Episode 5 | Rural Entrepreneurship

Nov. 30, 2017

Show Notes:

In this episode of Catch Up With Chuck, Director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program Tom Field joins Chuck to discuss entrepreneurship and leadership opportunities in rural communities.

Besides explaining the University of Nebraska-Lincoln​‘s Engler Program, Dr. Field discusses the power of people, the building of students’ brands and the concept of the program.

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Full Transcript:

[0:03] Welcome back to Catch Up With Chuck. [0:05] This is a periodic broadcast of [0:07] the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska. [0:12] I’m Chuck Schroeder, I’m Executive Director here [0:14] and I’m joined today by one of my dearest colleagues, [0:18] Dr. Tom Field and we’re gonna be talking about [0:21] preparing students to be innovators, [0:24] to be builders in a world of change. [0:27] Tom is a recognized scholar. [0:30] He’s a popular teacher, a popular lecturer [0:33] in the field of animal science, [0:35] but he’s also an entrepreneur that’s involved [0:37] in not only the ranching business, [0:39] but other ventures in and around [0:41] the livestock industry and for the last five years? [0:44] Six. [0:45] Six years [0:47] has been director of the Engler Agribusiness [0:50] Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska, [0:52] which was a pretty new venture. [0:54] And Tom is really in the business of [0:57] preparing motivated students. [0:59] They’re a pretty special population of students, [1:02] I think that’s fair to say, to be successful [1:04] in a world that is quite different from that of [1:07] their parents and even the world of their (laughs) elders. [1:12] Nothing prepared us for this. [1:14] (laughter) Absolutely. [1:16] So, Tom, talk just a little bit about your background. [1:18] Give folks a framework of where you come from [1:20] as you roll into this very unique opportunity.

[1:24] Well, I was raised in a ranching family [1:27] in Western Colorado surrounded by [1:29] entrepreneurial grandparents and parents. [1:35] Loved the cattle and horse world as a young guy, [1:40] went off to college at Colorado State, [1:42] managed to crowd four years of education [1:45] into five years of experience while I was there. [1:48] (laughter) [1:48] I was one of the first five year to graduate types. [1:51] I’ve tried to reverse that trend since, [1:53] but went back to work for my dad after I got out of college, [1:57] spent five years, brought a couple of new ventures [2:01] to the ranch, had to learn a lot about [2:04] breaking into new organizations, change of organizations, [2:08] then went to work for a graduate program. [2:12] I needed to develop some competence [2:15] and some technical skills. [2:17] Worked with Bob Taylor and Jim Brinks and Daryl Tatum [2:21] and all those really good people at Colorado State. [2:24] Ended up liking it enough that I stayed and did a PhD. [2:28] They had a jam, John Edwards left for Texas A & M, [2:32] they needed somebody to teach AN 100 and as I recall, [2:34] Dave James, the department head came down and he said, [2:36] “Field, we’re in a jam, you’re gonna have to do.” [2:39] (laughter) [2:41] And that’s how I got my start on a faculty [2:43] was I was sort of the stop gap guy [2:46] and for a term and managed to survive that and got hired, [2:51] spent 19 years at Colorado State working a systems group. [2:55] A great experience. [2:57] Then, got frankly tired of university life [3:01] and the sort of craziness of the politics [3:04] and left and joined an equally crazy world, [3:09] the association. That was strategic move. [3:12] Right, from the frying pan into the fire at NCBA, [3:16] which you would know a lot about, given your background. [3:19] National Cattleman’s Beef Association. [3:21] And worked with producer education, [3:24] did a lot of really good work there [3:27] with a great team, especially RDC team [3:29] and then, this opportunity came along. [3:32] I came here because this was an opportunity [3:35] to start something and to do something special [3:38] and to do it outside the realm of [3:39] normal behavior at the university.

