Young Leaders

posted on Thursday, June 15, 2017

“My contribution to #billionplus is to come to work every day with a good attitude, always be willing to learn, and always be willing to teach,” said Nick Benge, Sow 13 farm manager. “Those are the things that I have learned from my mentors, and I try to live them every day.”

That was one of Nick’s responses to the many questions he and other young leaders fielded from our 2017 class of interns during a leadership development workshop earlier today. Paired with finishing supervisor Eric Hensley and outreach coordinator Logan Sweers, the interns had the opportunity to ask questions about the ins and outs of managing farms, leading teams, overcoming challenges and taking advantage of growth opportunities at Iowa Select Farms.

“Probably the one thing that most people don’t know about those of us who manage farms is how much we care about the farm, the animals and our team,” said Nick, a recent graduate of Iowa State University. “And also that we love to problem solve, we have to figure out better ways to do things, and solve issues. Sometimes we make the wrong decisions, but we learn from it and keep growing.”

“It was really neat to hear from the other areas of the company and seeing how others lead,” said Adam Bichel, an intern in the nutrient management department who is currently an industrial technology student at Iowa State University. “Makes you appreciate everything that’s going on, and we are grateful for the opportunity to hear from leaders who are only a few years older than we are.”

Finishing supervisor, Eric Hensley, also offered the advice to get the most out of an internship while you are there, and to complete as many as you can while in college. “I wish I would have known how important internships are,” said Eric, who graduated from DMACC with a degree in ag production. “I grew up around agriculture and my dad is a veterinarian, but I had never worked with hogs before. Luckily I went to the DMACC career fair and talked to an Iowa Select Farms recruiter about this internship program and thought it sounded like something I could do.”

Eric was an intern in 2014, and then joined Iowa Select Farms full time as a member of the Production Leadership Program where he trained to be a GDU manager. A year later, he was promoted to gilt selection manager. Recently he was promoted again to a finishing supervisor, overseeing the Keast sites in southwest Iowa.

“I’ve learned a lot getting those sites set up and running. It’s been very challenging but it’s also been rewarding, especially when it comes to building a team at those farms,” said Eric. “I feel like Iowa Select Farms is a big family, and through every step of my time here people have been helping me learn and get better.”

When asked what motivates Eric, he said it’s all about the metrics. “We all stay focused on the goals and things we know we have a direct impact on, like low death loss,” said Eric. “It motivates me and makes me feel good when I see we are running efficiently, the health of the animals is good and mortality is low.”

Nick agrees that the metrics really drive him, but also the family he has at Sow 13. “We’ve really been through a lot together,” said Nick, telling the interns the story of how Sow 13 had been freshly repopulated with PRRS-negative gilts, then broke again. “It’s was really bad, and we were devastated. Then two months after that we had a different strain of PRRS and it was even worse, but our crew has gotten a lot closer because of it, and we talk about how we can get better at biosecurity and keep our sows healthy.”

When asked how he starts his day, Nick said he gets to work early to make sure there are enough towels and clean laundry for his team, and then gets his computer work done so he can greet everyone when they arrive and cover the day’s activities. He walks through the breeding barns to see how heat checking is going, then by late morning he’s over in farrowing checking out the new litters, all the while taking the opportunity to train his team and help them get better.

And that hard work at Sow 13 has paid off according to Nick. “About three weeks ago our numbers went from 12.4 born alive to a 13.9 born alive within a span of a week, and we’ve been running above target since, so seeing our hard work pay off keeps us motivated.”

Logan Sweers, the outreach coordinator for Iowa Select Farms and 2015 intern talked about things she wishes she would have been told while on the job hunt last year, like the importance of finding a career and not just a job. “You may get offers with very attractive salaries, but I think finding a company that feels like the right fit with opportunities to learn, develop and advance will make you happier in the long run.” She continued, “You also have to take a close look at the culture and ask yourself, ‘Can I see myself fitting in here? Do we share the same values?’”

Eric chimed in and shared some of the wisest career advice he ever received. “I’ll never forget my dad telling me to find an employer that offers good benefits,” he laughed, as Nick teased him for talking about “grown up” things like health care. “You don’t think of those things in college, but the insurance and the 401(k) is really important for when it’s time to be an adult.”

Nick reminded the interns to be open-minded about the careers they pursue after graduating. “I was a biology major and started as a technician with no prior pig experience. I wasn’t an intern, but like so many of us here I had to learn everything coming in as a full time employee. I was welcomed, and everyone was by my side to help me.”

“I really liked how Nick, Logan and Eric made everything relatable,” said Tori Abner, a student at Texas A&M and intern at Sow 11. “It’s encouraging to see there is something to look forward to after graduation and that there is a path to a full time position with a lot of opportunity in this industry.”

Paris Smith, an intern at Sow 1 agreed. “It was cool to talk to Nick, Eric and Logan who were all in our shoes once, and see what they are doing in just three short years. It’s encouraging to see the growth they’ve made in such a short period of time knowing that could be us someday, too.” #billionplus