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My family first moved to San Antonio from Micronesia when I was a kid and as we adapted to our new environment, Kiolbassa sausage with rice – rather than Tex-Mex dishes – became a staple for us. Back then I didn’t know just how important that sausage would be to me.

In the summer of 2010, I was 24 years old, engaged to be married, and job hunting. At that time, the job hunt was all about “chasing the dollar” to make sure the new life I was planning would be financially secure. I heard about a warehousing position at a local manufacturing plant, Kiolbassa Smoked Meats, from a high school friend who drove trucks for the company. I applied for the position and soon I was going through my first ever panel interview. Somehow, I was chosen as the guy for the job. 

Kiolbassa was growing quickly. Gross sales had grown each year by nearly 15%. This was exciting, but I had not considered the growing pains that came with success. Growth meant new systems and processes needed to be made. New systems and processes meant new and continuous challenges every day. I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew.

A decade later, I’m still at the company that took a chance on me, and I’ve grown right alongside it. Kiolbassa now makes sausage at two Westside facilities, one of them producing about 60,000 pounds of sausage a day.

In 10 years with Kiolbassa, I’ve moved from the warehouse job to my current job as a trainer in the learning and development department, where I have worked for the past four years. In between, I served as a logistics clerk and logistics coordinator in the transportation department. The reason I’ve stayed with the company is because of its leadership and culture.

Though I gained a lot from having different jobs here, it wasn’t the opportunities or more financial stability that came with each move that made me want to stay. What really inspired and still inspires me is the culture that exists at Kiolbassa. You always hear of organizations that have a people-focused work environment, but at Kiolbassa I really feel it. We have a vision to enrich the lives of others, and that permeates everything we do. 

Jordan Yakana, right, bumps fists with his colleague Andrew Estrada at Kiolbassa Smoked Meats. When Jordan started more than 10 years ago, the company had approximately 75 employees. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I was impressed with the ability of our president, Michael Kiolbassa, to acknowledge the stress that we were all feeling during the pandemic and seek out a path that would help us operate better. All team members were given hazard pay for coming into work. We were also provided lunches three days out of the week and care packages of food items or sanitation products at the end of each week. These are just some examples of the many ways our president conveys the importance of the people in the company, which in turn creates a caring environment among the team members. We truly see each other as an extended family and do all we can to take care of each other.

Kiolbassa has implemented a values-based leadership program that has transformed how the company operates. We are now an “open books” organization, which means our entire company of more than 300 employees can review the company’s finances. We teach financial literacy so every employee has an understanding of how our business works and the role they play. Additionally, we train every employee on how they can be better communicators in order to work better as a team.

In my current role on the leadership and development team, I train all of our employees on values-based leadership, which is the philosophy that people are mostly motivated by values and live according to these beliefs. We incorporate a series of trainings meant to enhance the quality of our communication and interaction with each other. In these trainings, we teach team members how to identify the behaviors in each other that help build understanding of one another, along with conflict resolution to build tolerance and empathy in situations where differences or disagreements may arise. It has been exciting to see the improvement in communications and how this mindset has empowered our team.

Every day I go in to work I think of these words from our CEO: “The success of the company is based on the depth and richness of the relationships we create inside and out of the organization.” That’s what our culture is all about. It’s something that, much like the marriage I started 10 years ago, I am proud of and love being a part of.

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Jordan Yakana

Jordan Yakana is a learning and development trainer at Kiolbassa Smoked Meats.