I can tell Becky Berger, CEO of Berger International, wants to talk about people. I’ve just asked her what’s top of mind this fall. She began telling me her goals, such as reducing capital spending and taking a hard look at improving efficiency, but she pauses mid-sentence and our focus shifts to family and team.
Berger operates a premium grass seed company based in Hillsboro, Ore. While working hard to improve and grow, she is also serious about planning her retirement. Specifically, she’s thinking about the transition in leadership and the role her son will play.
She knows he’d like to continue the business, but she makes no demands he be a do-it-all kind of CEO. Instead, she hopes they’ll work together to determine what he’s best at — and loves the most — about operating the business.
Lead by Example
Berger knows the most important part of transitioning the business is having hard conversations with future leaders. She knows she must explain the CEO role, an area we’ve talked about in our Farm CEO Coach sessions, which are part of the prize package awarded to each Top Producer of the Year finalist.
What has Berger learned about creating a positive workplace for her relatives and others? Here are her key takeaways:
1. Respect every skill set. “I don’t want anybody thinking their skill set is better than another skill set,” Berger says. “Treating people well is a real value to me. Mutual respect is key.”
2. Take care of your health. A farm will take as much as you can give, Berger knows. As such, she encourages her team to rest if they need it.
“Mistakes happen when people are tired. You could have a stellar year, but if somebody gets hurt, it’s not worth it. Safety and mental health are essential.”
3. Be transparent about the business. “We’re trying to be more open and have a lot less secrecy about this company,” she says. “We’re sharing some financial info with our team members.”
When people know the facts, Berger insists, they are more likely to be understanding and work harder for the farm. She acknowledges it’s definitely a culture switch. “Of course, this wasn’t done in previous generations,” she laughs.
Set the Pace
To create a positive culture — one that sets the pace for the next leaders to take the helm — requires big conversa-tions.
“The big piece is sitting down and communicating,” she says. “That is how you improve your team and how you improve your business. That’s what I’ve learned with the coaching: I am setting the culture around here.” TP
Sarah Beth Aubrey’s mission is to enhance success and profitability in agriculture by building capacity in people. She provides executive coaching as well as peer group and board facilitation.