foresight to understand that innovation would be key in moving his business forward. Leading the company through a time of immense growth, he pushed the boundaries and took risks in order to move the business forward. Hormel eventually transitioned from working on the floor to a full-time managing role and saw company sales increase almost $30 million. He later wrote in his unpublished autobiography, “I kept constantly before me the challenge: ‘Originate, don’t imitate!’ and made it one of the key commandments of the organization.”
After 36 years at the helm of the company, Hormel’s son, Jay, took over as company president. Hormel and Mrs. Hormel then retired to California, entrusting their home in Austin to the YMCA. The house eventually became the Hormel Historic Home, an iconic location in Austin today.
Hormel proved to be an inspiring and quality-minded leader, instilling values in the company that are still held in high regard. His instruction to “Originate, don’t imitate” still leads the company’s innovation efforts today.