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Beth Ford

Strong business and ag headwinds offer leaders a unique opportunity

Beth Ford's advice to the next generation of leaders

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, I had the great privilege of presenting the opening keynote of the 2017 Women in Agribusiness Summit here in Minneapolis. The topic? A timely one: “Navigating Ag’s Disrupted Environment: Why Ag is Still Right for Women.”

A disrupted environment is not unique to ag right now. All industries are feeling the effects of tumultuous national and international climates. Disrupted trade environments. Political uncertainty. Natural disasters. Changing consumer preferences. Unexpected competitors. Elimination of jobs. All of those challenges and more are why now, more than ever, we need bold leaders.

Our headwinds in ag fall into some of these categories.

  • Tumultuous climates and trade: Record grain and dairy production around the world are leading to commodity price declines. This production is in some ways driving, or at least coupled with, a continued march toward consolidation throughout the sector as major suppliers, co-ops and farmers work to gain scale leverage.

  • Changing consumer preferences: In the associated food production and CPG industry, consumers have increasing demands for transparency in food ingredients and are making values-based decisions in food choice, considering their own values and considering those of the food company itself and whether it aligns with the “healthy” food being marketed by said company. This change has moved consumers away from packaged foods and the center of the store.

  • Unexpected competitors: At the same time, we see significant disruption in the grocery retail environment with new entrants, pressure on pricing and pressure to innovate.

Still, the fundamental challenge and purpose of agribusiness and food production remains: We must feed nearly 9 billion people by 2050. We must do this with less available land and water. A great growth industry with huge opportunity to have a robust career while making a significant difference in the world? Sign me up. A place that is “right” for women! A perfect fit. Why? RESILIENCE! Women are resilient, able to deliver a baby in a field in the morning and be back to harvest by the afternoon! Now that’s an extreme but you get my point—women get the job done!

While the road ahead may look ominous, to me it’s quite the contrary. The current landscape offers a unique and exciting opportunity. The opportunity to solve some of the country’s—and world’s—greatest challenges. Now is the time for the next generation of trailblazing leaders who think creatively and act strategically to step up to the plate.

So, how do you make the most of this opportunity?

Invest in yourself

Own your own development. Your future success is largely determined by your willingness to be continuously improving. Be open to and proactively seek out opportunities that allow you to keep learning. Investing in yourself can take many forms: furthering your education, learning new skills, and prioritizing work/life balance are all ways of investing in yourself.

Move to another function to broaden your skills

Be intellectually curious and branch out. Take the field assignments. Work in a role in which your skillset doesn’t perfectly align. Learning the different facets of your organization is key to becoming a valued (and invaluable) team member. Having the cross-departmental knowledge and know-how will set you apart and give you the perspective necessary to stand out as a leader.

Make yourself well-known in your industry

Network. Meet people at all levels and across all segments of your industry. Become a name synonymous with motivation: motivation to meet people, to learn from them, to become a trusted and relied upon industry source, to do purpose-driven work and to contribute. With this, you’ll go far.

Seek leadership opportunities

I strongly believe employees derive a unique sense of purpose from the experience of leading people. Learning to lead will help you develop credibility with colleagues at all levels in your organization. Leaders of people rise to the top. You must have a willingness to bring others along, and invest in these individuals as you invest in yourself.

Work your plan with confidence, optimism and resilience

Once you’ve decided what you want and where you want to go, have trust in your plan and work it with confidence. Pair that confidence with optimism and resilience and you’ll achieve much. Resiliency is perhaps the most challenging, but most imperative, trait to master. Life can be bumpy, but that’s part of the journey.

Despite the current climate rife with industry challenges, adversity and uncertainties, opportunity awaits. Now more than ever, it’s time to rise to the occasion and shine.