I sat, sweating and frustrated, on the splintered wooden bleachers at the Minnesota State Fair Show Arena. I was up against way bigger breeders than in the past.
It was late August and my show boar had long been dismissed from the placing in the open class judging. I watched the grand champion boar strut through the dirt, well deserving of the prize. It was an amazing animal. I focused on the judging criteria – sculpted, lean and long. This boar had it all. Later at the auction, I was mentally taking notes on how to work on my entry for next year when my dad sat down next to me.
“You should buy it,” he told me.
Buy it? Was he crazy? $1,000 to a 16-year-old was like a gold mine and wildly unreachable.
“There’s no way I can afford that,” my young voice replied disheartened.
“I’ll lend you the money,” my dad offered. “Breed it back to your stock and pay me back with your winnings next year. Son, you have to invest in the best if you want to win.”
My first major investment. My heart sped up a little. There was the risk that it wouldn’t pay off and I wouldn’t win back enough to repay my dad. But, there was also the chance that it would.
So, I bought it. Bred it back into my stock and had an incredible litter of pigs. I picked the premium boar of the group. At the end of next year’s show, I can assure you I wasn’t the one sitting in the bleachers during the sale. With that one litter of pigs I paid back my dad. And put myself through two years of college. Not too bad for a teenager.
Invest in the best. My dad ingrained this lesson in me at 16 and I’ve relied on it multiple times over the years.
Years ago when POET had no more than a couple dozen team members, we grew the team by hiring the best of the best. Some were far out of our price range. I’ll admit the decisions weren’t easy and many came with sleepless nights. But, almost as if I was sitting on those state fair bleachers again. I would hear my father’s advice and knew it was the right decision to invest in the best people and the best technology.
The payoff was by no means immediate, but it became more and more valuable over the years. Taking a risk and investing in the best led to world-changing discoveries and the most efficiently run ethanol plants in the nation – creating significant value for our stakeholders.
I didn’t realize it then, but on that humid day at the Minnesota State Fair I discovered one of the best secrets to running a successful business. I’ll tell my kids it was listening to my father. But that was really only the beginning. Taking advice from the right people, the ones who had succeeded before me, has shaped this company and provided the promise of an ethanol future I’ll never stop believing in.