He’s leaving the South African mountains behind for a little while, but Gerbrandt Kriel could not be happier to find himself in Shoreview, Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and Land O’Lakes, Inc. Last fall, Gerbrandt, a marketing advisor for Villa Crop Protection with an expertise in agronomy, was offered a chance to be an expat in the U.S. working with WinField, Land O’Lakes crop input business, for two years, thanks to our partnership with the Villa, a South African market leader in crop protection products.
Born in Moorreesburg, South Africa, Gerbrandt spent his life’s schooling, college and work in South Africa. When the opportunity arose to live in a different country doing what he loved, Gerbrandt eagerly accepted.
"I’d always dreamed of having an international work experience," says Gerbrandt. "The partnership between Villa and Land O’Lakes gave me that opportunity."
Just as the partnership with Villa Crop Protection in South Africa is Land O’Lakes, Inc.’s commercial expansion in South Africa, Gerbrandt is the first expat from South Africa to join our headquarters in the U.S.
His title in Africa is Marketing Advisor, which translates into an agronomist role here.
"This international position has been, truly, one of the best experiences of my life so far," says Gerbrandt.
Gerbrandt has been on U.S. soil for the past five months. He will rotate through different departments for two years total.
Gerbrandt’s experience could be defined as a ‘work exchange program’ of sorts. Dave Schumacher, a Land O’Lakes General Manager for crop inputs, is currently an expat at Villa in South Africa. "An expat role offers a unique experience for employees to develop both their personal and business skills," says Dave.
After Dave made the move to Villa, a team of leaders from WinField, International Development and HR started to think about how they could implement a similar program at Land O’Lakes for a Villa employee.
"We wanted to have Gerbrandt come to Minnesota to learn about this company as an experience so that he could better understand our culture and our business strategy," says Kevin Eye, vice president of agronomy and product development. "He can take some of his key learnings here and apply those to his work at Villa."
What they came up with was a 2-year plan, where Gerbrandt would spend time both in the office in a managerial role, out in the field at an Answer Plot® location and working with sellers and retailers.
The plan calls for Gerbrandt to switch roles every 2-3 months and get a mixture of office work and field work. But the important thing to note is that he’s not simply shadowing, he is contributing and doing all types of agronomy-related projects.
"The idea around the rotation was that I get to spend a short period within most of the departments,” says Gerbrandt. “This means I have a better idea how each of these departments function and also how they interact with each other across the company."
Through his rotations, Gerbrandt will learn about data capturing, on-field agronomy, plant harvesting, product development, sustainability, marketing and other aspects of the business.
It’s a lot of hands-on work and a lot of quick learning, but Gerbrandt has shown he is more than capable of keeping up and contributing to important discussions.
"Gerbrandt is received really well by our WinField family," says Kevin. "He works well no matter what capacity you have him in."
Growing into agronomy
In South Africa, Gerbrandt came into his role at Villa right after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy. He ran into the CEO of Villa while on vacation with his parents and learned about an opening in the company for a young agronomist, and as Gerbrandt says, "the rest is history."
The Western Cape in South Africa has a diverse range of crops. I worked with wheat, canola, grapes, citrus, tomatoes and potatoes,” says Gerbrandt. “I enjoy the challenges of agronomy. It’s satisfying to gather information, process this information and apply it all to improve yields. Perfecting these aspects will hopefully help with ensuring food security in South Africa and the U.S. in the future.”
Gerbrandt is working with technologies and products that are still pending approval in Africa. This means he will be able to take his expertise and hands-on knowledge back with him to Villa and easily apply it.
"I started out in the marketing department at Land O’Lakes for about 10 weeks when I first came here," says Gerbrandt. "Most of my time in marketing at WinField was spent learning and understanding the US market and all the WinField systems, like NutriSolutions 360® System and the R7® Tool."
In the beginning, not only was there a learning curve, there was also a temperature curve. Well, more like a temperature drop.
Gerbrandt and his wife took an airplane from Cape Town, South Africa, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to begin the expat journey in February. They rented an apartment in the Uptown neighborhood, bought winter coats and looked forward to the future and to the summer.
"It was 110 degrees Fahrenheit in South Africa when we left," says Gerbrandt, with a laugh. "We were welcomed to Minneapolis with a 10 degree temperature. This was the first time I experienced an extremely low temperature, and I remember walking out of the airport, stopping and immediately going back inside. All I could think is: What have I agreed to?"
But Gerbrandt soon found that the warm atmospheres within the Minnesota community and the Land O’Lakes culture more than made up for the outside chill.
Not so different
Despite some icy beginnings, Gerbrandt has loved his time in Minnesota and at Land O’Lakes.
"The culture at Land O’Lakes is truly something to experience. I found it surprising that such a large company still has the ability to maintain the family feeling," says Gerbrandt of his time so far. He fits right in with a constant smile and a drive to consistently innovate.
Gerbrandt is very active in his spare time, having participated in rugby, tennis and swimming in school. He’s glad to find the Minnesota culture is also focused on getting outside, whether that be cycling or fishing. Although he does miss surfing in the ocean.
"There are a lot of similarities between South Africa and the Midwest, actually," says Gerbrandt. "For starters, I feel like we have a similar sense of humor. We like the same activities. Also, family is a very important aspect of life in South Africa and in the U.S."
Bringing knowledge home
You may see Gerbrandt around the Shoreview, Minnesota, office or out in a Midwest field; that is, if you can keep up with his fast-paced, rotating schedule for the next year and a half.
"Even though I have not been here for that long, it feels like I have gained an immense amount of knowledge," says Gerbrandt. "I’m developing new ideas that include anything from marketing strategies to more effective communication."
At Land O’Lakes, we are glad to have Gerbrandt on our soil to learn as much as possible from his international experience, and, perhaps most of all, we’re grateful to let all of us at Land O’Lakes learn from him.
"The biggest thing that the international experience has given me thus far is the change of perspective," says Gerbrandt. "I have a new way of looking at things and solving problems."