Seed World

Optimist at Heart

John Latham, president of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, talks to us about the industry, golf and Bill Gates.

Seed World: What are you reading, and why?

John Latham: I’m reading “Mind Gym” by Gary Mack. My son, who is a high school freshman, is playing varsity basketball this season. … Believing in yourself is as important to an athlete’s success as it is to a business professional’s success.

SW: What concerns you most?

JL: Consolidation … but I’m hopeful it will result in healthy competition among genetics and trait providers. It looks like the Big Six providers will be narrowed down to three or four in the near future. This could result in a situation where one company has an overwhelming advantage, and that wouldn’t be healthy for farmers or seed companies. Because I’m an optimist at heart, I see how the pending mergers and acquisitions could improve the overall competitiveness.

My other major concern is trait approvals. The industry has created great tools to fight resistance, but many of these technologies are slowed because they can’t get import approvals in places like China. My fear is that large companies won’t continue to invest in R&D because lengthy regulatory and approval processes create so much uncertainty.

SW: What is most encouraging?

JL: The people are amazing. As a member of the American Seed Trade Association executive team, I see how people from competing companies come together to either resolve issues or create initiatives that will better our industry.

SW: What is your favorite hobby, and how does it help your work?

JL: My favorite hobby is golf. Not only is it a great way to escape from the pressures of business for several hours, but it can provide a more relaxed environment for getting business done. Relationships can be built and sometimes you learn about a person’s character over a game of golf.

SW: What do you like most about running a seed company?

JL: There are many things I like about running a seed company. The challenge of finding products that work in our marketing area for our customers gets me the most excited. It’s extremely rewarding to hear a customer say he made more money for his family based off a product we brought to market.

SW: Biggest dislike?

JL: All the contracts and agreements involved has become complicated and time consuming. When my grandfather started our seed business, his business deals were done with a handshake. Today we need signed Memorandums of Understanding before many conversations even take place.

SW: No. 1 piece of management advice?

JL: Surround yourself with good people whom you trust. Our business won’t succeed without extremely competent, loyal people. Bill Gates said it well: “The key for us, No. 1, has always been hiring very smart people. Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on
with it.”