S7:E4 Leading to Grow with CEO Jeff Troike

May 22, 2023


Show Notes

In the final episode of this series featuring the Ceres Solutions senior leadership team, CEO Jeff Troike discusses the strategic initiatives behind Ceres' continued growth as an organization. 

Jeff Troike (00:00):
I think our goal at Ceres every day, we want to do better than the day before.
Morgan Seger (00:07):
Every day we rely on food, fuel, and fiber, but how much do you know about these industries we depend on? In this podcast, we dive deep into the production and processes of these everyday essentials. This is Field Points, an original podcast production from Ceres Solutions. Welcome back to Field Points. I'm your host, Morgan Seger. I am thrilled to be wrapping up our intentional leadership series with Ceres Solutions CEO Jeff Troike, who has been in the cooperative system for over 40 years. Jeff brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this conversation and shares some of what he and my co-host Laurel refer to as Troike-isms. Those go-to things that have helped him successfully lead the cooperative for decades. He shares insights into how things come together, how the organization decides when and where to invest, and what goes into play when we're thinking strategically about the invest initiative that Ceres Solutions has set for this year. So let's meet our guest, Jeff Troike.
Jeff Troike (01:08):
So yeah, a little bit about my background. I grew up on a family farm in northern Indiana, Starke County, Indiana. Went to Purdue University, majored in animal science, did a lot of courses in agronomy. So when I got out of college in 1982, of course there was thoughts about going back to the family farm at that time, the economic conditions were that there was plenty of work for three families on the farm. I already had an older brother there, barely enough income for two families. So I decided to go out and try something different and I got a job with the co-op at that time was Indiana Farm Bureau, but the one I went to was West Central Indiana. And so I started that in 1982 and for about four and a half years I managed a local branch at Malott Indiana that was an agronomy branch and a grain receiving location.
So that's where I cut my teeth in the co-op system and in agribusiness. So going from the family farm to that, I learned a lot my history, Laurel, that I was going through some management training at that time with the Indiana Farm Bureau co-op and the manager of West Central Indiana co-op at that time decided to take another position and I was kind of talked into interviewing for interview experience and lo and behold, they took a chance on a young person out of a branch to run the co-op at that time and that would've been in 1986. So then I went from running a single location trying to manage it, the daily activities to we had five or six, seven locations plus petroleum to where my responsibilities changed. My leadership style had to change to where you weren't just leading four or five people, you were leading the whole company and then you had to not worry about how you operated that branch, but one investments you made in people and in equipment in facilities.
That went very well. I was just fortunate to surround myself with some good people. There was no doubt that company was struggling a little bit financially. And then the economy turned around for agriculture a little bit there in the early nineties and we got to do some good things. Once again, invest in people, let them do their work, hire good people, let them do their job to take care of the customers, add some equipment and do some things to build that co-op and get it to where it was doing what the membership needed it to do. That was the start back there in the mid eighties and early nineties. A lot of consolidation in agriculture, not just at the co-op level, at the agribusiness level, but with the farm gate. And also that's when we started getting a lot more regulations where you had to invest money in your facilities to meet the regulations and you could not do that with every facility.
So there's where you had to strategically start in where are we going to invest? How are we going to invest for the future of the farmer, the future of the co-op and the future of our locations? And so that's where that started there in the mid nineties with some regulations coming into place. So that gave you that mindset as you started planning looking out as the business environments change, conditions change, consolidations happen, where do you want to be? And you have to invest in long-term assets, long-term programs and your people long-term to meet those challenges.
Laurel Mann (04:29):
And I feel like that continues today. That is very much
Jeff Troike (04:32):
The feel at C. That was the start of it back there with West Central Days. Then in about 1998 we merged with the neighboring co-op, Heartland co-op. At that time I was released to become the C e O there and the consolidation investing continued at that time. And then once again, my history. Then we did another partnership in 2007 to grow and then our last one in 2017 of a merger with co-ops. And that's one of the things in my career that we've seen. When I first got involved with the co-ops in 82, there was financial problems and people were merging to save people. What we've learned since then on mergers is one plus one will equal two and a half or three that you are able to as you get some size and scale and size is bigger, is not better on everything, but it does have its advantages.
But when you have to invest in facilities, invest in programs, invest in people, size and scale does matter because you can spread those resources over a larger area and through all the investing and all the consolidation, I can sit and look anybody in the eye and tell you that it's been better for the customer, the owner member been better for the employees and better for the co-op and better for the industry. One I have in 40 years plus of being in the business is somewhat unbelievable. The use of technology, how we do things to better take care of the members, to work with our customers, to work with, whether it's our member owners or our non-member customers, the things that we do, things we have to invest in the programs and we can talk about all them that you want to.
Morgan Seger (06:20):
Before we dive into the specifics of the Invest strategic initiative, we wanted to take some time to lean into Jeff's over 40 years of experience and learn more about his leadership philosophy and his leadership style. I
Jeff Troike (06:34):
Think I talked about it earlier where develop the approach is you hire good people, you give them the tools and programs and products to be successful, you help 'em with their careers and you take care of them and then guess what? They'll take care of the customers and then the business runs pretty good.
Laurel Mann (06:53):
When I joined Ceres 10 years ago, I said, what is the mission? What's the purpose? And you said, do the right thing.
Jeff Troike (06:59):
The old saying that everybody has, if you're not growing, you're dying. And I believe in that one you mentioned do the right thing. I challenge our people all the time. Our business is made up of relationships. It's relationships with our customers, it's relationship with the members, it's relationship with our vendors that we work with and it's relationship with our employees that they know that we care about them just like we care about our customers and that we make long-term decisions when we do things and we want to help our people grow. We want our customers to be profitable and successful. And if we don't do that, if we can't help our customers be more profitable, more efficient and more productive, and same way with our employees, if we don't have the tools and not investing in the right facilities, the right equipment to make their job easier, to make it more enjoyable for them, then we have no reason to exist.
Change is not easy for everybody and we have to make sure we do change to meet the expectations of the customers. Sometimes that can be hard. Everybody's got different expectations. So you've got some customers that do not want to change at all and don't understand why we're investing in facilities and why consolidating some others and why we're affecting moving their cheese a little bit. And same way with employees. So it's always our job is to make sure we communicate that well enough and then execute and deliver on the promises that when we do make a change that their service is going to be just as good, if not better and probably better than it was before.
Laurel Mann (08:43):
You can't work somewhere for 40 years and not have just a ton of relationships that help you become more successful as a leader. And
Jeff Troike (08:50):
Most of 'em are good.
We do have some people that probably don't, some of the decisions we've had to make in the past. But as far as what we believe is best for the co-op, long-term best for the membership, we have to continue to change. If not, we'll get buried and we'll get run over. And once again, change is difficult for some people. It can be difficult for me. I mean I'll admit sometimes you got to throw stuff against the wall a few times to see if it sticks to get me to change some things, to add some services, to make some consolidations. But it is all about communication. Relationships are a big thing. When I started in the career, it's all about do you have a personal relationship with your customers? Are you going to church with them or do you see 'em at the ball games? Other kids on the little league, we're still about that, but we also have to have that business relationship that we are adding value to their operations.
We are bringing them something that they cannot get any place else. Are they finding it harder? We are there to help them solve problems. It's easy to say that that's what we want to do. It's hard to deliver. The old thing is strategy is no better than how good your execution is. And what I can see is I believe we invest in our people to allow them to execute well at the farm gate, at the business gate, whether it's petroleum or LP at the home to do their jobs, to protect themselves, protect the customers, and offer what people need.
Laurel Mann (10:18):
Can you describe a little bit what you mean when you say you have a style that is confidently paranoid
Jeff Troike (10:25):
That was coined between Doug and myself and somebody ought to show you the pictures. There's a graphic.
Laurel Mann (10:31):
Oh, there's
Jeff Troike (10:32):
A graphic, there's a graphic and there's a graphic and maybe I'll go find it for you, but confidently paranoid. We probably described that as very confident in serious solutions. Very, very confident in our team to take care of our customers, very confident that we are doing everything we can to help them and to be relevant for the future. And then you always a little paranoid about what are we missing? What are we not seeing? What could derail us that we're not doing when our member needs, we're not taking care of them in the way we should. Is that just missing something? Is that we have a breach in technology where we're getting just like everybody else, you're getting hacked every day. We're getting hacked every day to where if somebody steals information that we let down our customers, we've let down our employees and we have stories of people that have been hacked and what that's done. We've all heard those stories, right? They shut the co-op down for two weeks or they want $5 million ransom paranoid that if we are not offering what the employee needs to do their job, that we are no longer a employee of a choice and we need to be that. So I guess confidently paranoid, confident in today, paranoid, what are we missing that we, what could derail us from doing the job that we've set out to do?
Laurel Mann (12:00):
It's not too comfortable not going to rest.
Jeff Troike (12:02):
Yeah, there's never setting and keeps you humble. Keeps you humble. My job is to, I've said it before, hire good people. Give them opportunities to succeed. Give them the tools that they need and to let them flourish. I think I'm hands off.
Laurel Mann (12:17):
I've heard you described by others who say, I have never known someone who could know what's going on in the most casual way. Just being aware of what's going on, but not in an intrusive way. I think there's a lot of connectivity points and people, regardless of where you are in your career, where you are in your contributions to series, you're connected to a lot of people who have been able to help you be a better leader by keeping you informed.
Jeff Troike (12:43):
Well thank you for that because I feel as we've grown the company, I'm more, it used to be I did know every employee, probably their spouse, their kids maybe in the dog's name. Now if you don't have a Ceres shirt on and you see me outside, it might like, well, they look familiar. But I've also said, I really don't like to manage. If you're a manager and you ask about leadership, but I don't like to manage people. I like to give them the tools to do what their job is and not have to manage too hard.
Laurel Mann (13:13):
What would you be if you weren't the CEO at Ceres?
Jeff Troike (13:15):
I don't know if I'd be a farmer or not. When I started my career, it was like I'm going to start out working for the co-op. If that don't work, I work outside anyway, whether it's co-op or whoever. And if that don't work out, I'll go back to the family farm. Well, I never made it back to the family farm and I'm probably not going to at this point, but anybody that grew up on a farm, always one if right, one. If I would've went back one if I would've, I done it differently. There's a lot of enjoyment, there's a lot of risk at farming, but there's also a lot of enjoyment, a lot of satisfaction at that. So I think my dad told me, he said, you're a little bit crazy son. He says, you're getting out of where you somewhat farmed as going through, grew up on a farm and you don't have to worry about one farmer. You worry about all of 'em now. He says, what are you thinking? But it is been great for me and for my family and hopefully I've given back as much as the co-OP's given me that I've been able to give back to it as much as I've received out of it. So
Morgan Seger (14:19):
Beginning his career as a branch manager, Jeff was in a very hands-on role, actively working through every decision as it came up throughout the day. One thing that I've noticed throughout this series is the leadership team at Ceres solutions prioritizes vision casting and thinking about the future. So I asked Jeff how he transitioned from a hands-on day-to-day role to the leadership role he's in today. I'm
Jeff Troike (14:44):
Not sure I've totally transitioned yet.
Laurel Mann (14:46):
He's getting better.
Jeff Troike (14:48):
There will be. People might tell you, but I want my fingers and my hand and everything. One of the things of having a larger co-op and doing the consolidations we've had, which I say is still the best thing for the industry, well probably what's helped me through going from the day to day to trying to become a C E O and look at the three year, five year, 10 year goals lead the company that way is through the consolidation. We have grown to where I cannot keep up with the day-to-day activities and we have people that we hired. I've said that already. We invest in our people. We hire people, give 'em tools to be successful in their job. I've had to rely on other people to do things I used to do and that's how you grow the company. You got to give them responsibility.
That's part of succession planning too, right? We're all replaceable. Some of are replaceable sooner than others, but we are all replaceable and we will be replaced. Our job is important to do and to try to bring people along that can do the job and take care of the customers. They see the vision of the co-op for the best outcome. We got to have succession planning. Do we do that as good as we should? No, some can be succession planning. What's going to happen in two, three years. Some succession planning happens tomorrow and that can be our choice. That can be an employee's choice. That can be an unfortunate circumstance that causes that. You always have to be prepared. That's why we already also investing in technologies, policies, procedures. You hear us talk about one series where we want everybody to be using as best as we can, the same procedures, the same programs, the same policies for makes that succession planning at the branch, at the tank wagon driver at the bobtail driver at the service person to where they used to be in our business.
Everything was in the employee's head and we can't do that anymore for a few reasons. Succession planning. Another one is younger employees aren't going to work the way older employees. That's why we're making so many investments in some of our technologies and our programs and our systems is because the new workforce and we have to adapt to that. Probably shouldn't say it, but the new workforce don't want to work. Like us guys has been in the business 40 years. They work differently. That's not bad. That's not a bad thing because guess what the customers will be serving that are their age are not going to be working like their grandparents did or their parents did or the generation ahead of them did. They're going to use the technology, they're going to use monitors, they're going to use resources that are available today because they've grown up with it. So we have to adapt to that. We have to bring that on.
Laurel Mann (17:39):
When people serve a certain number of years, people start to say, well, do you have a retirement date and have you been asked
Jeff Troike (17:47):
That? I was asked that a few weeks ago. I was asking a group of probably 40, 50 people, do you have a date for retirement yet? And I paused for a minute and I said, yes I do. And her name is Lisa. Great industry co-op aside. We got a great co-op, great employees, great customers, great members. Throw in a pitch. I got a great board of directors that help lead the co-op that give me direction, but agriculture is a unique business. We get to help, we believe, make a difference to elevate our farmers to help them be more successful. I always say that more successful, more productive, more proficient are efficient, but we are doing something that we're just not manufacturing. We're manufacturing a product that everybody needs. The food, the fiber, the fuel that not just for us in this country but parts of the world and we're doing it in a way that we keep getting better and better and I don't see that changing, that productivity.
How are we going to feed a hungry world? We're going to become more productive and increase productivity and that's the use of technology. Not everybody likes technology and technology is just not equipment. It's just not artificial intelligence. It's the technologies we've seen in fertilizer. It's the technology we've seen in crop nutrients. It's the technology we've seen in placement, the use of biologicals. There's this more and more coming in the horizon that keeps this industry exciting, not just for us as a supplier but for the customer or for the producer. They're never going to run out of things to do and things to try and to get better and that's I think our goal at Ceres every day. We want to do better than the day before, which again, strategy is good. It's how you execute and that's always the toughest one and that's probably where that confidently paranoid comes back in again. Right.
Morgan Seger (19:50):
I asked Jeff if this shift in how we work changes the relationship with the customer. We
Jeff Troike (19:55):
Hope not. There's, there's the key. You can't do everything over the computer. You can't do everything over Snapchat and texting and cell phones. You still have to have the, I call it the belly to belly, the face-to-face contact that relationship, but you can still do a lot using technology and that's what they're going to want to do. I was with a group a couple weeks ago and I said, it's a fine line for Ceres as a cooperative. We've got people that's been in the business 30, 40 years and they're doing a tremendous job and they're going, you're bringing all these new changes as you're investing in new technology. You want me to change? You're going too fast. I don't like it and I'm going, well, you don't like it, but if we do not move quick enough for the next group that's going to replace you, they're going to go, you guys are terrible. You're terrible. You're not changing. You're not giving me the tools to be successful. You're investing in me or your company. I'm going to go find someplace else to work. And we don't want to do that.
