Who’s On Your Board?

Published on: 00:57AM Nov 24, 2008
Vance Ehmke

Let’s talk about your board of directors. Believe it or not, everybody’s got a board.

Whether you’re l5 or 50, whether you’re a farmer or non farmer, whether you represent capital or labor, you’ve got a board of directors.

You don’t have to be a big company like IBM or IBP to have a board. Take our farm, for instance, we’ve got a board.

And it includes several university people as well as others who could be economists, attorneys, accountants, bankers, even chemists—and certainly a number of successful farmers and others who may or may not have anything to do with agriculture other than they’re simply good thinkers or who have distinguished themselves through their abilities or their attitudes. These men and women have a long history of being right.

Some of our board members are from western Kansas—and in actuality, that does help people get on our board because we feel people from out here are clearly unique when it comes to attitude. These people are independent, resourceful and loyal. They’ve got a “Can Do” attitude. They’re winners. But we’ve also got a number of board members from elsewhere in Kansas and from out of state.

We’re always looking for new board members—and in that process, we study them closely over a period of years and evaluate them according to a number of standards. Those standards vary according to what we think is important—but they could include things like knowledge of the industry, foresight, track record, ethics, creativity, vision and problem solving abilities. We want people on the board who are enlightened. But most important, we want people who know where the future is and who know how to get there. Not only that, some of these people are actively creating the future.

We want people on the board who can challenge us—and who don’t necessarily make us feel comfortable. And who aren’t afraid to say, “You are wrong”. Or “Here’s a good idea.”

Our board members don’t get paid. Their name isn’t on our letterhead. They don’t go to meetings. But they can get fired.

If you’ve got a director on your board who you find is involved in unethical or certainly illegal activities, he needs to be shoved out of the car at a high rate of speed. An old farmer once told me that if someone will cheat the government, they’ll cheat you, too. These are not the people you want to be seen in public with anymore than they’re the type of people you want to be doing business with. Get rid of them.

Farming is an extremely competitive industry, a rapidly changing industry and there’s a ton of risk in it. To survive in this environment, you need all the help you can get. And for that, we turn to the board.

Ours is an active board. I call them up and ask their opinions. I go see them. I test ideas on them.

I think we’ve got a solid board of directors. But we’ve got to improve. One of the areas where we need help has to do with how agriculture will vertically integrate. In the grains industry, we’re just now beginning to see the same things that started occurring years ago in poultry and later in hogs.

Farming is changing from a production driven to a demand driven industry where the segments of agriculture will continue to connect.

For me, that means I need to be talking with people downstream from our farm. Most of us don’t even know who those people are—but we’ve better find out because they’re one of the big keys to our continued profitability. These people could be with Cargill or they could be a processor or they could be one of our present customers or one of their customers. But whoever they are, we’re looking for them.

And finally, your words of wisdom for the day come from a respected Scott City, Kan., cattleman I met years ago: “To hit a running rabbit, you’ve got to lead him.” The people who know what that means are the type of people we want on our board. Who’s on your board?