A conversation with…
Mike Bumgarner, Chief Operating Officer of United Producers Inc.
OCJ: At the start of 2016 you moved into a new role with UPI. How will you tackle your new responsibilities and how has the transition been from COO to CEO?
Mike: Fortunately, I’ve been able to transition into this role over time because our board made the decision about succession fairy early in the year. So, that means I will be hitting the ground running. Obviously, there will be things associated with being the CEO that will be different from my role as COO, but there won’t be a learning curve about the cooperative and meeting our members expectations — that is something that has been ingrained in my way of doing business since day one with UPI — and one that was reinforced when I was with the Farm Bureau. The transition has been extremely smooth and well planned out. I’m excited about moving forward with some new ideas, while staying true to the ideals that have built our cooperative into the successful organization it is today under Dennis’s leadership.
OCJ: What is your background and how will it prepare you to lead the future of UPI?
Mike: My life and my career have been built working with farmers. From learning the values of hard work and determination on the farm as a boy to working with farmers to help move our industry as a whole forward, I feel like I am not only professionally prepared to take on this role, but that I also have the convictions and values that will help ensure I stay true to the values of our cooperative. And, I have been incredibly fortunate to get the opportunity to work directly with two outstanding leaders in agriculture: Dennis Bolling and Jack Fisher. While each had very different management styles, they were equally successful in leading in a time of change and challenge. The time I spent with both will serve me well in my new role and allow me to implement my ideas with the benefit of experience in different settings under different leaders.
OCJ: You have also added some new staff members in key management positions. How will they help guide UPI moving forward?
Mike: I have tried hard to bring on individuals who will help round out our already experienced and effective team. One example is Bill Tom. Bill will serve as our Executive Vice President of Livestock Marketing. He has extensive experience in the cooperative environment. Most recently, Bill worked for Trupointe Cooperative as Vice President of Risk Management, Grain Origination, EH&S, and Marketing Solutions. He also has leadership experience with Cargill, Inc. and experience in animal nutrient sales and reproduction and nutrition management. Bill is a proven leader and innovator that will help challenge us to get out of the box and think differently about what we do and how we do it. The livestock industries are constantly changing and we must be willing to explore new ideas and identify new opportunities that allow our members to continue to be successful in this evolving environment.
OCJ: What challenges do you foresee for UPI and how do you plan on addressing them?
Mike: Meeting the needs of a very diverse producer base is a challenge for every agriculture-based organization right now and for the foreseeable future. We have a new generation of farmers who are trying new things and we have those who have “been there, done that” and are more resistant to change. Our challenge is to meet the needs of these groups and everyone in between. Being good listeners and staying focused on our members’ success will be the primary driver while we also must not be afraid to innovate and change.
OCJ: With a strong history of success, how has UPI overcome adversity in the past? Is there a recipe for success?
Mike: That recipe is the same today as the day we were originally founded: Doing business with integrity, openness and honesty and focusing on our members’ needs and their success. When they succeed, we succeed. It’s as simple as that.
OCJ: What part of your new position are you most looking forward to doing?
Mike: Honestly, I am looking forward to all of it. I have worked with UPI for a combined 20 years and I am excited to lead an organization that I love and believe in.
OCJ: What are some big picture changes in the livestock industry that will have to be addressed industry-wide in the future?
Mike: The end-users of our products — the consumers — are paying attention to our industry like never before. We’re in a new world. As our industry continues to consolidate, how do we meet the demands of an ever-changing, more conscious consumer that wants to get closer to and better understand the food they eat? As a result of this attention, we also have more regulatory impact to deal with, and more misconceptions that sometimes lead to proposed regulations. Sustainability is also a critical component of this cycle — meeting consumer demands, responding to regulations, etc. But most importantly, we’ve got to stop being reactive and become more proactive. We need to anticipate the questions, the demands and the concerns of those outside of our industry so that we can act now, rather than waiting for a crisis situation. We have to be able to better predict and preempt misinformation and misconceptions so that we get ahead of, instead of being behind, the curve.
OCJ: How will UPI fit into that big picture?
Mike: UPI is in a perfect position to help our members address these big-picture changes. Most people think of UPI as a livestock marketing and financing company, which we are. But really, we are about finding opportunities and solutions for our members, so they can be successful in this ever-changing industry. We are constantly adding to and changing our services so that when our members need something we know it, we understand it and we can help them take advantage of the best case scenario for their farming operation. By no means is the future going to be easy for agriculture. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun.