President, Penford Products, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Tell me about your educational background and how you ended up at the
University of Iowa?
As an undergraduate, I first attended the University of Northern Iowa, but then I enrolled in Iowa’s chemical engineering program because I knew a lot about what engineers did and I also liked math and science. I thought Iowa was a good fit.
What was your first position after graduation?
While in the program, I did a summer internship with Cargill, and after graduation, I joined Cargill, working in Memphis, Tenn., and then I moved back to Cedar Rapids.
Why did you want to study for an MBA degree?
I traveled quite a bit while I was with Cargill in Tennessee, but when I moved to Cedar Rapids, I began the evening MBA program. I like to say that was because of great thought, but it was my father-in-law who encouraged me to take advantage of Cargill paying for my master’s degree. I started out taking just one class, because at the time I was married and my daughter was only two or three.
What did you enjoy most about the course work?
I found out it was challenging in a different way than a work environment and that’s really what kept me going back, the learning and the enjoyment of a different atmosphere.
I left Cargill in late 1996 to work for Betz Dearborn Chemicals in eastern Iowa, then joined Penford Products in the spring of 1999. During that time, I was enrolling in elective and higher-level courses in finance, entrepreneurship, and strategy. For example, one of the final, capstone courses in the program had us break into teams where we competed against other teams in an online interactive business building computers. The course really wrapped up all of the aspects of what we’d learned previously. It combined marketing, sales, operations management, R & D, investment finances. I was very excited to be able to put it all together and make decisions. It really allowed me to tie what I had learned together and made me think I could be more than an engineer.
How were you able to apply what you learned in class to your work?
In my work, I began doing a lot of things outside of my normal responsibilities as a quality manager at an engineering firm. I began to take a look at the company possibly getting involved in a certain market or product industry. I did my normal day job and then I built a business case to move the company forward. I was successful with a number of initiatives and got exposure to the president of Penford, the CEO, and the board of directors. It allowed them to make moves and eventually it got me the role as president of Pedford. Once I had my MBA and could demonstrate that I could put it into use, my career went from the quality manager to two other positions and then the president within three years.