Kari Beasley '09
Virginia Tech Class of ‘09
Chief Operating Officer at Mason Dixie Foods
As chief operating officer at Mason Dixie Foods, I am responsible for achieving operational excellence for a fast-growing startup that specializes in packaged frozen foods for consumers. In this role, I use all the tools in my industrial engineering toolbox and teach them to my team. I provide big-picture leadership and strategic vision for how we grow profitably and sustainably at acceptable margins. I also get the chance to dive into the micro-details of how we design and implement people-driven processes and practices to grow into the team we want to be in the future.
My career post-graduation has crossed many industries but has always had a common thread — people-focused process improvement. In 2009, after graduating with my Bachelor of Science in industrial and systems engineering, I moved to Arlington, Virginia. I dove headfirst into transportation consulting for state and federal departments of transportation, learning the ins and outs of consulting, bidding work, billing time, and program management for large projects. After four years at the IT company, SAIC, I served for four years with the United States Postal Service. I started as a plant industrial engineer and quickly grew into a manager of in-plant support.
Most recently, I spent seven years with Opower (and post-acquisition, Oracle), as a senior director running the program management office for its energy and water research and development (R&D) organization.
In addition to being a female engineering leader, I am a mother to two feisty girls, who are learning and implementing kanbans and proper inventory control processes every day. My process improvement brain never turns off! My husband, Ben ‘09, is the backbone and steadying force with all my career and industry moves and jumps. He graduated from Virginia Tech with a double major in electrical engineering and music. We left the greater Washington, D.C., metro area after the pandemic to move closer to family in Raleigh, North Carolina. We love traveling, biking, and going to music festivals with the girls.
My fondest memory from my time in the college is...
My fondest memory stems back to when I first joined the Hillcrest Honors community as their resident advisor. I moved into the building not knowing anyone, unhappy with my current degree path, and unsure of what to do next. I sat down with Jack Dudley and talked to him about my reservations. He listened and told me to go for it — do what I thought made sense, because “Why the hell not?” That push to take risks, get messy, and work hard has stuck with me ever since. By saying yes to both moving into Hillcrest and changing majors when it seemed scary, I had the opportunity to find my true calling as an industrial engineer and make lifelong friends (including my husband!).
Being a Virginia Tech alumna means...
Being humble, being willing to dig into the problems you see in the work you do, and most of all, being willing to serve the teams that you manage to help them be their best every day. To me, the concept of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) applies whether you’re volunteering your time outside work hours or working with your team, staff, and others — it applies in all the interactions you have. A Virginia Tech engineer has a firm grasp of the engineering fundamentals and the ways to solve problems but most importantly is a servant leader at heart.
Why is giving back (time, talent, or treasure) to Virginia Tech important to you?
Working with Virginia Tech on the Industrial and Systems Engineering Emerging Leaders Board is important to me because I want to see more female engineers in leadership positions as I progress through my career. A working mama who is an engineering leader is something that feels rare, even though I know it’s not. I want to showcase that side of leadership and career progression to current students so they can see that anything is possible.
What advice would you share with your college self?
At 18 or 19 years old, you feel a hurried need to get all the classes done, make the grades, graduate, and find a great job. I would tell my college self to enjoy the ride a bit more. Yes, the hustle to do the thing, excel at it, and go on to the next will serve you well in the future. But try to enjoy the time and space you're in right now. The world will still be there ready for you to take it by storm.
What is a guiding principle for your work?
Influence, trust, and relationship management are key to implementing any process, no matter the industry. It doesn't matter how much data you have, how pretty the AutoCAD layout is, or how much money you think you can save — none of it will amount to a win for your team or project unless you can get the folks who do the work to recognize there’s a challenge needing attention; agree there are alternative ways to solve the problem; and have the psychological safety to try different solutions. There also needs to be an explicit understanding that failing fast is OK because you’ll learn something from that experience.
How did the college equip you for the “real world”?
The industrial and systems engineering program at Virginia Tech prepared me for the real world by teaching me the fundamentals that I carry with me each day. From courses in data management sophomore year to production planning and inventory control, introduction to transportation engineering, senior design, and project management — I gained a firm understanding of the key practices, principles, and strategies to apply when solving problems across many industries. To this day, on my desk, I have my 2008 production planning and inventory control book -- and I use it often. I open it whenever I want to come back to how a problem would be solved from first principles on reorder points.
What was a project that you worked on while at Virginia Tech?
While I was at Virginia Tech, I worked on the Engineers' Forum, a quarterly magazine focused on showcasing student and alumni engineering accomplishments, for two years as a writer and two years as editor-in-chief. As editor-in-chief, I met with folks from all over the College of Engineering and worked with a team full of diverse engineering backgrounds. It was an excellent project and team-lead training experience. It taught me how to manage a budget, timeline, and deliverables, and to see something real that you could hold and touch come to life every quarter. We also were able to set up a scholarship fund to pay for future staff to get financial support each semester as a recognition for their important work.
B.S., Industrial and Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech, 2009