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Business feature: Southwest Cheese official honored

CLOVIS - As the song "Cheese Please" from the film "Ratatouille" played, Southwest Cheese Director of of Human Resource Operations Leah Jackson was named the Society of Human Resource Management New Mexico (SHRMNM) 2018 HR Professional of the Year at the group's state conference in Albuquerque last week.

Jackson was one of 14 finalists but said she did not know ahead of time that she would be named Professional of the Year, the third such time SHRMNM has handed out the annual award.

"It was quite a surprise," Jackson said. "I knew I had been nominated but seeing the caliber of the other nominees and all the industries they were in, it was exciting and it was humbling."

SHRMNM Director of Awards and Recognition Linda Strauss said Jackson was selected for several reasons, including her management and her people skills for Southwest Cheese and plant co-owner Glanbia.

"For me, what stood out was how she helped turn around the struggling Clovis operation so much so that it then became a feeder for talent to other Glanbia locations outside of New Mexico," Strauss said. "I love that she put New Mexico on the map within her organization."

Strauss said she was impressed by the way Jackson helped lay the groundwork for how Glanbia, a company of over 6,000 people, manages transgender and transitioning employees.

Jackson said with some guidance from the SHRMNM's resources, her work included "assisting an employee who has chosen that path and assisting your existing workers on how to be respectful and how to accept the whole person."

"We're all different people and are made up of many different things so just showing respect and some tools to get kind of get us to where we needed to be to make it respectful on both sides."

Jackson works at Southwest Cheese's Clovis location but also helps manage two of Glanbia's manufacturing sites in California. Her ability to juggle the laws and regulations of different states and at the federal level was another reason Strauss said Jackson was selected.

"California can be challenging because they not only have the federal and the state but you can have county laws and then on top of that cities can have their own laws for employers to follow regarding minimum wage and rest and meal breaks and that kind of thing," Jackson said. "So it's challenging but that makes it exciting too because it never stops, you're always learning and growing."

SHRMNM is the Land of Enchantment's branch of a national and international organization that provides training and support for professional in the human resources field. During her speech at the state conference, Strauss said, "the goal of the SHRMNM HR Professional of the Year award is to spotlight a human resources professional in New Mexico who elevates the profession, who serves as a role model for their peers, and sets the standard for other HR professionals to follow."Jackson said she was in "shock and disbelief" when she won the award. She attributed her success to the work of the entire team at Southwest Cheese.

"We've done great things here at Southwest Cheese and it's not one person, it's the team," Jackson said. "I have a team of four individuals in my department that help with human resources and training and then we have the entire leadership team here at Southwest Cheese and they've really strived to be the best they can be through training programs that we have and then we've just got great people and great workers."

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