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|2002 Cattle Feeders
Annual -- Industry Leadership
If Not You...Who?
than ever, leaders with vision and passion are needed to help direct
by Sharla Ishmael
"The future has no shelf life," according to Warren Bennis, author of multiple best-selling business books on leadership. Or, as he quotes an anonymous Fortune 500 CEO, "If you're not confused, you don't know what's going on."
Most folks in the cattle business can relate to that. In the last year or two alone, cattleman have literally woke up overnight to be faced with very real threats of foot-and-mouth disease, terrorists and bioterrorism, not to mention the usual uncertainties of market oscillation, regulation, technology issues, customer expectations and more, all courtesy of today's climate of rapid-fire change and uncertainty.
The fact that the beef business has entered a revolutionary new era where new ground is being broken all the time, however, means one thing is certain. It's a very crucial time for strong leadership in the cattle industry, not just from organizations but also from the individuals who make up the organizations.
Morales Feels He Owes The Industry
Those who take on the responsibility, however, say it's worth it. Take, for instance, Ernie Morales, a 40-something father of two who is an owner-operator of Morales Feed Lots in Devine. Morales has been active in TCFA since graduating from college in 1985 and has served three terms on the Board of Directors, been on various committees and joined the officer rotation in 2002 as vice chairman.
"I was told by a guy years ago that it's very important to give back to the industry that you make your living from," says Morales. "One of the ways you can do that is to serve time on committees and boards. And, the more you're involved with a trade association, the more you're up on issues that affect your day-to-day business."
And, Morales adds, the more you're involved with your colleagues, the more you learn about ways they do business that may be different from your own, which you may be able to use to make your business better.
But for that benefit to find fertile ground, members must be involved in TCFA activities, Morales says. "I think it's important for members to be more involved," he says. That doesn't necessarily mean serving on the Board of Directors, he adds. "It's being involved on committees, going to conventions and seminars. I think if people got more involved in TCFA at the committee level and attended meetings, they'd see how important that involvement is."
But attending a seminar or going to the annual convention doesn't give the member any direct input into how the Association is run. "No, but they learn a lot more about the Association," he says. "I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about how the Association operates. And where it mostly comes from is people who have never served on committees and have never been to a convention."
Keeling's Passion For The Industry
Keeling, 2002 chairman-elect of TCFA, has been a member since 1982 and
served several stints on the Board as well as chairing the Market
Committee. Of course, that's in addition to running his business,
Keeling Cattle Feeders, Inc., in
Why does he do it?
"I love this industry and I passionately care what happens to it," Keeling says. "I'm always one to speak my point of view--my wife says too much."
Keeling, another 40-something, says with cell phones and long-time employees he trusts to run things when he's away, volunteering his time to participate in the leadership of TCFA actually hasn't been much of a burden. He also says it's pretty simple to get involved with TCFA if you're interested.
"TCFA is very membership and committee-oriented," Keeling explains. "If you come to the meetings and start getting involved with the committees, they'll bring you along once they see you're interested. Watch people in leadership roles, how they present things or the way they speak about their positions or issues, and don't be afraid to ask questions," he suggests.
"When you talk about leaders, you're not talking about heroes," he adds. "It's just what you do to get people to listen and follow. I know other people who are just as passionate about things as I am, but they're not active.
"I've looked at that and I don't know why (they aren't active)," Keeling admits. "I don't want to change the world, I just want to help make things better and keep it moving in the right direction."
One way that TCFA works to develop up-and-coming leaders is through its TCFA Leadership Program, a year-long effort that allows two young (less than 40) cattle feeders to develop leadership skills. One of the four sessions that participants attend is NCBA's Young Cattlemen's Conference – a seven-day whirlwind tour across the United States that gives participants an insider's look into segments of the industry they've never seen before.
1998, Brad Stout of Friona Industries in
The group also toured feedlots, seedstock operations, packing plants, meat processing plants and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
"We learned more about the inner workings of our own organizations," Stout explains. "That was maybe one of the biggest perception changes for me was to see what's really being done by these organizations."
Now on the TCFA Board and chairman of the TCFA Industry Relations Committee, Stout says the organization is always looking for young people to step up and take an active role. He, too, says it's pretty simple to get involved – just ask if you want to participate on a committee, for example.
"There may be a lot of members not directly associated with a feedyard who might be interested," Stout adds. "Just visit with your feedyard representative and learn more about what's going on at TCFA. Or you can call the Association's membership director."
Morales says it's often difficult to find the time to do everything, especially when trying to make a profit in a challenging business environment. But he's made the commitment both within the industry, where he's also active in NCBA, and his community, where he has served on the school board, and has found the time spent to be very worthwhile. "It's very easy to be involved with TCFA, because you're involved with colleagues who think like you do and who are smart and articulate. Those are people you can work with."
There are lots of ways to serve your organization besides sitting on a committee or getting yourself elected to the board of directors, however. For instance, let the staff know if you're interested in being a spokesperson with the media on a particular issue or that you'll volunteer your place for a tour if the need ever arises.
