sealPurdue News

August 1998

Purdue center links academia, agribusiness

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University's Center for Agricultural Business (CAB) is celebrating its 12th year as a link between the university and the agricultural marketplace.

"The Center for Agricultural Business helps agribusinesses meet the challenges of our evolving marketplace," says director David Downey.

The self-supporting center has conducted professional development programs for more than 4,000 agribusiness executives and middle managers worldwide. Based in the Department of Agricultural Economics, CAB offers both public and private programs, as well as video-based training materials, newsletters, research reports, and trade press articles. Program speakers include top faculty from various universities, government and industry leaders, and private consultants.

"The science of agriculture must be applied in the world of business, and that's what CAB does better than anyone I've found," says Joe Green, Pioneer Hi-Bred sales development manager for North America. "They understand my company's needs, and they know our culture. The result is, things work."

Jay Akridge, the center's associate director, says it's important for CAB to provide timely and relevant topics that assist agribusiness managers and executives in operating more efficiently. In one of CAB's public programs, the National Conference for Agribusiness, topics change annually to reflect current issues of interest to agribusiness.

"It's a great concept," says Robbie Pate, national manager for proprietary products at Agripro Seeds in Memphis. Pate has been to two national conferences. "I've not been to all of them, but the ones I've been to have been great," he says. "The content is relevant to information I need for my business."

Current issues also are worked into the Strategic Agri Marketing (SAM) Program each year, Downey says. Some speakers from non-agricultural firms are used, along with case studies, computer modeling, and discussions on analytical tools and conceptual approaches to market analysis. Rob Aukerman, marketing manager for poultry products at Elanco Animal Health, says SAM provides a good overview of marketing principles and brings participants up to speed on new technologies.

Besides general-management programs, CAB customizes programs to suit the needs of clients -- a unique strength of the center, according to its staff. For example, CIBA had the Market Strategy Planning (MSP) seminar designed for its dealers and field marketers, and the Pathfinder program created for sales representatives. MSP focuses on developing a marketing strategy for the dealer's business, while Pathfinder helps participants understand high-tech producers and develop strategies for marketing to them.

Another such program is Pioneer Institute, designed to develop and enhance the managerial skills and leadership abilities of key individuals within Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.

"It's an investment in our future," says Green, Pioneer's administrator for the program.

He says that while working in agribusiness for a number of years, he noticed that people with technical backgrounds often were promoted to leadership positions. Lacking managerial skill or business knowledge, they frequently tried to work on MBA programs, but time constraints often were a problem. After checking with several universities, Green says he decided to work with Downey at Purdue to create Pioneer Institute, which accommodates the seasonal demands of agriculture.

Begun in 1986 and conducted jointly with Krannert Executive Education Programs, Pioneer Institute has become an important source for meeting the company's needs, according to Green. The institute consists of classroom instruction, as well as individual and group projects on specific issues within Pioneer. Green says Pioneer Institute gives participants a broader view of business within the agricultural industry and helps employees understand all facets of Pioneer.

"One-third of it parallels an MBA program, with business and management theory," he says. "One-third is an understanding of the uniqueness of agribusiness, and the final third is understanding Pioneer's niche agricultural markets and some of the reasons the company has been successful."

According to Green, one in three applicants is selected for the program, and selection is considered very prestigious. A new group starts the program about every 18 months.

"Developing our people is a strategic advantage for the company," he says, "and we must continue to develop them if we're to stay ahead of the competition. Programs like the institute are one way. Our CEO believes Pioneer Institute and the projects that have come out of it have more than paid for the program. It's a program with enormous returns."

Sources: David Downey, (765) 494-0464; e-mail,

Jay Akridge, (765) 494-4327, e-mail,

Writer: Andrea McCann, (765) 494-8406; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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