COBA’s GM reflects on 20 good years in genetics

business profile COLUMBUS — It has been fun to build a winning cooperative team at COBA/Select Sires and then cheer them on as COBA has achieved new sales records 15 of the last 16 years. When I joined COBA in 1993 I was fortunate to inherit the strong base built by my predecessors as general manager of this cooperative.

They were, Dick Kellogg from 1946-1977; Dr. Wallace Erickson from 1977-1988; and Larry Neel from 1988-1993 (it should be further noted that Larry retired after working 41-plus years for COBA).

COBA was one of the four cooperatives who went together to form Select Sires in 1965. This federation has grown and today nine member cooperatives are responsible for all sales and service in the United States.

Over the years Select Sires has demonstrated the ability to provide the highest fertility and most genetically superior genetics available anywhere in the world. In 2012 the Select Sires federation was responsible for 34 percent of all dairy semen sold in the United States.

Co-ops should win

The organization’s mission statement is worth noting:”COBA/Select Sires operates as a true cooperative to provide superior genetics and service to benefit its member-customers.”

It has been said that a well-run cooperative should not be beaten long-term by a privately owned or publicly traded company. Why?

First, our member-owner-customers do not expect COBA to make a lot of money every year like a privately held company’s shareholders. Following COBA’s mission statement this co-op’s highest priority is to serve our member-owner-customers’ interests first.

Second, COBA’s 15 directors and the 10 delegates elected from each of the Districts have provided useful counsel and input on how this co-op can improve our products and services.

Third, when COBA does make a profit about half is returned to the members the next year and the balance is retained for about five years. These retains provide the co-op greater financial resources to use at 0 percent interest.

By achieving greater efficiencies, effectiveness and credibility over the past 16 years, COBA has been able to return an average of 8.3 percent patronage on semen purchases. I think that is outstanding for our member-owner-customers and all associated with the cooperative.

Listening is important

Listening is perhaps the most important form of communication. COBA listens closely to the thoughts of our directors and delegates. Frankly, many privately held companies pay firms big money to develop and conduct customer surveys to gain feedback. I believe such feedback is not as good as what COBA regularly receives from our farmer directors and delegates.

COBA also listens to our employees. While COBA has some 100-plus employees to accomplish specific tasks, COBA also values their brains. Intelligent and dedicated employees often are the source of ideas to improve sales or decrease expenses by operating in a more efficient and effective manner.

While it is often said that “competition is good,” I believe that “cooperation is better!” If employees work together to help our member-owner-customers better achieve their goals, everyone in the cooperative wins.

Reward employees

Over the past 20 years the COBA directors have approved a variety of ways to reward COBA employees financially for achieving greater efficiencies and effectiveness. This has been appreciated by COBA personnel and truly makes employees a partner in the success of this cooperative.

Conversely, when COBA’s member-owner-customers are struggling financially, COBA employees have accepted cuts in their pay. As an example the year 2009 was a most difficult financial year for dairy farmers (by the way over 95 percent of COBA’s sales are dairy semen and the remaining is beef semen).

Almost all COBA employees in 2009 experienced a reduction in pay. However, not a single COBA employee complained to me about a loss in pay as they knew that most of this cooperative’s member-owner-customers were experiencing greater financial challenges.

A winning team

What is my rationale for feeling COBA/Select Sires is a “winning” team? COBA’s semen sales of 1,979,609 units representing 117.4 units sold per 100 dairy cows set an all-time record in 2012.

Such record high sales have occurred in 15 of the past 16 years, starting in 1997 when COBA sold 670,884 units, which was 42.8 units per 100 dairy cows, in the same geographic service area. With record high sales in 15 of the past 16 years, COBA has also been highly profitable.

With such profitability COBA has returned patronage equal to 8.3 percent of the dollars our member-owner-customers spent on semen over that 16-year period. Such numbers easily make our co-op the No. 1 supplier of semen in our service area.

In addition whenever something of importance to dairy farm families is happening, you will almost always find a

COBA person at the table or in the arena providing useful input or help.

COBA/Select Sires is proud to have earned the reputation of “the cooperative that works.” I expect COBA’s strong cooperative attitude will continue in the future as Duane Logan has been chosen by COBA directors to assume the duties as the 5th General Manager of COBA/Select Sires during 2013.

As a younger man, Duane was a managing partner of Loganway Registered Holstein farm in Ashtabula County. As a dairyman he served as a director for COBA and on the Holstein Sire Committee for Select Sires.

During Duane’s term as a director for COBA he was involved in the naming of Larry Neel as general manager and later the hiring of me to assume that role in 1993. Duane has been a part of the key staff I have relied on at COBA for the past 18 years.

Duane has consistently demonstrated a strong affinity for doing what’s best for this cooperative’s member-owner-customers as the highest priority.

Thank you to all the caring and dedicated people in agriculture with whom I have had the opportunity to interact.

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