Laurel Mann (20:54):
Well, what used to be the tools to be successful was a truck and a list of customers and go knock yourself out. And today I think you're learning the more exposure that Ceres seeks out to the customer of tomorrow, that next generation. I know you've got a small group that you meet with regularly as sounding board and you listen probably more than y'all talk in there about what their issues are and that's how we learned what we need to be next.
Jeff Troike (21:18):
Yeah, I mean you're talking about that group we call Project 2040 where we have 12 farmers that are in the mid thirties that's going to be farming in 2040, so we're investing in that group just because we want to invest in a customer. Yeah, but also because they're going to be farming in 2040. What do they want out of a retailer? What do they want out of the people they do business with? When do they think they're going to need for we can be prepared, serve them in 2040? Now, one of the great things, the cost has been around a hundred years. Very few businesses survive a hundred years and we're going stronger today than we ever have thanks to our great employee group, our great customer base, our great partnerships we have with our vendors and our manufacturers that we're allowed to do that. Then we expect to be around the next hundred years.
Morgan Seger (22:05):
Invest can look like mergers, acquisitions and resources for employees, but for Ceres solutions, they also think about how they can invest and give back to the local communities they serve
Jeff Troike (22:16):
Ceres and most cooperatives are based in the rural America and we still believe in rural America. That's what we're part of. We're small communities. We are owned locally by the membership, so we invest back into that and we have core beliefs that our core causes we invest back into is involved in agriculture, is involved in youth, so we, FFA is a big one. Four H is a big one that we invest back in. They are developing future leaders for us and that's what we need in small rural communities. I mean we also help with the fire departments and some emergency responders, so we have academic scholarships at Purdue plus some high school scholarships for young people that are going into the agricultural field that we feel we need to promote agriculture. It's a great industry. We'd like to think that our employees are very involved in their communities, not just Ceres as giving donations to four H F F A to the fire department.
Our people are part of the communities. Once again, we're in rural America. How many of our people live in a town of 2000, 3000, 1200 people? So they are involved. They're involved with their church, they're involved with their little league teams, they're involved with the fire departments serving on their fire department. They're involved. They're four eights leaders, they're on the fair board. They help with the F F A, countless other things that they're involved with. And so that gives us visibility, but we also promote that you got to get back to your community. We talk about centered on you. We're centered on our customers, centered on our employees, centered on our communities. And so not just once again, that what Ceres does for the communities, but our people involvement is a great thing and a great attribute to Ceres and to our customer base. Do
Laurel Mann (24:05):
You want to talk a little bit about your relationship with Land
Jeff Troike (24:07):
O'Lakes? Sure, I can do that. I always have to clarify that Land O'Lakes is a farmer owned cooperative. Most people sit and go, well, that's butter and cheese, that's the Land O'Lakes. They're the dairy company and that's about a third of their business or 30%. There's this other little company called Purina Livestock Feeds that's about 30% of the business, and I always clarify that. That is the animal livestock feed, not what you buy in the store, the cat and dog food. Then about 40% of the business is Winfield United, which is the agronomy company on the crop protection, the seed, the technology, the true tarots, and that is farmer owned cooperative. And I've had the pleasure of being on that board since about 2009 and what I can tell you from being on that board is it brings a lot of opportunities to me for personal development to look at things different, how a larger organization works, some of their programs, some of their policies, how they do some hr, how they do technology, how they do safety and risk, how they do marketing that I'm able to come back and share not with just our board, but with our employee group and our leadership team, that I believe it makes us better by being on that board.
