How David Malfitano Drives HR Success at Wayne Farms

CHRO David Malfitano and his team create tangible initiatives to support employees’ well-being while contributing to the company’s mission

For the past seventeen years, David Malfitano has followed David Ulrich’s guidance and vision for human resources: HR should be ensuring the business is successful so that, in turn, its people can be taken care of. It’s what helped him transform the HR department with a new “weenie”-free approach when he joined Wayne Farms in 2003.

David Malfitano Wayne Farms
David Malfitano, Wayne FarmsPhoto: Courtesy of Wayne Farms

“I want my CEO to say, ‘Hey, where’s my HR person?’” Malfitano says. “I’m asking as many questions as the other leaders at the table. It makes you accountable when you do that.”

Since Profile spoke with him in 2012, Malfitano and his team have had plenty to take pride in, given the poultry company’s success. Wayne Farms has consistently been a top performer across all key benchmarking metrics, including profitability, as measured by Agristats, an industry benchmarking service.

This success, combined with his strategic positioning of the HR department, allows Malfitano and his team to funnel that success back to Wayne Farms employees.

Develop Your People

One of the efforts the HR team has implemented is a quarterly coaching practice, where employees receive frequent feedback and are not tied to a yearly (and therefore often inaccurate) number. This supports Wayne Farms’ culture of leadership, one of the company’s core values.

Malfitano embodies leadership, and in turn serves his employees by helping them develop their talent. That means striking a balance between educating them and giving them enough slack to do the jobs they were hired to do. “I may not be warm and fuzzy; I want results,” he explains. “People do better when you have high standards.”

Wayne Farms values leadership and continuous improvement, but most important, it values the employees themselves. “Our value system starts at the top of the organization and goes all the way down,” Malfitano says. “A great CHRO has to have great credibility with peers, the CEO, and their teams. If you don’t have that credibility, they’re probably not going to want to follow you.”

Add Value

Thanks to Malfitano, Wayne Farms is a founding member of the Health Transformation Alliance (HTA), an employer-sponsored co-op born out of the HR Policy Association that negotiates better healthcare contracts with providers. Wayne Farms is a small fish among the likes of American Express, Coca-Cola, and the other thirty-six founding members, but by making the strategic decision to join when the alliance was first proposed, Malfitano guaranteed an equal seat at the table when it came to negotiations. “I knew that hooking my wagon to the biggest companies in the country and being a part of this initiative would be a way to better position my company,” he explains.

Wayne Farms now benefits from the HTA’s power and expertise in healthcare, which translates to lower healthcare costs for both the company and its employees. “To accomplish that tall order, we need leaders who are visionaries, who can see what can be done, and experienced HR executives who understand what must be done,” says Rob Andrews, CEO of the HTA. “We are fortunate that David is such a leader.”

David Malfitano Wayne Farms
Photo: Courtesy of Wayne Farms

Membership in the HTA also allows for a fundamental shift from “fee for service” healthcare to an investment in the actual improvement in health, plus a tremendous reduction of the cost of prescription drugs.

Pulling the trigger to join the HTA was a perfect example of a strategic move that Malfitano made that impacted the company’s bottom line. At the end of the day, that captures his philosophy with HR. “If we are not adding value,” he explains, “we should not exist.”

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Other efforts bolster the value Wayne Farms sees in its employees.

The company has on-site medical clinics and a deep dedication to “zero-accident safety,” proven by their 1.65 DART (Days Away, Restricted or Transferred) rate, which is below the industry standard of 2.9. Beyond their employees’ physical well-being, Wayne Farms has invested in marketplace chaplains, who provide a support service to help individuals in the workplace and in their personal lives.

But Malfitano does not take credit for what Wayne Farms didn’t innovate and organize; bringing in chaplains was something Pilgrim’s Pride was doing at their poultry plants. “It is silly to only be inventive,” he explains. “I’m happy to share a good idea and happy to figure out what’s in the best interest for our company. We have a passion for paying attention to things that can help our business and our employees.”

And that passion extends to the external HR associations that Malfitano is part of. As copresident of the Human Resources Leadership Forum of Atlanta, Malfitano is driven by the contributions he can make to others. At Forum meetings, Malfitano and the other members discuss best practices, share resources, network, and build a community around HR.

“I like to say I hate HR people. They get offended by that, but I like good businesspeople who understand HR,” he explains. “I try to carry that message. When I’m watching people in meetings at associations, when I hear people talking about HR stuff and not how impactful to the business things are, I lose it.”

The food production industry is constantly looking to attract and retain talent. Wayne Farms partnered with Lockton to implement a service model allowing strategy to be driven from the boardroom to the breakroom. Today Wayne Farms has a process to measure and manage consistent employee service levels across eleven locations, while improving ROI on benefit investments. To learn more about Lockton’s proprietary employee service model, please visit