Built on Trust

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A successful alliance requires intention, strategy and trust, and one expert says the rewards are well worth the effort.

It’s important to have allies in both personal and professional life, and the seed industry is no exception. Companies and individuals can forge alliances through which they gain new capabilities, share financial risk, overcome obstacles and achieve easier access to target markets.

The best business alliances don’t just happen — they’re the result of careful strategizing and rely heavily on trust, says Larry Susskind, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and a leading public policy mediator.

He says the evolution of an ally doesn’t just happen but requires careful thought and intention.

“In the world of allies and coalitions, it’s like almost any sport in which there’s both offense and defense,” Susskind says. “You want to build a winning team.”

“You can’t demand it, you can’t promise it — you have to build it.”
— Larry Susskind

He says it’s important to carefully analyze the situation before talking to anyone about being an ally.

“First, you must be aware of your own interests and then do your homework to understand the interests of the other party,” he says. “You want to make alliances with those who have shared interests.

That’s how Jerry Monk and Tracy Tally first met more than 25 years ago. They were both members of the Texas Seed Trade Association but weren’t direct competitors.

Susskind says the next step is to be really clear about your own interests and what you’re willing to bend on and what you’re not, because potential allies are going to ask you to make trade-offs. Being part of the same association made this easy because Monk, owner of Kelly Green Seeds and CEO of Warner Seeds, and Tally, president and owner of Justin Seed Co., were already openly discussing policies, challenges and paths forward.

If you’re actively searching for an ally, Susskind says it’s important to be talking to a number of potential allies in a strategic order.

“Be careful not to make ironclad commitments until you’re ready,” he says. “You want to make commitments with people you can trust and who can trust you. Pay attention to what they want of you so that you don’t just say ‘yes,’ then get into an alliance and they’re asking you for things you have no authority to commit. It needs to be a thoughtful and careful process.”

The key ingredient to a successful alliance is trust. “You have to build trust,” Susskind says. “You can’t demand it, you can’t promise it — you have to build it.”

Monk and Tally agree. “You can call it trust, faith or confidence — they’re all the same to a certain extent and you have to have it all,” Monk says. “They are not a given; they are earned.”

“Building trust means always saying what you mean, and when you have bad news to deliver, you deliver it. If you try to sugar coat things and the other person realizes it wasn’t what you meant, trust is impossible.”

Monk also believes allies should never shy away from the truth. “Many times we use another phrase: ‘Let’s put all the cards on the table,’ all of them, and then turn them face up,” he says. “This way there are no surprises, there is no hidden agenda and no hidden factors. Only then we can make a good decision.”

Through the years, Monk and Tally have also become good friends. Tally says finding an ally who you can build a strong professional and personal relationship with is very rewarding.

“I don’t think you can go through every aspect of life on your own,” he says. “You have to reach out to other people and get input. Sometimes that input is just having someone to listen.”

In 2009-10, Monk served as chair of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and Tally and his wife helped in hosting the association’s annual meeting, which took place in their home state of Texas. It was during this time that Monk helped bring Tally into the folds of ASTA. Today Tally serves as vice chair of the association and will transition to chair in June.

As trust was built and a friendship formed, they also started joint business ventures and today still call each other regularly to share news and share ideas with each other.

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