And it's allowed me a lot of opportunities also to invest not just in locally, but to invest in agriculture. I've had the opportunity to go to Washington DC how many times, matter of fact, I'll be going tomorrow to help maybe shape some policy or try to, we talk about investing in employees, investing in assets. We also investing in organizations as you say, national Council for Pharma Cooperatives, Chuck Connor that's in Indiana, a native runs that organization well known in Washington dc. There's very few things go on in Washington DC that is involved in ag that doesn't go across his desk. It gets his opinion on are we involved with the State Department of Ag? Are we involved in different organizations to try and make a difference? That's what we try and do. We have to invest time and resources in those too on behalf of our membership.
Part of our responsibility as a member owned cooperative is to be a voice for our members, and that is investing time, being that advocate for them. My growth, being a Land O'Lakes director has allowed me to meet some of those people and I bring 'em into the board of directors. 1% of the populations involved in agriculture, the new slogan for Land O'Lakes is 1% feeds a hundred percent, and if we're not vocal, if we do not tell our story, there's a lot of consumer groups out there that like to tell a different story about how agriculture is. So Land O'Lakes has really allowed me to think outside the box to think differently, to bring back once again to our people, to our board, the opportunities to meet people, to get some speakers in, to be involved in some policy decisions and directions. Once again, if we don't tell the story who's going to, we need to continue and that's part of that investment.
We need to continue to tell the story of agriculture. I mean, we get a lot of bad reps out there. Products we use, practices we do, and in my 40 year career, when I can tell you is the big word now is sustainability, right? We all have to be sustainability. We got to be carbon neutral and we do. I truly believe if anybody had encyclopedias anymore, which we don't, but I believe if you would Google sustainability, it should say modern day agriculture in America, because even in my 30, 40 years, what we have done from where your yield target was in 1985 to once your yield target is today has increased from 150 bushel to 200 plus bushel, and we're using less products to produce 220 bushel. We're using safer products, we're more efficient, definitely more environmentally friendly, and we're doing it in a way that we do produce. Once again, 1% feeds a hundred percent and the most affordable food supply chain and spend of your dollar for Americans on food items is cheaper than any place in the world. So we continue to invest in that. We need to tell that story because you hear a lot of other things out in media that agriculture is not environmentally friendly, that we are doing things that we should not be doing, and no, whether it's bushels per acre, whether it's a pounds of gain, per pounds of feed. Remarkable story on agriculture and the use of technology.
Laurel Mann (28:49):
That has been an initiative on the creative side at Ceres to invest in intentionally helping through the use of video to tell that story, and it's been very well received and I think it's been a wise investment on the part of an egg retailer to realize we need to tell that story more. We often say don't lose out to a lesser story, better told, and we're trying to do the best we can to tell our customer's story.
Morgan Seger (29:11):
Now Jeff explains how invest will work at Ceres Solutions and why it's part of this year's strategic initiative, including some insight around the key projects he anticipates this year,
Jeff Troike (29:22):
And that is one of the good things. We talked about it briefly of being a locally owned, farmer owned cooperative. We do make decisions based on the long term. We're not sitting here going, I got to meet a quarterly or I got to meet a year end goal. And so we're going to do some unnatural things to make that happen, whether we're going to decrease expenses or we're not going to invest in a facility or equipment because we're having a tough year part of being the member owned. We have a general reserve, we have net worth, we have capacity to do things even when times can get tough, and right now we've gone through some very good times. Things will get tough again, but we will continue to make long-term decisions that'll be best for our customers, our employees, and that's one of the great things about working for this company.
You get to do that. I'm not sure we have any just major investments. We want to continue to improve on our digital platform because the customer of today used to be the customer of the future is going to demand more digital solutions. How they communicate with us. Once again, that doesn't take away from personal content, but we have to continue to do that. We have to continue to look at our systems talking together, and some of this is our business, how we run our business. That's probably some of the goals that we want to do. That more efficient labor is a tough one to have. How can we use technology when we shuffle a lot of paper, we get a lot of invoices in, we got a lot of payables. How do we communicate with our partners on their systems to eliminate? That's not to eliminate employees, that's to make employees jobs easier, and then they can do other things that are more enjoyable than shuffling papers and that.
