Thursday, July 31, 2014

Executives in the Making

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Future Seed Executives initiative continues to build momentum. To recognize this milestone, Seed World has followed up with the committee’s founders.

Imagine attending the American Seed Trade Association’s Corn, Sorghum and Soybean Seed Research Conference and Seed Expo, known to most as CSS & Seed Expo, in downtown Chicago — there’s hundreds of people, rows upon rows of exhibitors, numerous receptions and everybody knows somebody, except you.

In 2003, that’s exactly how Jim Schweigert, now president of Gro Alliance, felt. Unknowingly, Schweigert, who had just come back to the family business as marketing manager, confided his frustration to Seedway’s Don Wertman, who was the chairman of ASTA at the time.

“Well, why don’t you do something about it,” Wertman told Schweigert. And, that’s the spark that got the Future Seed Executives (FuSE) started. Today, FuSE is formally organized as a sub-committee of ASTA’s Management Skills Committee.

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A group of FuSE participants toured INCOTEC, Enza Zaden and the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis.

“For anyone who comes into the industry, there’s always that fear factor of not knowing anyone,” says Cassie Misch, who chairs the FuSE Committee. “With FuSE, you have an automatic network already established.”

Misch, a key account lead with GreenLeaf Genetics in Minnetonka, Minnesota, credits Schweigert for putting his thoughts to action. “FuSE not only connects people, but it helps industry newcomers gain confidence and exposes them to an array of big picture seed industry issues.”

In getting FuSE off the ground, Schweigert was joined by TJ Lawhon, who was with Delta King, a sister company of Lawhon Farm Services; David Nothmann, who was with Monsanto’s Corn States; and Alexis Ellicott, who was ASTA’s director of international programs.

The four worked together with ASTA’s leadership to set up a committee that had staying power and filled a need within the industry. “We knew it needed to have a purpose, it needed to be something that we could implement and it needed to provide education,” Schweigert says.

Not long after the official formation of FuSE, Lawhon transitioned to the retail side of the business, which was Lawhon Farm Services, and served as general manager for six locations in northeast Arkansas and oversaw 75 employees. When the company was sold, Lawhon stepped in to manage the finances of the parent company, also called Lawhon Farm Services. Two years later, that business was sold and Lawhon decided to go to law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. Today, Lawhon is an associate at Dover Dixon Horne PLLC and stays connected to the seed industry through various legal matters involving agricultural issues.

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Jim Schweigert, Gro Alliance president, set the wheels in motion for FuSE.

“One of the biggest obstacles in entering into a leader-ship role is having the confidence in knowing your answers are right versus always having to bounce your ideas off others,” Lawhon shares. “I developed confidence through trial and error and experience — making a decision, sticking with it and learning from my mistakes. FuSE gives younger people a place to start and grow into those leadership roles.”

Lawhon says he’s proud to be a part of the group that started FuSE. “It feels good to know that we were able to start and leave behind something that helps young leaders connect with each other and grow their abilities,” he says.

Schweigert says the leaving behind part was hard, but necessary for FuSE to really take hold and become a sustainable committee with fresh faces and new initiatives.

Karen Withers of Pennington Seed was the first committee chair outside of the founding four. She was followed by Mindy DeVries of Monsanto. “Karen and Mindy played a pivotal role in taking FuSE to the next level,” Schweigert says.

Today, more than 20 individuals comprise FuSE’s organizing committee and FuSE has a presence at all of ASTA’s meetings. FuSE is also beginning to extend its presence to other industry organizations, such as the Independent Professional Seed Association. It has a number of initiatives and provides learning and networking opportunities throughout the year.

Schweigert credits his career trajectory directly to his involvement with ASTA and the FuSE Committee. “If you’re at the right meetings, meeting the right people and doing the right training, the rewards will come,” Schweigert says. “Invest in yourself and think about how you can become as valuable as possible to your company.” 

  Julie Deering

FuSE Furthers Education

The Future Seed Executives of the American Seed Trade Association is designed to educate and support future seed industry executives, namely those with fewer than seven years of seed industry experience. The programs are designed as regional opportunities to expand learning, cultivate management skills, promote networking and improve the general understanding of the seed industry. The following are a few of the programs FuSE hosts.

Educational Units — These are one- to two-day workshops cohosted by FuSE and an ASTA member company with the purpose of educating participants about the business and operations of the industry host. Each unit has an overarching theme relevant to the respective host company. Local agribusinesses and educators are actively engaged during the unit to provide a broader view of the value chain during the experience.

Roundtable Discussion Groups — These are one-hour conference calls and webinars led by senior industry members to educate participants about industry topics, current trends and major events.

Campus Connections — This program brings college undergraduates to ASTA’s annual convention and pairs them with a mentor. They learn about multiple facets of the seed industry and career options.

Industry Meeting Programs — Mini Educational Units are held in conjunction with other industry meetings to engage the FuSE members already participating in the industry.

For more information about FuSE and to get involved, visit
Amseed.org/education/fuse or find them on Facebook.

 

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