Faces of Food Safety: Dr. Jarrel B. (Brent) Perry, DVM
As a supervisory veterinary medical officer (SVMO) and frontline supervisor in the Dallas district, Dr. Brent Perry has a history of empowering the people around him. Relying on his scientific background, he leads a team of nearly 20 inspectors working in 32 establishments across northeast Texas and southern Oklahoma that slaughter and process beef, pork and poultry.
His experience with the food industry spans more than 60 years as both a producer and regulator. He attributes his success to this unique combination of experiences. Born and raised in Texas, Perry was, in his words, "ranch-raised." He competed in rodeos, trained horses and managed a ranch from a young age. Always interested in being around animals, he enrolled in the veterinary program at Texas A&M University.
After graduation, he started work at a small private veterinary practice, but wanted to do something more challenging, a theme that has carried throughout his life. This want for a challenge led to the development of the largest cattle embryo transfer and freezing company in the United States.
After some time working and consulting with foreign governments on cattle embryonic transfer and freezing, he decided to return home to Texas and looked for another challenge. Perry came upon an FSIS newspaper ad for an SVMO. Wondering what the job might be like, he looked up and contacted a SVMO in the Texas panhandle who laid out the benefits of working for the agency, such as the impact of the mission, job satisfaction and the benefits of being a federal employee.
He applied for the job and was soon hired. There were a number of plants with SVMO openings in his area to choose from. His mentor told him some were great, but one was, in his opinion, among the worst places to work. He chose the latter. "I got to thinking about it and thought, 'well, if I pick one of these good plants, I can’t make too much of a showing, but if I take that bad plant, maybe I can really accomplish something.'"
This choice proved to be the right one for the agency and his career. In a relatively short period, and with the help of some good off-line inspectors and changes in plant management, he was able to get the plant under proper operational control. This opened the doors to him becoming the district’s go-to person for troubleshooting.
"I believe in leading rather than driving...I think mentorship is really important."
Dr. Brent Perry
On his fourteenth year and at more than 60 years old, he’s actually served longer at FSIS than any of his other jobs. In that time, he’s seen a number of improvements. He said the increases in product sampling and the adoption of HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) were two of the biggest improvements undertaken by the agency during his career. HACCP is a method for minimizing the entry of foodborne pathogens into the food supply through the identification of potential hazards and risks in each phase of production and establishing critical control points for preventing those hazards.
His past experience with industry proved to be useful during the implementation of HACCP. "HACCP was not new to me," said Perry. "I think most people like to give NASA credit for developing HACCP, but consultants have been using essentially the same thing for years….[They] go in, analyze, find the problem areas, put in corrective actions, that type of thing. It made plenty of sense to me."
He attributes his personal success to both a lifetime of managerial experience and to great mentors who helped develop him. This pathway to success was not lost on him. He strives to mentor those around him and uses his own leadership style to empower employees.
"I believe in leading rather than driving," said Perry. "I think mentorship is really important. People don’t take advantage of mentorship maybe as much as they should." And who was it who initially mentored Perry? It was none other than FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. "I was fortunate enough to have Al Almanza as a supervisor when I first came in," said Perry. "I always looked upon him as much as a mentor as well as a boss."
Administrator Almanza recognized Perry’s potential after seeing his success with that first plant. Almanza began using him in other troubled plants. In fact, his final assignment from Almanza was supposed to last a few weeks, but ended up lasting nearly a year.
When asked about his time at FSIS, Perry attributes his success to those around him. "Much of my success has been due to the employees that worked under me. I’ve always had anywhere from a few to a lot of good people. A lot of them have always been good, some of them I’ve helped make good [through mentorship], but I’ve developed a circuit of people who do not need micromanagement and they make me look good."
Perry’s drive to learn from his peers and pass that learning on to those around him demonstrates the cultural transformation of FSIS and the USDA as a whole. He began his career at FSIS by choosing the difficult assignments because he saw in them the need to promote change in the culture of those around him. His efforts stand as an example of what is being done to ensure FSIS is a place where there’s equity of opportunity for all employees and everyone who works here is empowered to reach their full potential.