Photo by Olivia McClure
1. What motivated you to make the move to agriculture and take on this new role?
The LSU agricultural enterprise is one of the largest and most impactful things that LSU does for the state. As I was contemplating the request to serve as interim, I looked very closely at the people, the mission and the impact. Even a cursory glance reveals that we have extraordinary agricultural capabilities, and we are essential to the socioeconomic well-being of the state. I could not pass up the opportunity to support such an incredible organization. And then when I got here and really started to deeply understand the people and what they are doing, well … I just fell in love.
2. What do you see as the biggest challenges or opportunities for the LSU AgCenter and College of Agriculture?
The challenges and opportunities are crystal clear. For the AgCenter and the College, the primary challenge is facilities. They are rapidly aging, new technologies are emerging, and we have to relentlessly keep looking for opportunities to upgrade. I work on this problem literally every day, and we are making progress.
Growing the research and extension programs in terms of scale and impact are the major AgCenter opportunity. We have exceptional leadership in place for both the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station and the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, and they are rapidly defining priorities and joining me in the hunt for strategic resources to expand our impact in service to the Louisiana agricultural industry. For the college, delineating a wider complement of pathways for students to find their way to our departments and majors is critical. We have opportunities to expand dual enrollment programming so promising high school students can get a positive experience with exciting ag-oriented classes early on. We also have a chance to develop and deliver high quality online programming in select fields of study. This provides access to a largely nontraditional but highly motivated sector of learners that can learn from us while remaining in their rural Louisiana communities and prepare to contribute to their local labor market in a more impactful way after graduating. Finally, we have enormous opportunities to do a better job articulating transfer pathways into the College of Agriculture for students from two-year colleges, such as the ones we recently established with LSU Eunice. The two-to-four-year pathway is an excellent choice for many students — one that I took myself many years ago. We have tremendous opportunity to meet the needs of more diverse group of learners that will help drive growth in our agricultural sector if we pursue these opportunities.
3. How are you fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within the organization?
The AgCenter is properly understood as an innovation platform that has a robust communication capacity to translate innovations out to stakeholders. Whether it is in youth development, adult ag leadership development, science and engineering agronomic innovation, nutritional programming or any other area of our expertise, we are working hard to continually re-substantiate a culture of innovation. At its core, this entails providing our folks with the space to try new things while continually reminding them that you never continue a function just because you’ve done it every year for the last 10 years. I routinely ask, “if you want to try something new, what are you going to stop doing?” This is largely from an operational standpoint, but it is important to highlight because our science and engineering research programming are the embodiment of our innovation enterprise. To truly be successful there must be an ethic of innovation from top-to-bottom and side-to-side throughout the organization. Be willing to try something new, fail fast if necessary, and move on.
With respect to continuous improvement, in high functioning research and educational environments, everything of any importance is measured and tracked relentlessly. Research proposals submitted, grant dollars awarded, grant dollars spent, students enrolled, rates of student retention, graduation rates, etc. Over the last year we have continued to refine our measures, establish a very regular cadence of tracking (in the case of most research measures it should be at least monthly if not weekly), and set annual growth targets to ensure continuous evolution and improvement.
4. What are your plans to grow relationships between the AgCenter and agricultural communities?
The AgCenter exists to help local communities prosper. The logic underlying the entire Cooperative Extension system is that partnership yields greater results than if either of us tried to go it alone. Agricultural communities are the heartbeat of Louisiana, and our agents who reside in these communities are a primary link to them. The rapport and trust they enjoy with local constituents foster a powerful symbiotic relationship that over the long term, advances socioeconomic stability and growth.
5. What leadership qualities or principles do you value most, and how do you plan to incorporate them into your leadership style?
There is no substitute for authenticity. No one likes fakes and phonies, and to lead effectively in an organization of this scale people must know that you are what I call “really real” and that you mean what you say and are intentional in what you do. An example of how I incorporate that into my leadership style is that I frequently tell groups I am talking with that they can ask me anything, and that I will provide them the most honest answer I can, but to be prepared because folks don’t always like the actual honest answer. My experience has been that bringing that level of raw directness to the conversation is appreciated by almost everyone.
Another thing I value is ambition and drive to be the best. At LSU, we actually have a legit chance to place ourselves among the best in the country, if not being the actual No. 1 ag school. To get there we must subscribe to the same collective vision and be very intentional in relentlessly pursuing the measured objectives that will get us there. The passion and drive to win are characteristics we all must bring to our work if we, as an organization, are going to be successful. I talk about winning with our team members all the time. I have a Win Bar in my office, and everyone who passes through has the opportunity to take a moment, hit the Win Bar, and recommit to our goals. I publicly remind everyone that while our cohorts in LSU athletics win on the athletic fields, we win in the agricultural fields for Louisianians every day!
6. Share a book that has had a significant impact on your thinking or approach to your work.
Sun Tzu, “The Art of War.” It is all strategy aimed towards winning. That is our end goal. To win. To be the best university-based agricultural enterprise in the country.
7. What’s the most unconventional or out-of-the-box idea you’ve implemented as a leader and how did it turn out?
I don’t know that this is an idea, but it is a technique I use all the time. I ask members of my leadership team on a very regular basis, “What are you going to stop doing?”
8. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received in your career?
Be early and always dress nice.