SHELDON, IOWA — A smooth sea never made for a skilled sailor, as the saying goes. As president of Rome Grinding Solutions over the last 25 years, Kate Rome has deftly navigated company through a myriad of challenges, all while making great strides toward gender parity. In fact, the company was lauded for its gender parity efforts by the Food Processing Suppliers Association’s (FPSA) Women’s Alliance Network through the organization’s 2021 Red Circle Honor award program.
“This award was given to us for all of our collective efforts to make Rome a gender-equal workplace, including closing the wage gap, increasing the number of women employees, and seeking women-owned companies as vendors,” she said.
In the following Q&A, Rome details challenges seen throughout her tenure as president of Rome Grinding Solutions, where the company will focus in the years ahead, and her best advice for other female leaders.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Rome: Rome Grinding Solutions has been in business for the past 45 years as a family- and women-owned business. We are headquartered in Sheldon, Iowa, and serve customers all over North America. In addition to working in the pet food industry, we also have vast experience in the food processing industry, with a large focus on meat processing.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
Rome: Years ago, when there was a shift in the pet food industry to have higher safety standards for processors, many companies looked to the meat industry for equipment recommendations for safe and traceable food. Essentially, our grinders have the same functionality across both industries, so Rome quickly became recognized as a reputable equipment supplier for pet food processing plants.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
Rome: The largest challenge for me in the last 25 years was continuing to run a manufacturing business with hardly any work-from-home options during the pandemic, and trying to keep everyone safe and healthy. And, during the middle of that, scaling our business. And, on top of all of that, learning from the supply chain issues and where our weaknesses were so we could figure out how to create our own flexibility.
"The industry is so innovative and the technology and science behind it is game changing," said Kate Rome, Rome Grinding Solutions.
In addition, spreading the word about how Rome can help companies, even with past purchases, has been a bit of a challenge. We can refurbish equipment, including equipment that is not Rome brand, to give processors the longest use possible. We also offer spare and wearable parts with a quick turnaround time, but sometimes our capabilities get lost in the mix with staffing changeover at the processing plants.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.
Rome: Rome winning the Red Circle Honor from the FPSA for Developing and Promoting Women has been my biggest accomplishment during my time working in the pet food industry. This award was given to us for all of our collective efforts to make Rome a gender-equal workplace, including closing the wage gap, increasing the number of women employees, and seeking women-owned companies as vendors. (The FPSA is actively involved in pet food, with a Council dedicated to the industry.)
PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
Rome: For us, it is innovation and process improvement. We spent a lot of time over the last couple of years looking at how we manufacture, how to do it better, how to make our customers' lives easier, and how to depend more on ourselves when the supply chain fails. In addition, we have put focus on developing equipment accessories to make production safer for plant employees.
PFP: What advice would you give to young people starting their careers in this industry?
PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them.
Rome: I consider myself an animal lover in general, but I am 100% a dog lover (more specifically a bulldog lover). My husband and I are soon-to-be empty nesters, so we are even more obsessed with our dogs than ever. Penelope, our English Bulldog is almost 4 years old. Bruce (actually Bruce Wayne, because my husband loves Batman), our French Bulldog, is 5 months old. Penelope and Bruce both make regular appearances at Rome and they love to try all the treat samples from our pet food customers.
PFP: Any final advice for other women in the pet industry?
Rome: Find a mentor and find your network. It is incredible how important this is, especially when you are in a tough spot and need some guidance (like trying to run a company during a pandemic). Also, be willing to learn continuously.
Kate Rome became president of Rome Grinding Solutions in 1997 and continues to lead the company into 2023. She has received several awards, including being inducted into the 2020 Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame, as well as being named Most Impactful Woman of the Year by The Women’s Meat Industry Network in 2022. Rome is the immediate past chair of the FPSA Women’s Alliance Network.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.