If you had known Tony Bolz eleven years ago, you would have found a kind and compassionate elementary school principal. Today, Tony still leads with compassion and kindness, but you would be more likely to find him out in a corn field than a classroom. You see, Tony now works as a regional sales director for the plant nutrition sales group in WinField United.
It may seem like a quite a career change, from education to agronomy, but since his move ten years ago, Tony has fallen in love with agriculture. He’s been with United Suppliers, now WinField United, across different positions, for the last ten years.
And he finds it’s not actually that different than teaching, most days.
“Honesty and integrity, effective communication, listening well, those are all qualities of a principal and of any good leader. There’s a difference in agronomy and education, but leading people is very similar.”
Tony’s job is to support the sales reps who work across the country, connecting our headquarters and senior leaders to the people working literally in the fields. His work ensures our retailers have the tools they need to deliver strong results and to make WinField United their trusted ag advisor.
“I’m just a kid who grew up as a townie in Wisconsin, and now I’m down in cotton fields, helping owners make decisions in Texas. I never thought that it would have been me,” says Tony.
Learning ag for the first time at 31
It’s exactly people like Tony that we need in the field of agriculture -- people with varied experiences and backgrounds who can add value to all our great growth industry has to offer. In particular, Tony’s work in education has made him a stronger and more effective leader with all of the teams that he works with.
“I was 31 and I’d been a principal at an elementary school for a few years already. I got my PhD, but I wasn’t sure I wanted or was prepared to be a superintendent yet. I thought that I should get some business experience,” Tony says.
His friend at then-United Suppliers told him about a sales representative position that was opening up in Wisconsin. Tony was intrigued; not necessarily by the ag industry, to start with, but by the meaning behind the job at United Suppliers.
“I’ll be honest, I had really no idea what my friend actually did at his sales job at United Suppliers,” says Tony. “We’d be out together, and he’d take a work call, and he’d never be frustrated or feel like it was an intrusion. It was fascinating to see someone love their job like that.”
So, Tony applied for the sales role. And since coming to WinField United, he’s found that he has that same passion for agriculture and our purpose of feeding human progress that his friend did, all those years ago.
“What appealed to me back then is that all the work we do for our owners. We’re helping feed the world. That’s really what we do,” he says.
Leading with the industry
Having been in an agriculture role for the past ten years, Tony has been able to really understand some of the biggest disruptors that have occurred in our industry.
One of the biggest changes he’s seen? Ag tech.
“When I started here, the ag tech realm was just beginning,” says Tony. “I think about what we’re doing today and what we’ll be doing tomorrow, we’re on the cusp of it, from field forecasting to data analytics. And now, we’re figuring out all that we can do with that data to help our owners make better decisions.”
Tony helps his plant nutrition team by connecting them to the ag tech experts within WinField United. One of Tony’s direct sales managers was a veteran in the agriculture industry but very new to the ag tech space. When this individual recognized one of his retail owners wasn’t using ag technology but probably should be, the manager brought in Jim Hedges, director of insights and partnerships.
“We need to bring the resources to our owners,” says Tony. “The growth in agriculture is going to come in the ag tech space. As leaders, it’s our job to push the drive toward it and help grow the return on investment for our owners.”
One other thing that Tony has been able to see is that different teams across the organization are becoming closer together and relying on each other more. It’s what will help us bring our insights to innovation.
“I’m seeing a collaborative team beyond the one I’m leading,” says Tony. “In our sales group, we have seed sales, crop protection products and plant nutrition performance. Customers need to see us as one; we each have our individual expertise and rely on each other, but we’re all working toward the same goals.”
And Tony directly correlates this high-teaming culture to success in the field through making bold decisions together.
“You see the end-of-the-year numbers as a result of our groups working together, and that’s something great to be a part of,” says Tony. “Relationships are key to everything we do -- with our owners and then also internally.”
Right at home, out in the field
He may be a teacher at heart, but Tony’s soul is now rooted to agriculture and to the soil. He now can’t imagine his life outside the agriculture industry.
“I feel so fortunate to do what we do,” says Tony. “We really do get to see food from the seed to the plate. To be a leader in an industry where our job is to feed the world, doesn’t get much better than that.”
And if you saw Tony out in a field, dirt on his jeans, wide smile on his face, talking with our growers and salespeople, you’d have no idea that he wasn’t born into the agricultural life.
“The best part of my job is when I get to jump into a truck and go talk to owners and growers. I get to see my team in action. That’s when you get to see the magic happen,” says Tony.