PORK Perspectives: A Minute with John Waddell

( Carol Waddell )

He couldn’t wait for Saturdays to arrive. They were his favorite day of the week and for good reason. Every Saturday, a local veterinarian, John Dobrinsky, picked him up to go on farm visits. 

“He was awesome,” Waddell says. “He had a large family of his own, but when he heard I wanted to be a veterinarian, he made a point to swing by our farm every Saturday morning to take me along on farm visits. He planted a lot of seeds of desire for veterinary medicine in my young heart.”

Maybe that’s why Waddell, now the director of swine key account veterinarians at Boehringer Ingelheim, is known for having so many interns. His life was changed because of the many people who invested in his future. He’s been working to return the favor ever since. 

Starting with his father, the list of people who have inspired him is long:  Al Leman. Leroy Biehl. Leonard Backstrom. Alex Hogg and classmates Tom Painter and Charlie Schelkopf. The list of great swine practitioners, producers and colleagues who have made an impact on his life and career is endless. 

“It’s like a nuclear reaction – one connection leads to two, and two leads to four. It just goes exponentially up from there," Waddell says.

He shares his views on mentoring, leadership, strategy and what he’s learned during his career at Boehringer Ingelheim.

Q. What path did you take to become a veterinarian? 
My dad was a real proponent for education. He always said, “Once you have education, it’s something nobody can take away from you.” I grew up in central Illinois on a small grain and livestock farm and went to the University of Illinois for my bachelor’s degree in agriculture. Al Leman was the Extension veterinarian at the time as well as my AGR fraternity advisor. Looking back, I had no idea how famous he would become. He certainly laid the groundwork for somebody to emulate and pattern your career after. I went to vet school after undergrad. I finished in 1981 and took a job in a Nebraska veterinary practice. I’ve always believed an investment in education was an investment in myself. In the early 1990s, I completed an executive MBA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In the early 2000s, I completed the Executive Veterinary Program at Illinois.

Q. What is your why? 
Maximizing the global potential of healthy pigs and passionate people. That's the core of what we do – we're about making pigs healthier and producing wholesome pork to feed the world. But that can't be done without passionate people, so identifying and recruiting those people with passion and then cultivating that is a big part of what we do.

Q. Describe a typical day on the job for you.
There is no typical day, but issues and problems pop up out of left field every day that give us a chance to serve. That’s probably what keeps me refreshed and renewed. I’ve always believed our service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy. It’s always been a big part of what I’ve done in the swine industry, in the veterinary profession and in my community as well. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) has always been a big part of it, too. They have given so much to me so when called upon to participate and serve in various capacities, I say yes. It’s not a spectator sport – you have to show up. You have to participate, serve and voice an opinion and be a proponent of our industry.

Q. How does your company help and work with its customers? 
We are an animal health company that offers products and solutions. But we have always strived to provide solutions beyond the bottle. Very seldom can you pass a bottle of vaccine across the counter and expect the problem to be solved. It comes with the experience you’ve had with a product, the knowledge of product, making sure of compliance and are vaccinating the right pigs at the right time and dose. It’s being there to follow up if things don’t go correctly. Our company has always been great about that as far as standing behind the products we produce but it is much more important to help solve a problem regardless whether it involves one of our tools or solution options.  We are all measured on sales in the end, but for me, that’s not how I define my self-worth or identify myself in life. 

Q. What is your business philosophy?
Solve the problem and make decisions. I get up every morning looking for the next problem to help solve and continuing to work on those problems that you haven’t quite solved yet. Decide, move on and be bold. Admit when you are wrong, don’t become paralyzed by indecision and never give up! 

Q. How has the business changed since you’ve been with the company?
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health has gone through some changes since I started with the company 10 years ago. The overall animal health business has experienced consolidation similar to the swine industry that we serve.  Changes in the swine industry drive the changes in the animal health business. The only constant is change.  Competition is healthy and drives innovation and further efficiencies.  

Q. What concerns do you have about the swine industry?
Pork exports have been a blessing to our industry, driving unprecedented growth in pork production.  However, dependence on exports also exposes the U.S. swine industry to unprecedented risk in the form of foreign animal disease (FAD) that could severely curtail exports. As exports become a larger and larger percentage of what we produce in the U.S, a FAD would be devastating should our borders be closed to exports for even a brief period of time.

Q. What are the greatest opportunities in the swine industry today? 
Whenever there is a threat, there is opportunity. I believe the world market offers tremendous opportunity. Demand for pork worldwide continues to increase worldwide. It offers huge opportunity in the midst of the threats such as FAD in other areas of the world. The resourcefulness we bring to the table in the U.S. position us to be the pork producer to the world.

Read more from Dr. Waddell and how he thinks technology is changing veterinary medicine and what he'd change if he could go back and start his career over again on page 2.


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PORK Perspectives is a recurring column that provides business and leadership strategy tips from some of the pork industry’s finest. Meet John Waddell, director of swine key account veterinarians at Boehringer Ingelheim.