Business Advice from 10 Successful Agricultural Industry Leaders (Part 1)

Erica Berry

Running a business, whether as an entrepreneur or an industry-leading executive, is hard work. It takes determination, drive, maybe a little luck and usually guidance from other successful people as well. Most successful business owners say it pays to mind the advice of others who have shared similar experiences – seeking wisdom from mentors, colleagues and for family-run businesses, even mom and dad.

To tap into this wisdom, business leaders featured in our Spring I 2015 edition share the best piece of advice they've ever received or have learned from their years in the industry. From sales, to building relationships, to customer service and more, their responses are as varied as the businesses they run — encompassing all aspects of the agricultural industry.

Scott Lovin, vice president of feed, Ag Partners

Scott Lovin Business Advice

It is easy to focus on transactions and making money when running a business, but it is most important to maintain integrity regardless of the financial outcome. “When I get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror, I need to like what I see and who I am,” says Scott Lovin, vice president of feed for Ag Partners. “Doing the right things can be difficult and sometimes can mean turning away customers and employees that have unethical views, but in the end there are rewards for living and conducting business with integrity – sometimes they are not evident right away, but they eventually will come.”

Rob Brenneman, founder and owner, Brenneman Pork Inc

Rob Brenneman Business Advice

Rob Brenneman, founder and owner of Brenneman Pork, Inc., certainly knows a lot about working 24/7, as the agriculture business never sleeps. He was introduced to agriculture as a young boy and has been farming ever since – now passing the opportunity off to his four children. “We are working with and sometimes against Mother Nature, so this industry can be very unpredictable,” he says. “You need to know what’s going on all the time. Data and records are very important for keeping up with trends and understanding productivity.” When planning his next business move, Rob looks at the big picture, rather than the details – he asks himself: “How can we improve for tomorrow?”

Marcus Scharine, grain division manager, The Scharine Group Inc.

“Make friends, not necessarily customers.”

Building strong relationships has kept The Scharine Group, a family-owned and -operated agricultural fabrication, automation and construction business in production for more than 50 years. Marcus Scharine, grain division manager, whose father founded the business says, “If you develop customers they will buy from you once. If you make friendships, they wouldn't think to buy from anyone else.”

Henry F. Michell the 4th (Rick), president and CEO, Henry F. Michell Co.

Henry F Michell IV Business Advice

In the horticulture industry, where products are perishable, the room for error during shipping is vast – especially for Henry F. Michell Co., which services customers nationwide. Over the course of its 125 years in business, the company’s leaders have realized that service comes to light in the customers’ mind most clearly when they fix a problem, not when they produce a product on time and as expected. Rick F. Michell, president, CEO and fourth generation business leader, adopted this service motto from his uncle, Frank B. Michell, Jr., who once served as vice president of the company.

Aaron Juergens, director of Iowa operations, GSC Agribusiness

“It’s all about people – make sure to have the best people and partners to build long lasting relationships.”

Aaron Juergens, director of Iowa operations and the third generation to work for GSC, a company his grandfather founded in 1948, has been involved with the business his entire life. Although Aaron believes his motto of treating others kindly and fairly applies to all business and life transactions, he finds it especially imperative in the agriculture business. “The agriculture industry is quickly consolidating,” he says. “If you work with someone today, chances are you’re going to work with that same person again whether its six months or 10 years down the line. It’s important to build strong, dependable relationships and to keep your word.”

Tom Barrett, vice president of business development and purchasing, Barrett Petfood Innovations

Tom Barrett Business Advice

Taking note of what other successful competitors are doing, then taking a different route has been the key to Barrett Petfood’s success over the past decade. “You must create your own market or your business will never thrive,” says Tom Barrett, vice president of business development and purchasing, who joined the family business in 2009. “Find out how you can change something, or more importantly: do what everyone else in the industry isn’t willing to do. You must be willing to say yes when everyone else says no. That is how you become a leader in your industry, not by following.”

Dennis DeSchepper, co-owner, DeSchepper Farm Supply

“The bears and the bulls make money, but the pigs always go broke.”

The way Dennis DeSchepper, co-owner of DeSchepper Farm Supply, sees it, taking on reasonable projects and never overextending is the key to a successful business. He credits this wisdom to a mentor and family friend. “Overpromising leads to unhappy customers,” Dennis says. “We know our limits and always deliver on our word. Our reputation is our business, and we work hard to maintain it.”

Bill Lorrigan, founder and president, Bill Lorrigan Construction Inc.

Bill Lorrigan Business Advice

In the construction industry, where the competition is fierce, skimping on projects and taking the easy way out does little good, aside from providing headaches down the road. Bill Lorrigan, founder and president of Bill Lorrigan Construction Inc., says, “People want to get rich quick, but hard work and good decisions are the only ways to find sustainable success.” After 29 years of successful entrepreneurship, Bill has no magic tricks to disclose, but can vouch for honesty and integrity as the pillars to building a reputable business.

Mark Hovland, general manager, Fessenden Coop Association

“Seek input from customers, employees and industry peers.”

As general manager of Fessenden Coop Association, Mark Hovland knows that being open to feedback is the best way to improve business operations and customer offerings. “Baby boomer tactics are soon on their way out,” he says. “In our industry, speed, space and technology are driving our decisions going forward – which is why we are always seeking new ways to communicate with the next generation.”

Lane Lott, business development manager, Lortscher Animal Nutrition Inc.

Lane Lott Business Advice

Following his grandfather’s advice, Lane Lott, business development manager of Lortscher Animal Nutrition Inc., has been a crucial member of the Lortscher team – helping the company to effectively serve existing markets and establish new ones. The company’s vast and growing geographic footprint has been good for business, but presents challenges and takes diligence to complete jobs correctly and to keep employees accountable. “We believe it’s easier to do things right the first time than to have to do it again,” Lane says. “We have been doing it that way since day one and we are still here. It’s what we live by."

Check out part-two of this blog series, featuring advice from leaders in the food and beverage industry. Want to share your own business advice? Connect with us on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn.