Diamonds in the Rough

September 7, 2010 05:30 AM


Bonus Content


2010 Elite Producer Business Conference

Spanish translation

With today’s largely Hispanic work crews, finding a midlevel manager to lead the team is never easy. But finding an Anglo who speaks Spanish, understands Hispanic culture and exhibits leadership ability is a trifecta with odds longer than at any racetrack.

A better approach, says Tom Fuhrmann, a dairy management specialist with DairyWorks, Phoenix, Ariz., is to promote from within your existing milking or barn crew: “It is easier than finding an Anglo who can relate well to a Hispanic team.”

He says there are four leadership characteristics you should look for in a midlevel manager: integrity, ability to communicate succinctly, intelligence to solve problems and organizational ability. 

Integrity. Integrity—a combination of character and values—is the most important factor in identifying a potential manager. As an owner, you will have to build a trusting relationship with the individual who manages a team of workers. He is the person who must implement your management philosophy with workers in the parlor and outside in the pens. And he has to be able to come to you when things go wrong.

“Similarly, workers choose whom they want to follow, and trust is the basis for why workers choose to follow a leader,” Fuhrmann says. “Trust only develops over time when others come to see their manager as credible, fair, just and responsible.

“You need to look for the individual who has influence over others on his crew. Who is the person who others rally around—who is the quarterback of the team? Who is the person others go to with a problem or ask to represent them to you with a complaint?”

Communication. “It helps if the person you select is bilingual. But just because an individual can speak English doesn’t mean he’s a leader,” Fuhrmann warns.

“A head miller, for example, has to train, correct and encourage workers. So a potential leader is one who shows he likes people, talks with ease, is serious when he needs to be and listens with respect,” he says. “Watch worker interaction: Who do most of your workers listen to and talk with when work-related issues surface?”

Once you select a middle manager, and as a condition of the promotion, insist that he or she learn English. This person will have to communicate with you, your veterinarian and outside vendors such as equipment dealers or suppliers.

Intelligence. “Like any other group, Hispanic workers will not trust someone to lead them who doesn’t have experience or know what he’s talking about,” Fuhrmann says. “Your leader needs to be someone who demonstrates competency.

“That means he is seen as knowing how to do things correctly. Because of his experience and intellect, he is not only technically competent (can find and fix a malfunctioning pulsator), he is also open-minded and accepts change (willing to try implementing a new milking routine).”

As an owner, you want your manager to understand why things must be done in a certain way.

“Knowing the why behind the what is a really important factor for a person in a leadership role,” Fuhrmann says.

Organization. A mid-level manager has to have the organizational ability to prioritize and get things done beyond the normal routine of milking, feeding and breeding. “If there’s a problem, such as a down cow in the parlor, can he get it resolved quickly while keeping the rest of the workers focused on milking?” Fuhrmann asks. “Most followers can’t handle the pressure; leaders thrive on it and view it as a challenge.”

Finally, in Hispanic culture, age and gender can be barriers to the members of a team accepting an individual as their leader. But individuals who possess leadership ability, integrity and job competence will in time gain the trust of their crews, Fuhrmann says.


Dairy Today’s Elite Producer Business Conference, to be held Nov. 8 to 10 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, offers a unique opportunity to learn from and network with top minds in the business.

Tom Fuhrmann (see story) will flesh out details on finding middle managers. His presentation is just one of a dozen that will bring you up to speed on the economic recovery, the 2012 farm bill debate and other issues key to dairy’s future. Among them:

Michael Swanson, chief ag economist for Wells Fargo Bank, will provide analysis of the economic recovery. Swanson has keynoted the conference every year since it started in 2002.

Jim Tillison of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and Jerry Slominski of the International Dairy Foods Association will debate the opportunities and challenges of NMPF’s Foundation for the Future program. This program would do away with dairy price supports and Milk Income Loss Contract payments and replace them with margin insurance with no milk production caps. It would also make dairy pricing more transparent, relying on what cheese processors actually pay for milk.

Tony Mendes, a California dairy producer, and Sue Taylor, vice president of dairy policy and procurement for Leprino Foods, will discuss California’s dairy future.

John Larsen of Safeway Foods, Rich Snyder of Dairy Farmers of America and consultant Paul Weitzel of Willard Bishop will discuss emerging trends related to the postrecession consumer. Once brand-conscious but now value and price driven, consumers’ needs and wants offer a new set of marketing challenges.

David White, senior director of issues management for the Ohio Farm Bureau, will discuss Ohio’s long battle with the Humane Society of the United States about animal care regulation and what it takes to defeat animal rights activists in your state.

Monte Hemenover, nationally known dairy consultant, will detail key aspects of keeping your region competitive not only within the country, but within the growing global dairy market.

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