So investing in our people, that's another big goal that we continue to have. We're in a program right now called centered on you with about 17 employees management, younger management to broaden their horizons, to give them experiences to help them be successful. That's one thing that's probably changed in the last 30 years, 40 years, and I say that a lot. It used to be we'd hire you and say, Morgan, welcome to the team. Here's the keys to the shop and the operation. Police run this for us, and I don't want any phone calls. They either sink or swim and they run their own operation. Those days are over and we need to invest in our people. We have to give them the training they need, the tools they need. We have to be better mentors than we were 30 years ago. Was it good not to be a good mentor 30 years ago?
No, but once again, people have changed and what people and employee and customers expect change over time and we have to continue to change to do that. We're having a lot bigger investment in data management, and that's part of that technology to make better decisions quicker. You still have to use your gut and some history and all that, but customers, once again, expected employees. How do you make better decisions? Where I said earlier that used to just say, welcome aboard. Here's the keys. I don't want a phone call. You got to have data to make better decisions, more informed decisions. I think
Laurel Mann (32:39):
That's at all levels of our business. Our managers are equipped now with new information, new resources,
Morgan Seger (32:45):
Knowing what Ceres is investing in and understanding how Jeff has seen the business transform. I asked how he will know if he was successful at the end of the year. I don't
Jeff Troike (32:55):
Think we're ever there in my career. I've never been like, if we do this, that boy, it'll be a lot easier if we do this next level. If we can make this happen, if we can take care of the customer this way or the employees, this job will be a lot easier. It never gets easier. Everything's changing. Everything's dynamic, and today we think that we have it all figured out is the day we're going to go backwards very, very quick. They elevate, they amplify some of our key terms. When we get there, we won't know it because we have set the bar differently as we go forward, so I'm not sure we'll ever know when we get there because it's ever changing.
Morgan Seger (33:34):
Next, Jeff walks us through how he evaluates investment opportunities and some of the challenges that come along with invest.
Jeff Troike (33:42):
Well, when we look at, one of our things we talk about all the time is we're a company that continues to want to grow, and that could be organically, that could be mergers, that could be acquisitions, and when we evaluate them, we look at once it bring to the membership, is it good for the membership? Is it good for the co-op? Is it good for our employee base? Does it fit us in an area we need to go to? Is the culture somewhat the same? So we evaluate all them and then make decisions as we go forth.
Morgan Seger (34:13):
Jeff has a lot of experience bringing companies together. I asked him when there's a conflict of culture, how do you bring two organizations together?
Jeff Troike (34:21):
Just takes time. Even when you think that culturally you're similar. I make the comment, when I got married, we were a perfect fit. We were never going to have any problems until you live together and then you go, oh, we're not quite as compatible or the same. We do have some differences. And when you do that and you just takes time, you got to tell the story. You got to sell why we're doing this. And that's the difference probably between if you want to talk mergers. The first time we did a merger, that was basically the first time for both of the co-ops to merge under good circumstances. And so there was a little more, you had a lot more selling to do to the employees. You had a lot more reasons why you need to do this to the owners, the stockholders, the members.
You had to do a lot more selling on why this will be a good thing. And then as you do them and good things happen because of it, and when you go and do another merger, it becomes a little bit easier. They already see the benefits, the employees see the benefits that yeah, there's going to be differences. We don't like change, but we're going to survive and the customer's going to go, well, yeah, there may be some changes, but therefore the better. We're not growing just to be bigger. Once again, we're growing because we have to spread costs. We have to be relevant to our suppliers. We have to be able to offer services and new technologies and new programs to our customers that are demanding it. As they consolidate, they need more help. They get bigger, they have a lot more questions on how the future lies. We want to do that journey with them.
Laurel Mann (36:04):
It's been really rewarding to have groups come in and think, wow, it's great to be a part of a bigger ship that has someone specific who knows how to do this or has the resources that a larger organization's able to offer when someone comes in as an acquired partner.
