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Fly the Plane: Focus on the Strategy

Even when things are really tough, remember to fly the plane. That’s my advice – inspired by now-retired U.S. Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who made an unexpected water landing in New York’s Hudson River in 2009 – to any agribusiness executive in today’s fast-paced, technology-based industry. I believe that our role as ag executives should be focused on the overall business strategy that will keep our companies and our products viable and profitable into the future. We must keep our eye on the customer, recognizing and responding to their needs today and projecting and creating their needs for tomorrow. It’s not an easy job; if it were, companies wouldn’t need CEOs. By the same token, CEOs need teams they can trust and that have a unified vision toward the customer. The best leadership teams – the CEO and the “lieutenants” – are collaborative, accountable, co-dependent, customer-focused. My career as a seed-industry leader has been greatly influenced by my active involvement with the American Seed Trade Association. This is a group of talented and dedicated leaders who take off their company hats to share ideas about issues important to our work: public policy, regulatory matters, intellectual property rights and trade issues. In a productive and interactive atmosphere, we find actionable ways to overcome challenges facing the industry, relying on our individual and shared experiences to design solutions. The exciting thing to me about the seed industry is that we are able to give growers so many more choices than ever before. By delivering herbicide tolerance and insect protection through the seed, we are helping growers gain more productivity and profit. And, researchers are continuing to push the industry forward – to the grower’s benefit – by identifying technologies at a faster and faster rate. As the seed industry continues its focus on advanced development, we must remain attuned to sustainability. Yields have continued to grow, which allows the ag industry to produce more on the same number of acres. Demand for food and fiber are growing – as our population increases – but the land available for farming remains the same or is diminishing. We must do more with less and do so in a way that is sustainable. Our growers demand it: so many of them want to leave the land better than it was left to them. The seed industry can help them do that, by improving productivity, lessening tillage and keeping more soil in place. Here at Finding Black Ink, we have the career experiences needed to aid agribusiness executives in developing and implementing profitable strategies. The core philosophies that guide Finding Black Ink’s experts align with the factors today’s CEOs consider daily: objectivity, creativity, integrity, collaboration, and, perhaps most importantly, market understanding. With Finding Black Ink, you’ll find a fresh and beneficial perspective on achieving your company’s business priorities. Want Jim’s insights on the seed industry? Reach him here. Jim Tobin retired from Monsanto in December 2014 after more than 31 years with the company. He continues to help his colleagues at Monsanto, serving as the chairman of Monsanto’s Grower Advisory Council. Jim joined Monsanto's agricultural unit in 1983. His held leadership roles in product management, seed business integration, crop protection and Monsanto’s global cotton business. Assignments in these areas provided valuable opportunities to work with Monsanto's seed, biotech and crop chemical customers and products. Jim holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. Jim currently serves on the board of Neogen, a company based in Lansing, Mich., that provides solutions for food and animal safety, is a member of the Farm Foundation Roundtable and serves as an Iowa State University Foundation governor. He is a former chairman of the American Seed Trade Association and the FarmHouse Foundation, and is a former trustee for the National 4-H Foundation.

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