PORK Perspectives: A Minute with Jeff Simmons


PORK Perspectives is a recurring column that provides business and leadership strategy tips from some of the pork industry’s finest. Meet Jeff Simmons, president and CEO of Elanco Animal Health.

Hungry. That’s the “why” that drives Jeff Simmons every day as Elanco Animal Health’s president and CEO. Although there may not be many hungry people in his immediate Zip code, he says there are many people who are not getting the right food. These people need better nutrition -- and Elanco wants to play a role in meeting that basic need. 

But to Simmons, “hungry” is more than needing food; it’s describes his leadership aspirations. Leaders need to be hungry to make an impact, he says.

“It’s sad when there’s a leader who’s not hungry because they don’t have a calling, they don’t have a good culture or they don’t have something they’re chasing after,” he adds. “Hungry people and hungry leaders are why I do what I do every day.”

For the past decade, he has led Elanco and directed the company’s transformation from a primarily U.S. feed additive company to a premier global player with a diversified business. The company has tripled in size during his tenure, completing 12 acquisitions and building five new businesses. Farm Journal’s PORK editor Jennifer Shike sat down with Simmons and talked about his views on business strategy and leadership.

Q. What energizes you about your role at Elanco?
We have decided at Elanco that we are going to transform. Standing still is a bad strategy in a world of agriculture, animals and animal health. What makes me move forward, now that Elanco has broken off to be independent, is a clear vision for what I see in 2050. Environmental, physical and mental health and animals playing one of the most vital roles in solutions to these significant global challenges.

Q. Tell me about your business. 
Elanco Animal Health is a global health company that develops products and knowledge services to prevent and treat disease in food animals and pets in more than 90 countries. Elanco is a 65-year-old startup. I like to say Elanco is new to Wall Street, but not Main Street. We provide solutions for farmers, veterinarians and pet owners that help keep animals healthy and help farmers raise livestock more sustainably.

Q. How has the business changed since you’ve been with the company? 
I joined the company as a dairy sales representative in New York straight out of Cornell. Elanco was a very small division of Lilly at the time. In the last decade we have transformed the company from a primarily feed additive company in the U.S. to a premier global player with a diversified business. Last year, we separated from Eli Lilly and Company, culminating in Elanco’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange as an independent public company solely dedicated to animal health. Most recently, we’ve announced Elanco’s acquisition of companion animal startup Aratana and the pending acquisition of Bayer Animal Health. As a dedicated animal health company, we bring greater attention and speed along with the ability to allocate investment as we see fit, particularly increasing our focus on innovation. In our first year as an independent company, Elanco announced seven different partnerships and acquisitions designed to broaden our portfolio and pipeline to bring new solutions to farmers, veterinarians and pet owners.

Q. What makes a good leader? 
A leader is only a leader if they have a following. And the only way to get a following is if you have your own recipe, your own way and it’s got to work. 

Q. What is your business philosophy?
It’s all about people. Do we have a team of passionate, committed individuals, and have we empowered them to do what’s best for customers? From there it’s about creating a solid foundation. The right culture and values and a strong vision. Elanco’s vision – food an companionship enriching life -- is part of our conversation all the time at Elanco. Once the foundation becomes really understood and personal, then the culture sets the tone and engagement increases. Then, the business proposition comes from not just a strategy, but a vision of where do I add value? What are we best at? What is our role? What’s not our role? Then we have clear definition about what we are. If you can do that – create a foundation with a vision and understanding of what you do best – then a lot of good things happen. Finally, make sure people respect the culture, understand and protect the culture. Culture is what enables and culture is what disables. 

Q. How do you measure leadership performance?
 I measure three components with our top 100 leaders. 1. Engagement: How is their following? Are they fostering and caring for the people? 2. Execution: Are they meeting monthly with their people going through objectives? Are they disciplined? 3. Delivery. These are the things that set the health of the organization. If a leader’s engagement scores are low, something has gone wrong. 

Q. Why is relevancy so important to you as a leader?
Truly, farmers, veterinarians, nutritionists and other key players around animals are innovative, loyal, humble people – they are the best customer group of any industry. We must take that deep loyalty, innovative thinking and visions (like the farmers focusing on greenhouse gas neutral farms) and make those visions a movement. The relevancy is increasing to society’s problems, so together we need to step out and play a bigger role. We’re using a public company (opportunities, TV, investors and urban areas)  and our platform to speak for farmers, veterinarians and the significance of animals. 

Q. If you could go back and do something differently in your career, what would it be and why?
Too many things! A mentor once told me when people get to that final chapter in their life, more than 90% of them regret what they didn’t do more than what they did do. The second reflection is they say when you are stressed right to the edge, remember it’s all going to be okay. I wish I would have realized that sooner in my life. Also, don’t take things out of context. 

Q. Who inspires you? 
I’m inspired by our team and their purpose and my customers and solving their challenges. Everybody who works at Elanco has equal value and a vision that comes from their personal why. Those “whys” matter and are my greatest source of inspiration. For example, I started my day spending an hour with our emerging leaders. It will be a good day because of that. They all went around the room and said, here's what I see, here's what I do and here’s why I do what I do. Those leaders are so passionate, and that's where I believe authentic energy should come from for a leader of an organization. I’m also inspired by our customers. For me, they're friends. I'm a partner in an authentic way. For most of our major customers, I know them and I know their issues. The bigger calling of enriching people's lives through our customers’ challenges motivates me. 


Keep reading on Page 2 to find out his thoughts on ASF, leadership challenges and what his business will look like in 20 years.

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