Focused on Building Business
In preparing to lead the Independent Professional Seed Association, Randy Wilken hones in on strategies to grow the association and strengthen its members.
Born and Raised in the seed industry, Randy Wilken knew the ins and outs of seed production. His dad started MWS Seeds, a soybean, wheat and oat seed production company in Ashkum, Ill. After graduating from college in 1990, Wilken wanted to try his hand at farming. “In my first year of farming, we had a drought,” Wilken shares. “My average corn yield was about 31 bushels per acre; my average soybean yield was about 28 bushels per acre.”
After that, he went to work for MWS Seeds full-time and has been at it ever since. Five years ago, Wilken joined his brother Lynn and Keith Knapp in creating the ProHarvest Seeds brand. Wilken serves as president; his brother is chief financial officer; Knapp is vice president of sales and marketing; and his son Josh handles operations management. Today, ProHarvest Seeds has 15 full-time staff.
Wilken says the best part of belonging to a family business is “being able to make decisions on the go. You’re working with people you know and trust very well.”
ProHarvest Seeds offers a range of corn, soybean and wheat varieties, and an extensive lineup of alfalfa, forage seeds and cover crops. With a market area that includes Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Michigan, the company prides itself in providing seed solutions that work best for its customers.
Wilken says one of the most challenging aspects of managing an independent business is the need to wear many different hats. “Over the course of a day, I might work on insurance, have a sales and marketing meeting, and make decisions regarding production — all of which are important,” Wilken says, noting it’s also what makes his job interesting.
To network with others who are tasked with similar responsibilities and stay up-to-date on the latest industry, issues, Wilken participates in the Indpendent Professional Seed Association (IPSA), an organization he’s been a part of for more than 20 years.
For the past five years, he’s been a member of IPSA’s board of directors and is preparing to lead the association in 2016 as president, which will be made official during IPSA’s annual meeting, Jan. 11-13 in St. Louis, Mo.
Wilken says he’s fortunate that the leaders and board members who have come before him have been very progressive and growth-oriented. “Even though agriculture faces a challenging time, we know there’s a path through it where our members can not only survive but thrive,” Wilken notes. “We have great opportunities before us.”
As president, one of his priorities will be to help IPSA continue to improve communications so members are fully informed about its activities and initiatives, as well as the latest information in seed trait development. To this end, IPSA recently added a new communications director.
Additionally, Wilken looks forward to helping IPSA grow its membership and build on its connections with the major trait and genetics providers. He explains that IPSA board members meet regularly with key trait and genetics suppliers.
“During these meetings, we share what issues impact the membership on a daily basis, allowing us to have a better understanding of each other’s businesses and the opportunities and challenges,” he says. “As we move into the next five to eight years, there’s going to be an array of new traits, technologies and products entering the market. As independent companies, we’re in a unique position to offer many differing trait platforms at the same time, but managing all those inventories and different SKUs so your inventory doesn’t get out of position is going to be a big challenge.”
Wilken says one benefit of belonging to IPSA is that members can collaborate in a non-competitive way that makes everyone’s business stronger.
“We’re working on member offerings such as health benefits and vehicle leasing — bulk power purchasing,” he adds. “The ability to amass some of those volumes helps level the playing field to some degree.”
Whether it’s working on behalf of IPSA or ProHarvest Seeds, Wilken keeps one thing thing in mind that helps to steer his decisions: “Better before bigger.” He says, “If we do things better in every step of the way, bigger will follow.”