Go ahead, let the fox in the henhouse


Someone once gave me sound advice on hiring new employees. “Hire someone who’s smarter than you, or hire someone who’s sharpest in the area where you’re the weakest.”

I’ve never forgotten those words of wisdom. We can’t all be good at everything; surround yourself with people who are good at things you’re not.

I was reminded of that advice recently, as I read two unrelated, yet very related, items.

The first was an article, “Teaming With the Enemy,” by Judy Olian, the dean of Penn State’s business college. She listed recent alliances whose partners are not your typical bedfellows. For example:

* FedEx Corp. signed a $44 billion deal in February to transport mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

* Daimler-Chrysler, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. formed a $750 billion e-business exchange for automotive parts and supplies for these companies and their suppliers.

* Chemical giants and vigorous competitors Air Products and Chemicals, BASF, Dow Chemical and DuPont are major investors in Elemica, a global e-marketplace for large-scale selling of chemicals.

What’s the deal?

Simple, says Olian. “These alliances make money, or save money.”

And businesses that are not building alliances are certainly competing against companies that do, perhaps at a disadvantage.

“‘Co-opetition’ is becoming a vital tool for conquering new markets, growth and survival,” Olian writes. “Businesses may be missing important new opportunities by sticking to the lone wolf mentality.”

Then, I read about an interesting alliance in Wisconsin between a traditional production ag association, a university and an environmental group.

The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, University Wisconsin Extension and the World Wildlife Fund created a joint partnership to explore ways to develop biologically based pesticide alternatives, put them into practice through Integrated Pest Management, and ultimately improve environmental quality.

This year, bags of Wisconsin-grown potatoes will carry the World Wildlife Fund’s stamp of approval.

Participating growers must meet integrated pest management and toxicity standards to be certified for the nonprofit eco-label “Protected Harvest.” Not all of the association’s potato growers will qualify.

This fall, consumers will find both the eco-label and the World Wildlife Fund’s familiar panda logo on bags of Wisconsin potatoes from fields certified by an independent third party.

I have no doubt that panda will sell a lot of Wisconsin potatoes.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to the Wisconsin story – at least 10 years of collaboration and communication and trust building and IPM refinements. (For more information see the collaboration’s Web site at http://ipcm.wisc.edu/bioIPM.)

But it’s an alliance that will bear fruit – if consumers are willing to pay for it. And certainly, that’s a big if.

Working together, innovators can achieve more than they can alone. If Ford, GM and Chrysler can do it, why can’t farmers or farm groups?

Who is your competition? Who sits across the philosophical aisle from you? It may make great business sense to get together.

(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

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