Jeff Troike (36:20):
And we've seen some of that in our latest acquisitions as, oh, we never had that to help us as an employee and we've never had that to offer to our customers. This is going to be helpful. This is good. We never had these type of benefits. We've never had as good an equipment. So it's a process that don't happen overnight, but when you bring your culture, you bring your business philosophy in. They either accept it pretty quick or they don't. But we also, as we do acquisitions or that as we were at that point and have been at that point where you look employees into the eyes and go, there will be some changes. I'm going to tell you right up front, there's going to be some things you'll go, I really don't like that, but then I'm going to tell you that if you don't like our policy on this, here's what you gain.
If you think you're giving up something, we think you're gaining on these two other avenues, and so you've got a give and take situation and seems like it's worked so far. Not every circumstances, but the leadership team at Ceres working with the board on policies and directions, we are doing what we feel is best for our membership. It may sometimes, some of you may not always feel that way, may not always see that, but genuinely we are looking out for your assets for your business to be here the next a hundred years, and we are about three or four generations into this. The great great grandfather started this, moved on, and the relevancy of the co-op, some people question that on the ownership by the members. How important is that? And I think we view that as that's more important as we go further in this industry than we go.
Then we get removed from the start of the co-op that the long-term direction, the long-term decisions, the local governance. You do have a say through your board members to get back to management and help at least influence decisions and be an advocate. Just like I talked about as we are an advocate on their behalf in DC and at the state level, they have that opportunity to help focus us and shape us as we go forward. Hopefully, it feels like we're there for you all the time. I know I'm not naive enough to know that there are times that we get questioned like, why are you doing that for the long-term good of the co-op, for the members, owners, and for employees. We believe that we are trying to make the best decisions possible. Not everyone is always right, but that is our goal is that we are here for the membership and when the co-op started, I mean I've read some of that stuff.
It was about getting quality products, getting products at a competitive price when you needed it, and that's when, I mean it was, and a lot of that was coal bag, fertilizer kerosene. I've got on my desk where Dave Downey, his grandpa, started to co-op in Marash County. Oh, really? And he interviewed his grandpa how many years ago? 20, 30 years ago. And about they tried it and they tried it, and then somebody failed and next thing they did, they said, Hey, it's up your turn to do it, bill. And he helped get it started. The cooperative Wabash County. Yep. Yeah, that's where we're setting right now, this in Wabash County.
Morgan Seger (39:45):
Throughout this series, we have covered the four strategic initiatives that Ceres Solutions has for 2023, elevate, grow, amplify, and Invest. I want to take a moment to say thank you to the leadership team. I am so grateful for the time and transparency you have shared throughout this podcast series, and thank you to Laurel. You are a great co-host and I'm so glad you are sitting next to me throughout these conversations to help our listeners get even more value out of each episode. And finally, I want to thank you, our listeners, thank you for joining us on this podcast adventure. We are so grateful that you choose to spend this time with us every week when we air a new episode. If you haven't had the chance to listen to the other episodes in this series, I encourage you to check them out. The first episode was with Doug Brunt and he covered Elevate.
Next, we had Scott Osborne, the Chief financial Officer for Ceres on, and he covered Grow, and in our last episode, we had Chief Marketing Officer Drew Garretson on to cover Amplify. If you want to hear more from Jeff, be sure to tune in to the AgriNovus Indiana Podcast, AgBioscience. Coming up on Monday, June 19th, 2023. Each Monday, AgriNovus, Indiana releases AgBioscience, a podcast that discovers the people, products, and innovation across food, animal health, plant science, and ag tech. Listen to hundreds of episodes over six seasons and leave a five star review. Visit renos indiana.com/podcast. The show notes for this episode will be available at ceres dot co-op. That's ceres.coop. If you enjoyed this deeper dive, be sure to subscribe and leave us a review. Your review and feedback will help other listeners like you find our podcast, and we are so thankful for that.

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