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Moving forward together

Winter Managers Meeting helps chart course for Co-op in 2018
Story by Chris Villines; photos by Sarah Geyer, Allison Parker, and Chris Villines 1/25/2018


More than 200 key employees from across the Co-op system listen as Tennessee Farm Bureau Director of Public Policy Stefan Maupin presents a legislative update at the Co-op Winter Managers Meeting Jan. 8 at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro. A yearly tradition for Co-op and Tennessee Farmers Cooperative leaders, the two-day meeting offers timely information and motivational sessions.
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When the calendar turns over to a new year, it awakens a feeling of purpose and a focus on opportunities ahead. And when a group of like-minded individuals gather to share goals for the days to come, it brings even more clarity to the mission.

For Co-op leaders, this gathering occurs each January as they start with a clean slate at the Winter Managers Meeting. The 2018 edition of this longstanding tradition for the Co-op system was a comprehensive two-day meeting held Jan. 8 and 9 that offered information, inspiration, and education to help chart a course for success and enhance a culture that promotes exceptional customer service.

Meeting Chairman Jeremy Horne, manager of Anderson Farmers Cooperative, got the proceedings under way on a positive note by reminding the nearly 250 key employees in attendance of the differentiating factors associated with the Co-op.

“People come to us because of our service, our product knowledge, and our people,” said Horne, who also chaired the 2010 meeting. “We’re willing to go out to a customer’s farm, take a look at his or her operation, and give advice, and we utilize [Tennessee Farmers Cooperative] outside sales staff with these recommendations and customer visits. I think it’s those things that separate us from the competition and will continue to separate us in the future.

“Let’s see what we hear at this meeting that can help us build on what makes us different. I challenge you to find a few ideas to take home to your own store and put to work. If we can all do that, then this meeting will be time well spent.”

Horne introduced a jam-packed agenda that afforded attendees many chances to gain new insights for 2018 and beyond. From tips on navigating the ag input market to the latest developments associated with TFC’s Agronomy and Farm, Home, and Fleet Divisions, as well as timely legislative updates and thoughtful keynote presentations on ownership culture and managing change, there was plenty of powerful information to digest.

Leading off these sessions, TFC Chief Executive Officer Bart Krisle addressed the audience with his yearly management report. In his 30-minute talk, Krisle began by covering TFC’s purpose, values, and core strategies.

“Our purpose is to be a farmer-owned cooperative system that delivers products and services in an efficient and effective manner while promoting mutual respect and trust,” he said. “We want to have a passion for success. In my opinion, if you can’t be passionate about what you’re doing, go find something else to do.”

Teamwork, knowledge, growth, and integrity were at the center of what Krisle outlined as TFC’s values.

“We all make mistakes, but by working as a team, you reach out and help one another and support each other,” he explained. “The knowledge base we have is one of the things that differentiates us from our competitors — we know how to handle customers and offer suggestions. That’s very important. We have to be focused on growth because as I’ve always said, if you’re not growing, you are dying or drying up on the vine.”

Krisle added that while it’s easy to espouse the virtues of integrity, the challenge is to live up to them.

“If you lose integrity, it’s very, very difficult — if not impossible — to regain because you lose trust,” he said. “We must have respect for others and honest communication. We can have frank conversations and disagreements, but in doing so let’s also have respect for each other as human beings and communicate honestly.”

Krisle also reiterated TFC’s core strategies: delivering value, growth, leadership development, and leading our federated cooperative system.

“These core strategies are the measuring sticks we look at when we venture into new opportunities to make sure they apply,” he said.

He ended his presentation by urging Co-op employees to “focus on the mission” of enhancing the value to the farmer owner and efficiencies that will maximize the effectiveness of the Co-op system.

“The challenge within each of your organizations is growing sales and growing a business, and competition is rising,” Krisle said. “We must be willing to adjust our structure and our business models to the demands of the marketplace in order to remain successful. What are we, as a cooperative system, willing to do in order to achieve our mission? From my perspective, it’s time to be bold, move forward together, and while honoring our traditions, not allow those traditions to hinder future success.”

Later that morning, Drew Garretson, U.S. Lead for the Digital Technology Manager Team at WinField United/Land O’Lakes, discussed how farm supply cooperatives can remain relevant in an increasingly competitive online modern ag input marketplace.

Co-op’s human connection remains one of its greatest strengths, he said. But, he cautioned, the days of “here’s my order on the back of a napkin” will decrease as older producers exit farming and younger, more tech-savvy ones enter.

“They are going to go online and check prices from multiple sources before they make their decisions,” said Garretson. “I think there is going to be a real expectation that there is a transparency around price and that they feel they’re getting a fair, honest deal. The retailer of tomorrow must be responsive, too, and that comes with speed — fast trucks and fast delivery. That is very important for growers going forward.”

Garretson was also a presenter at an Agronomy breakout session immediately after lunch, where he introduced the WinField United/Land O’Lakes ATLAS Portal, a website development tool that will help Co-op deliver value to its customers in the future. Other topics during this breakout session included an update on Ag Equipment USA from Manager Trey Smith and uses for drone technology from TFC Agronomy. A simultaneous TFC Farm, Home, & Fleet breakout session included an overview of the Co-op Tire Program, updates on the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program and LaVergne Metal Fabrication Plant, and manufactured feed opportunities.

One of the highlights of the afternoon session was a legislative update from Tennessee Farm Bureau Director of Public Policy Stefan Maupin. The 23-year Farm Bureau employee shared information on political actions taken in both Tennessee and Washington, D.C., that impact agriculture. Maupin spoke to the audience, ironically, at the same time that President Donald Trump was addressing the American Farm Bureau Convention in Nashville.

Each day of the meeting was capped off by a keynote speaker. On day one, Joe Tye, CEO and Head Coach of Iowa-based Values Coach closed the sessions. Tye and his company offer training, consulting, and education to help organizations transform their culture into ones of full employee ownership and engagement. The enthusiastic speaker challenged the audience to think about the “invisible architecture” of their respective Co-ops.

“The service you provide is the blueprint behind the blueprint — the invisible architecture — because it’s the soul of the organization like the bricks and mortar are the body,” said Tye. “To provide this level of service, you’re going to have to ask some people to change some of their behaviors and think in some new ways. This is where you communicate your company’s ‘foundation’ — its core values. The ‘interior finishing’ is the attitude in the workplace.”

 The meeting’s closing speaker was Mark Mayfield, a Kansas City-based, self-billed “corporate comedian” whose humorous tales were interspersed with a serious message: how to manage change through creativity.

“The No. 1 major stressor of everyone walking the planet is change,” Mayfield said. “The companies that win in today’s world are the ones who create change. They create new ideas, systems, concepts, processes, and re-create themselves. If you ignore change or simply react to change, second place is the best you’ll ever be. Like my father used to say, ‘The head dog is the only sled dog that gets a different view.’”

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