PORK Perspectives is a recurring column that provides business and leadership strategy tips from some of the pork industry’s finest. Meet Dari Brown, senior director – livestock technical innovation for Purina Animal Nutrition.
You are molded by the people you work with, says Dari Brown, senior director – livestock technical innovation for Purina Animal Nutrition. Of all the lessons she learned in graduate school from Dr. Charles Maxwell, she says the leadership skills she learned along the way have made the greatest impact on her career today.
“Dr. Maxwell was a very knowledgeable leader in the swine industry and was skilled at making science more applied,” Brown says. “He was really good about answering our questions, but at the same time, giving us room to breathe and grow.”
Maxwell set high goals and expected his students to do the work he asked them to do. But he was always there if his students needed him, she says.
“To me that’s a strong leader and an example I try to set for my team at Purina,” she says. “You can’t be a micromanager, especially with a group of highly skilled professionals. Otherwise, they will feel like you aren’t giving them the room they need to be the leaders they want to be. My goal is to remove roadblocks and support my team in their endeavors.”
Brown shares her views on leadership strategy and what she’s learned in the past 15 years of her career with Farm Journal’s PORK.
Q. What is your “why” – what motivates you every day?
A. Bringing solutions to our producers. My job is to learn about their problems and figure out a solution to help them grow their business. These solutions can make or break the performance of their animals and the returns they get.
Q. How did you get your start in the pork industry?
A. I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology and minor in chemistry from the University of Central Arkansas before going to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to work on a master’s degree in reproductive physiology. When you’re a grad student, you help each other out a lot. It didn't matter if it was your research or not. I was helping a fellow student weigh hogs every week, and I just loved it. That’s when I slowly moved from a cow/calf and repro swine focus to a swine nutritional immunology focus.
Q. Why did you make the move to nutritional immunology?
A. I feel old when I talk about it because at that time it was a new and emerging science. Dr. Maxwell was just getting into nutritional immunology when I was in grad school – looking at how nutrition impacts overall health. He was studying the immune system and the microbiology of the gut. I had a lot of interest in that area, so I convinced him to take me on as a student to do my Ph.D. My research not only looked at the topic from a nutritional standpoint, but also a management standpoint.
Q. Who inspires you?
A. I like to joke I must have needed more help than others when I started with Purina, as I was fortunate to have three mentors with years of experience – Dr. Ray Washam, Dr. Larry DeGoey and Dan Moran. As scientists, we all know how to research. But, when you get into this industry and need to interact with producers and sales teams, you find out it is a completely different way to interact. My mentors were always there to answer questions about things I hadn’t seen or experienced before. But more importantly, I learned so much by watching their interactions in meetings with salespeople and producers, as well as how they led their projects. They also made sure my projects were my projects. They threw me in and said, “This is your job. We’ll help you, but we expect you to lead this project.”
Brown visiting the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on an off day while working in China.
Q. What is one of the biggest mistakes new employees make?
A. One of the most common reasons why people fail in a new job is because they don’t learn from others. We are always learning and developing, and we should take pride in this because it only makes us better.
Q. What have you learned about building a team over the years?
A. One day I was watching NCIS Los Angeles and they made an interesting point. We need to be strong individual contributors in how we bring our expertise and knowledge to the group. However, we let those strengths as individuals work even stronger collectively as a team. In other words, the more we can build from and use each other's strengths and weaknesses, the better. During my team meetings, we always talk about how we can collaborate more and how important each of us is individually, but how the collective whole is even more important.
Q. What is your business philosophy?
A. If you don't serve your customers, no matter what philosophy you have, you're not going to win. I believe my job, from a business standpoint, is to serve our customers but also serve our company. The strategies I put in place revolve around that concept. If our customers win, then we win.
Q. How has the business changed since you’ve been with the company?
A. Technology is driving a lot of the change. It has made us all much more sophisticated. We have to make sure we’re bringing the right tools, knowing that our customers have access to more technology and information than ever.
Keep reading as Brown takes a look back on her journey and shares what she thinks the future holds for the swine industry.