The first time Humphrey Otita stepped foot in the U.S. was at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in 1997. He had arrived to attend the University of Iowa to pursue his Masters of Business Administration. After spending his childhood and college years in Nairobi, Kenya, where his family still lives, he chose to come to the U.S. because of our top-ranked MBA programs.
Humphrey had never even heard of Iowa until he started researching programs. What really intrigued him about the University of Iowa was that the program was made up of 50 percent international students—he felt he could thrive there. And he has continued to thrive in the US, from Iowa to Land O’Lakes.
Since arriving to the U.S. twenty years ago, Humphrey has always faced challenges head-on. After moving across the globe, he’s adapted to new careers and a new culture. He is now a senior finance manager for WinField United. All the while, Humphrey has embraced change and grown in new ways to inspire us all.
A rural and city childhood
Humphrey’s story truly begins in a field (and a city) far from Iowa.
“I went to school in the city of Nairobi and then spent the summer months in the rural village with many of my relatives. It’s a slower and simpler pace in the village. We washed our clothes by hand; fetched water from the well or river - there was no running water. The cows, goats and sheep had to be taken out to pasture,” says Humphrey.
He says his childhood was like “a tale of two lives,” or, more specifically, a tale of the bustling city of Nairobi, Kenya, and a rural farm.
“I lived on the farm for three months of the year, and I spent the rest in the city. I liked that unique experience growing up, and it helped me learn the value of a hard day’s work,” says Humphrey.
From teaching to business
Since he was a child, Humphrey had wanted to be a math teacher like his mother. He loved learning and wanted to help instill that love of learning in others. That dream brought him to Kenyatta University in Nairobi, where he pursued a Bachelor’s of Education in Math and Physics. It wasn’t until he started student teaching in Kenya that he realized it wasn’t the right fit for him. He wanted something more dynamic and analytical.
After college, he started working at a small computer consulting firm as a consultant. He had always liked computers and worked on them as a hobby, so he thought he could try it out as a career. He enjoyed it, but not for the reasons he initially imagined.
“When I was working at the computer consulting firm, it sparked this curiosity, not about computers, but about how business really worked. I started watching how the owners of the company ran the firm. This curiosity made me think that something business-oriented was what I wanted to know more about and potentially do in the future,” says Humphrey.
With Humphrey’s newfound interest in business and passion for learning, he started to research what education he would need to pursue this new career path. America’s global leadership in business appealed to him–Humphrey wanted to do something new, and he was excited to do that in a different country. This led him to the University of Iowa.
Midwest culture shock
Humphrey came to Iowa in 1997. He knew no one in Iowa City but felt ready to start his new life.
Humphrey grew up speaking Swahili, Luo and English in Kenya, but he is quick to point out that it was the Queen’s English, not American English. And he did not realize how much of a difference there could be in in the forms of English until he came to the U.S.
“I was working on a team project for my MBA, and someone in our group said “Humphrey, do you want to print this document?” And I said, “no.” And it wasn’t until later I was told that wasn’t a yes or no question, it was a request, and I had just very rudely said no,” laughs Humphrey. “Moving to a new country, you learn a lot and I learned from all those new interactions. They’re small, of course, but we can still learn from them.”
After completing his MBA in 1999, he moved to Minneapolis for a job at General Mills. The Midwest started to feel like home.
Moving toward a purpose
In 2012, Humphrey was looking for a career change and found Land O’Lakes through an online posting. There was a position open in Supply Chain Finance in Dairy Foods, and he realized he already knew people at the company. He reached out to his network and became more excited about Land O’Lakes.
“Coming to Land O’Lakes, as someone from a different part of the world, I wanted to take my learnings and contribute to something greater. There is a greater good here to be a part of: feeding the world in light of population growth and finding solutions for resources needed for food production,” says Humphrey.
Humphrey’s first position at Land O’Lakes was in Finance for Dairy Foods. In 2014, he saw an opportunity to pursue a role on the Corporate Strategy team, tasked with working on the company’s three year plan, mergers and acquisitions and other strategic projects. He transitioned to WinField United in 2016 which brought him the chance to utilize both his financial and his strategic business skills from his previous positions.
“You can have longevity, and you can have change, not just one or the other. That’s the real value of rotations within the company—this learning, development and application of new skills,” says Humphrey. “I’m happy to rotate and change roles as I grow as a business person.”
A pro at mentor-managing
One phrase that Humphrey likes to use to describe his former managers is “mentor-managers,” because many have turned out to be his greatest mentors.
“There was a learning curve for me coming to Land O’Lakes; there always is when you come to a new company. But I was fortunate enough to have people who were able to guide and shepherd me through the process so I could really thrive,” says Humphrey.
Humphrey also takes his own capabilities as a “mentor-manager” very seriously.
“I have an awesome team in WinField United,” says Humphrey. “I feel like we accomplish a lot, and I try to utilize everyone’s talents in the best way. My own job is to enable my team to have autonomy in their jobs, to master their jobs and to help them find purpose.”
Making a difference
Humphrey’s involvement with Land O’Lakes’ Employee Resource Groups has also given him a chance to be mentored and to mentor in new ways. He’s served as co-lead of African Ancestry, an ERG dedicated to making sure employees of African descent or heritage are given equal opportunities, for three years now.
“I’ve met people I never otherwise would have met through my involvement with our ERGs. It has enabled me to build my leadership skills,” says Humphrey. “It’s really just made it possible for me to make a contribution to the Land O’Lakes community and with the Twin Cities community.”
But it’s not just about being a leader, it’s about making a difference. More recently, one of the ways Humphrey is showing his leadership around diversity and inclusion is by helping Land O’Lakes Inc. establish a recruiting relationship with the National Association of Black Accountants at the University of Minnesota.
Learning, learning and more learning
After 20 years in the United States, Humphrey does not regret anything. But, he still misses his family.
“I try to go back to Kenya when I can. I’ve noticed that when I go back to Kenya now, it’s very energizing to come back to work. To take a few weeks off and revisit my family and childhood home, it makes everything in life more precious I think,” he says.
This is the place where he fell in love, got married and had a child. Minnesota is his home, and this is where he will continue to make a difference.
“I stayed in America because I realized that I had the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives and the world,” says Humphrey. “One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that you learn through experience. Changing roles, changing countries, you learn and grow from that. And I want to apply that knowledge to keep making a difference.”