Something as simple as talking to a group of college students about the cattle feeding industry is being a leader. You just have to let the organization know that you are willing and available when they need you.
One way to be an extremely valuable asset to your organization is to exert your influence as a constituent in the policy-making arena. It's no secret that rural representation in both Austin and Washington continues to lose ground to urban and suburban influence.
a national level, U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Stamford) says out of 280
million people in
same is true on a state level.
We Need Numbers
"As the rest of the state grew at 20 to 25%, we had 45 or 50 counties that had zero or lost growth in the last 10 years," says Rep. David Swinford (R-Dumas), chairman of the Texas House of Representatives Agriculture and Livestock Committee. "We need to be able to have TCFA, for example, put out a bulletin to their membership and say, 'We need all of you to call your representative or senator and let them know how you feel about this issue.' And they need to be able to count on every member doing that."
agrees that politics is a numbers game.
"The people who lobby for these groups in
Swinford also points out that members who live near urban areas are an extremely valuable asset to rural organizations if they take time to develop a relationship with their urban representatives and let them know where agriculture stands on the issues.
U.S. Rep. Larry Combest (R-Lubbock), chairman of the House Ag Committee, says one thing you can count on is the fact that there will always be somebody working on the other side of the issue who is very active.
Look Who's Talking
"If a group does not speak for itself, it really can't count on anybody else speaking for it," Combest says. "You have to make certain those who set policy will hear your side and your concerns."
The analogy Combest uses to illustrate the passion that ag groups must bring to the table is to describe what labor unions do. "They have people standing outside of companies that are heavily employed with organized labor," he explains. "And as each of those people come out to change shifts, they hand them a cell phone, pre-dialed to their elected representative's office and they ask every one of them to call and make their issue known."
Throughout the period of a day, that one particular office may get hundreds of phone calls, Combest says. "If you're offsetting that with one phone call from an association, even though they may be representing a lot of people, I think policy makers generally look at the number of contacts they have as being indicative of the passion people have on a particular issue."
Susan Combs, Texas Agriculture Commissioner, says, "One of the most important things a producer can do is communicate to their associations, to state representatives and senators, by letter, fax, e-mail or telephone. It's vitally important that decision makers hear about real-world circumstances from real Texans."
Again, you don't have to be chairman of the TCFA Board in order to participate. You can contribute simply by getting to know your elected officials and letting them know where you stand on important issues. It might surprise you just how accessible these folk are. Stenholm agrees that direct contact is vital. "It starts with developing a personal relationship with your member of Congress and also with that member's staff who are dealing with the various issues that are of concern to you." Stenholm says you can't always get the personal contact with the senator or representative that perhaps you would like to see, but that's really immaterial.
"It's important that you develop a relationship with the member's staff and educate them so they thoroughly understand the questions that are being resolved," he says. "And you need to understand that the average turnover of a staff person in the 435-member House of Representatives is about two years. So, because you develop a good working relationship with an office this year, that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be there next year. It's a constant educational process that has to go on," Stenholm advises.
Give Some Encouragement
Combest adds that it's also important for individuals and groups to encourage policy makers who are known to support their position. Let them know their support is appreciated and that you realize this person is being hammered on from the other side.
"I would encourage people to become involved, because there is such a vast government out there that has a tremendous implication on the prospects of their futures," says Combest. "There are people who would love to see all land turned back to native pasture, that we didn't have animals either as pets or food and would just as soon that people in this country didn't eat beef.
"They are passionate about that," he adds. "Obviously I disagree 100% with them, but they are very vocal. Someone is always out there trying to impose a policy change that is going to have a negative impact on the cattle industry."
The survivability of the industry depends on being able to thwart those efforts and put in good policy. "One does that by being aware of the industry and the problems and what the consequences might be," Combest says. "To do that, people have to be involved."
Swinford puts it bluntly. "Either get involved or get out. It's going to be that kind of an era. If you're not involved with an organization, you have no voice. You'll just be one little candle flickering in the dark out there."
Stenholm also encourages every producer to be involved in an organization that they believe best does what they think ought to happen, and then look at additional roles that they're comfortable in playing.
"Leaders get involved in many organizations, but everyone ought to be involved in at least one. And not just paying your dues, but attending the meetings and making sure the policies of your organization are doing what you think ought to be done," he adds.
Don't Abandon Ship
"But do it from within, don't do it from without," says Stenholm. "A lot of folks get so mad at their organization they drop out. They try to change it from outside by withholding their membership." That, he says, is like voters who don't vote. "That just means 20% of the people determine who is going to be your elected leadership because you get so upset with the way things are going that you pull out."
and our government work a whole lot better when you have more
participation, he adds. "The same is true for cattle organizations. If
you get everybody participating, there's no doubt in my mind the
majority are going to come up with the right answer most of the time."
Editor's Note-Sharla Ishmael is a freelance ag writer in Fort Worth.
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