Kelli Payne grew up in Oklahoma City’s stockyards, and now – as the first female general manager of the Oklahoma National Stockyards Company, the largest livestock market in the nation – her journey has come full circle, but it’s certainly not over. In fact, some may say it just might be the beginning.
“About 36 or 37 of my 43 years on Earth have been spent ‘on the bricks,’ as we like to call it in the stockyards,” says Payne, a fifth-generation farmer and rancher. “My father worked here as a cattle buyer, then he bought his own cattle commission company, and I remember my sister and I tagging along and helping out in any way we could. This place has always been near and dear to my heart, and it’s a dream to be back here today; I just couldn’t get the stockyards out of my blood.”
Payne attended Oklahoma State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science and livestock merchandising. Her professional career has included roles in politics, economic and community development, and agriculture – specifically in the cattle industry.
Recently, Payne served as the president and executive director of the Stockyards City Main Street organization. Here, she had the unique opportunity to promote the community where she was raised. In early 2018, she became the Oklahoma National Stockyards liaison, working to collaborate with Stockyards City Main Street and promoting the Oklahoma National Stockyards on a larger scale.
“I jumped at the chance to come back to the ’yards,” Payne says. “I was able to focus on cultivating positive exposure for this place I love so much, and I had the incredible pleasure of hosting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at the Stockyards on October 31, 2018.”
Payne was appointed general manager of the Oklahoma National Stockyards in April 2019, a role held by only six people in the stockyard’s 109-year history. In this position, Payne attends trade shows in Oklahoma and neighboring states, cattlemen’s meetings and sponsored events, works to increase the Oklahoma National Stockyards’ presence in the cattle industry and beyond, and builds on the tradition of providing a top-notch market for cattle producers – all while maintaining the area’s historic integrity.
“To serve as general manager of this amazing company is humbling, especially because I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to do so,” Payne says. “We’re very proud of the generations of families who have helped make the Oklahoma National Stockyards the incredible success it still is today, and we continue to set the cattle market for the rest of the nation.”