[3:41] Well, Tom, you’ve been a tremendous difference maker [3:45] here at the University of Nebraska [3:47] and you send ripples, I think it’s fair to say, [3:50] throughout the Land Grant community. [3:52] I mean, it’s fine having this conversation [3:54] and all the people you’ve mentioned thus far [3:57] have been mutual friends of ours [3:58] through the course of our different careers, [4:01] but when I look at the Engler Program [4:03] at the University of Nebraska, [4:05] it is, in my view, the most important embodiment [4:10] within this institution of the new education, [4:13] which is being discussed around [4:15] higher education circles quite broadly. [4:18] And that is an education that creates [4:21] an experience for students in real world problem solving, [4:26] including some failures, and trying to prepare them [4:30] to contribute not only in starting businesses [4:33] and contributing to the economy, but quite honestly, [4:36] being people who can strengthen communities, [4:39] who can strengthen the country, [4:41] and quite honestly be citizens of the world [4:44] that can really make a difference. [4:46] So, it’s not off the rack education [4:48] at the traditional Land Grant institution, [4:51] so I want you to talk a little bit about [4:54] your underlying philosophy for the Engler Program [4:57] and the experience that you and your [5:00] colleagues are trying to create.

[5:02] The underlying premise of this program [5:04] is that I’d gotten really frustrated with the fact [5:07] that the university was, by and large, [5:09] doing a pretty good job of creating employees [5:11] and we were producing almost no employers. [5:14] We had cookie-cuttered the game. [5:18] We were producing widgets for industrial agriculture [5:22] and doing a good job of it, but it wasn’t very exciting [5:26] and it certainly didn’t appear to me [5:29] like it was gonna work in the future. [5:31] I’m a big fan of Lewis and Clark [5:34] and you know, they had in that great adventure [5:37] had to innovate and adapt all the time [5:41] and I think that was the thing [5:43] that really underlies our program [5:45] is that we believe that the world that lies in front of us [5:48] is nothing like the world that’s in our past. [5:51] We spend any time in the rear view mirror [5:54] and it’s a mistake today, because the future’s unfolding [5:58] at an unbelievable speed and in ways [6:02] that none of us can describe. [6:04] It’s disrupting societal expectations, communities, [6:08] people, careers, professions, and entire sectors [6:13] of the economy are literally disappearing [6:15] because of these transformative changes.

[6:18] And we were lucky that this guy named Paul Engler [6:20] was willing and had the capacity [6:23] to make a big bet that we could in fact, [6:26] produce employers and job creators and world changers [6:29] and that we had a moral obligation to do so, [6:33] that there was a calling to produce doers, not talkers, [6:37] to create citizens who were engaged in their communities, [6:41] people who actually understood that leadership [6:44] was based on competency, not charisma, [6:47] and that you could in fact, with not a lot of backing, [6:52] create new ideas and solve problems [6:55] from the very early stages of your academic career. [6:59] And so, we came here to test that model [7:04] and to prove that we could produce, [7:07] if not in serial order, but in sort of a offering [7:17] of unique product brands, which we view [7:20] all of the people in our program as these unique brands, [7:23] that we could in fact offer the world something [7:25] rather different than what they were getting.

[7:27] Okay, Tom, you just said something awfully important, [7:30] these unique brands, one of the things that I love [7:34] watching and occasionally participating in [7:37] is we engage with your students from the Engler Program. [7:40] This is not a homogenous body of students [7:45] and you don’t treat ’em like number two corn. [7:49] I watch on a daily basis that you look at these [7:53] young men and women who come from a variety of backgrounds, [7:57] many of them from rural communities, [7:59] but certainly not exclusively by any means, [8:01] they have different talents, they have different visions [8:05] for their future and for the way the world should be, [8:09] and rather than you trying to put them in this box [8:14] and deliver them, I see you reaching in [8:16] and pulling them out of boxes and saying, [8:18] “Okay, there’s something very unique and special here, [8:21] we wanna build the most out of that.” [8:24] Talk a little bit about the amount of time and energy [8:28] you invest in that and why.

