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How to Think Like a CEO

May 24, 2012

A leader who views his or her farm holistically creates a culture that drives financial success.

Steele Greg (2)by Greg Steele, AgStar Financial Services, Dairy Lending Specialist

As the head of your business, your days are probably filled with the endless details of assuring smooth, profitable operations. Although hands-on management is indispensable, many leaders become so wrapped up in minutiae that they neglect the bigger picture. By that, I mean shaping the culture, values and vision of the company. If those lofty words don’t seem relevant to your business, think again.
Walk into any local retail store and judge how you’re greeted. Are the employees courteous and happy to see you? Are they too busy stocking shelves to notice you? Are they helpful or indifferent? Are they well groomed or sloppy? Those first impressions color your decisions about where you choose to spend your dollars – and, ultimately, the profitability of the company.
Managers focused solely on the bottom line haven’t bothered to form cultures for their businesses, and that shows in spotty service and potentially negative images. However, leaders who think like CEOs understand that the culture they establish affects everything from employee loyalty to the stock price.
The telltale sign of a business’s underlying culture manifests itself in the way employees treat customers, vendors and partners. If employees are proud of where they work, they’ll become company ambassadors, performing their jobs with satisfaction and spreading positive news about the business among friends, neighbors, business acquaintances and even the guy they just met at the ballgame. The same positive (or negative) press can be echoed by vendors, partners, colleagues and other business leaders.
Whether it’s a small family-held business or a multinational corporation, the ethics and attitudes of a business come straight from the top. Lest you think CEO vision matters only to retail establishments, consider the now famous resignation of Greg Smith, former Goldman Sachs executive director. In a March 2012 New York Times op-ed, Smith blamed the current CEO Lloyd Blankfein for losing hold of Goldman Sachs’ culture on his watch, leading to a decline in the firm’s moral fiber. The next day, $2 billion of the bank’s market value was wiped out.
Having witnessed dairy farms that are well run, those that aren’t and everything in between, I’ve seen that CEO-thinking, rather than manager-thinking, directly affects the entire business. A leader who views his or her farm holistically creates a culture that drives financial success. A CEO who clearly identifies goals and expectations – and serves as a living example of those values to employees – garners loyalty and grows the business. Character still counts, and it counts far more than we expect.
But it takes more than fairness and ethics to succeed. CEOs also adopt proven processes, instead of leaving critical aspects of their businesses to serendipity. If you build a business, customers won’t automatically start knocking on your door. You’ll need to work hard, be smart and follow the rules of business acumen. CEO-thinking means running your business like a business by:
• Establishing a path for employee training and development
• Carefully following environmental and employment regulations
• Keeping accurate and reliable financial records
• Financial budgeting and monitoring of key performance factors
• Mandating written leases and operating agreements
• Building a library of necessary documentation
• Preparing a public relations plan
• Giving back to the community in the form of corporate philanthropy
• Encouraging employee philanthropy
• Joining business leadership groups
• Listening openly and without ego to suggestions and criticism
• Maintaining a sense of humor
• Projecting confidence, not arrogance
• Knowing your limitations and seeking expert advice when necessary
Okay, okay, no one said being a CEO is easy! But I don’t need to tell you that it can be one of the most satisfying occupations you’ll ever have. After all, you get to run the show, and immediately witness the results of your actions on your balance sheet and on every employee.
So make the leap from manager to CEO. Should you need a little guidance, AgStar is always behind you as a reliable, knowledgeable resource. Together we can create a culture of success and collaboration that helps your business thrive.

Greg Steele is vice president of agribusiness capital with AgStar Financial Services, ACA. His focus is working with commercial dairy operations that have grown and expanded their business. He provides expertise in the area of finance, business planning, and accounting. Contact Steele at (612) 963-7941 or

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