[8:30] Well, first and foremost, every organization’s success [8:34] is built on the power of its people. [8:35] It doesn’t matter what the organization is [8:37] and we have a deep respect in regard for the talent, [8:42] the strengths, the skills, and the capacity [8:45] of the young people that come to our program. [8:47] We recognize, I think, early on, that [8:50] building companies was second. [8:52] First that had to happen was we had to build people. [8:56] We’re bought into lots of things, [8:59] the writings of Steven Covey and Tom Peters [9:02] and Bob Waterman and Nancy Austin, [9:06] and the list goes on and on and on and on and on [9:09] of folks who said, “Look, if you treat people [9:11] like cogs on the wheel, they’re eventually [9:15] gonna fall off the wheel, but if you look for talent [9:18] and you look for the unique capacity [9:20] of young people to do what they wanna do, you can create [9:23] these really, extraordinarily unique experiences [9:28] and you can build better teams.” [9:29] And so, the two underlying things that I think we’ve [9:33] tried to bring to the table is that [9:35] every young person we encounter we believe [9:36] is capable of starting things and running [9:39] entrepreneurial behavior in whatever the undertake, [9:43] whether it’s starting a company, working inside [9:45] of an existing organization, and then the second thing is [9:49] is that, each person is capable, [9:52] early on, of doing really good work. [9:55] Most university parameters are built [9:59] on this crazy hierarchy, take this, then this, then this, [10:02] and then finally, about your senior year [10:03] that you get this capstone course [10:05] where you’re supposed to get to do something fun [10:07] and we were like, “Well, that’s ridiculous. [10:09] Let’s flip the model, let’s do something really interesting [10:12] really early, like starting a company in 60 days [10:14] when you’re 18 years old, finding customers, [10:17] getting them to pay you, and they’ll see what happens.” [10:21] Right, so that’s our gig and it’s not that we [10:25] don’t respect traditional education. [10:27] We just don’t believe it’s very valid for the future.

[10:31] Tom, I have to say that those of us [10:34] at the Rural Futures Institute really are [10:36] proud of our daily association with the Engler Program, [10:38] with you and your colleagues and especially, [10:41] with your students, ’cause so many of your students [10:43] do come from rural communities and they talk to you, [10:48] they talk to us about their interest [10:50] in going back to those communities [10:52] and building a business, raising their families, being [10:55] involved in a community where they can make a difference. [10:59] So, we think that you really are preparing those leaders [11:03] that can go back and bring that vitality to rural Nebraska [11:09] and rural America that is so critically needed. [11:12] So, anything you’d like to add about [11:13] the program and what you’re doing?

[11:15] Well, the connection to rural Nebraska [11:18] and rural regions of the country and the world [11:21] is so critical for us. [11:22] There’s something truly magical about the power of [11:27] young people who believe that where they came from matters. [11:31] We work with Rwandan students who believe deeply [11:35] in the opportunity to go home and change a nation. [11:38] We believe that our graduates, their greatest potential [11:44] will be once they graduate, that’s why we’re building [11:47] a culture and a community that’s designed [11:50] for lifetime experience and our hope is, [11:52] is that these energized, smart, talented [11:56] young men and women will go back into their communities, [12:00] be the kinds of citizens that Jefferson imagined, [12:03] that the founders thought we were capable of, [12:07] if we would just you know, in our language, [12:10] cowboy up and get it done. [12:12] And that’s what we try to do and when you honor [12:15] where people come from, you honor their culture, [12:17] you honor them as individuals, you can build [12:20] a pretty extraordinary organization.

[12:22] Well, when you think about the individual brands [12:25] that your kids develop, and they actually do develop [12:28] their own brands, as we see on the walls around here, [12:30] it’s so interesting to me to see the culture [12:33] that’s created as they care so much about each other [12:37] and try to contribute to one another’s success. [12:40] So, I think you’re doing something awfully important [12:43] and we’re proud to be associated with you. [12:45] Well, appreciate that and the last thing [12:47] I’d say about what we do and I think [12:49] what your program has done is what we’ve introduced [12:51] to the Land Grant University is a word [12:53] that doesn’t get used very often, [12:55] but at the heart of both our work is this concept of love [12:58] and I think that’s what drives us. [13:01] I’m with ya.

[13:03] So, listen, stay in touch with the Rural Futures Institute [13:06] through Facebook and Twitter as well as our website [13:09] and know that we’ll be back soon [13:11] with another addition of Catch Up With Chuck [13:13] as we talk to interesting people, [13:16] we look at interesting places, communities, [13:19] entrepreneurs, builders, who are making rural communities [13:23] the place to build a worthwhile life. [13:26] Thanks for joining us.

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