The best advice I ever received


“Hard work pays off.”

“Do unto others …”

“The more you do, the more you can do.”

We’ve all heard them. Words of wisdom shared by a parent, a mentor, a boss.

When we’re young, we roll our eyes and ignore the advice, but there’s a time in our lives when those words start to make sense. They shape our lives, our business decisions, our interactions with others. We consciously and unconsciously embrace them and make them our own.

Farm and Dairy asked several agricultural leaders for “the best business advice” they’d ever received. This week, we share their answers. They are heartfelt and share a lesson for us all.

Do what you say you will do

Fred L. Dailey, Ohio Agriculture Director, 1991-present.

Fred Dailey, Ohio’s director of agriculture, took advice from Fred Johnson, founder of Summitcrest Angus, to heart.

“Fred used to always say ‘Do what you say you will do.’ That has been good advice time and again during my tenure as director of agriculture,” Dailey said.

For example, when the Dailey said the ODA was going to clean up the state’s livestock shows to make them fair for all the exhibitors, he did just that. Today, Ohio’s livestock tampering law is now the model for other state departments of agriculture.

It’s an easy motto to remember, too, Dailey said, because the acronym DWYSYWD is the same forward and backward.

Sometimes we put limits on ourselves

Janet (Ferguson) Lyons, Ohio native
Angus producer, Lyons Ranch, Manhattan, Kansas

For Jan Lyons, the encouragement to believe in herself has been a driving force in her life.

It has driven the Columbiana County native, despite agriculture’s male-dominated leadership, to positions of great influence, including the presidency of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She’s also served as president of the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Angus Association and is past chairman of the Cattleman’s Beef Board.

“The best business advice I ever received was that I could do, or achieve anything if I just really wanted it and truly believed that I could. And since this advice came from my father, Harold Ferguson, the man I most trusted and admired, I truly BELIEVED that I could do anything I set my mind to.”

Lyons said these words have guided how she approaches challenges in the business world of ranching and as she has participated in industry organizations.

“But particularly these words came back to me in the late 1970s as I decided to pursue my goal of building a respected Angus ranch and I began to select foundation cattle and land in Kansas for our ranch.

“The challenges ahead never seemed insurmountable because I believed I just had to find the way to make it happen. And I always believed I could.”

Talk is cheap and results are everything

Dennis C. Wolff, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture

He doesn’t remember who shared the advice, but Denny Wolff, secretary of the Pa. Department of Agriculture, has two favorites tucked in his head: Talk is cheap and results are everything.; and To be successful in life, it takes hard work and some good luck; however, the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Remember you are a child of God, no more, no less

Bernie Heisner, General Manager, COBA/Select Sires

In 1965, Bernie Heisner was a high school senior attending the National 4-H Dairy Conference. One of the speakers was W.D. “Bill” Knox, then editor of Hoard’s Dairyman. In a small 4-H notebook he saved from 1965, Heisner wrote down these comments from Knox’s speech:

“Remember you are a child of God, no more, no less. All the gold cups, trophies or important titles add nothing to the eternal record. You can best express your love of God by serving His people. If the dairy industry interests you, it can provide many opportunities to provide useful service to your fellow man.”

Incidentally, not quite 10 years later, Heisner had the opportunity to work with Knox as an associate editor at the magazine (1973-76).

And Heisner carries that inspiration with him today, for above the doorway to his COBA/Select Sires office, he has a sign that reads, “Faith, Family, Friends.”

“It serves to remind me of the most important priorities for me and other employees at COBA and to respect such priorities should come first.”

But Heisner also benefited by working for Dick Chichester at Select Sires, gleaning more words of wisdom, including this:

“If given the choice between having the best people, or the best bulls, I will choose the best people every time. Having the best bulls can be a short-term proposition, but having the best people will help Select Sires have the top bulls over the long term.”

At Select Sires’ helm himself, Heisner took those words to heart. “I have always attempted to hire the very best I could afford and be fair with current employees. … Surrounding myself with such intelligence and enthusiasm has helped move organizations forward at unprecedented rates [and made me look smart].”

People working together can accomplish more than one on his own

James Patterson, Patterson Fruit Farm, Chesterland, Ohio

When Jim Patterson looks back at a life of contributions and opportunities for his leadership, he sees instead the people who made those opportunities possible.

Growing up and as a young man, he watched his parents, Sam and Iona Patterson lead very active lives in the community and with organizations. “Their model was one that had great influence on my becoming involved in various interests. Both of them offered encouragement and always had interest and wanted to know what I was doing.”

And later, during the many times when he was gone from the fruit farm because of outside obligations, “they understood and covered for me.”

Patterson also points to Darwin Bryan, who was director of youth activities for the Ohio Farm Bureau, during Patterson’s high school years. “He taught me the importance of being involved and carrying through on what you start.”

Bill Swank, then executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, influenced Patterson to take that involvement to the next step.

“Bill helped me when I went on the board of trustees of OFBF; when I was president, encouraged me to run for the board of the Louisville Farm Credit Bank; and was a major force in trying to get a representative from agriculture on The Ohio State University board of trustees.”

But no one can be involved without great family support, Patterson adds. “My wife Nancy has been not only my wife, but a partner in many of our life’s endeavors. Her support has been critical to taking on responsibilities that commit to time and effort.

“We truly believe in one’s obligation to give back to your community and to the groups that you believe in. We do believe that people working together can accomplish more than one on their own.”

When you see apples at the top of the barrel …

William Phillips, Mahoning County Extension Ag Agent, Emeritus

In his lifetime as an Ohio State University Extension educator, Bill Phillips drew upon the advice of many, including Edna Luli Thomas, a secretary in the Portage County extension office, who told the brand new 4-H agent in 1948: “Why don’t you just go out and visit some of the 4-H advisers and see what they have in mind.”

It was good advice, and Phillips spent his career listening first, then speaking.

And early in his career, around 1952, he heard this from A.B. Graham, the Father of 4-H himself: When you see apples at the top of the barrel, always remember that they are held on top by all those apples you do not see.

Of course, it’s beneficial when someone else challenges you to dig deeper, to look at things differently, because they think you can do bigger and better things, which is what Phillips took home from a Canfield Fair board meeting in the 1970s.

At the time, Phillips was working with a committee on an addition to a 4-H building at the fairgrounds and had just presented a report to the board. Elden Groves, board president, listened, then issued this challenge: “It seems to me, there just might be some better ideas out there. Why don’t you give it another try with the emphasis on innovativeness.”

Stay close to the people

Don Myers, Ohio State University state specialist, emeritus

Don Myers is so respected for his knowledge of forages and agronomy that he’s earned the nickname, “Mr. Alfalfa.” But the retired state extension specialist started first at the county level and counts this advice from the late Floyd Lower as the words that most guided his career: Stay close to the people.

And so he did, even when it wasn’t popular on the tenure track. But Myers said extension programming (and business success) is about listening to people. “You ask them what their problems are and you address it,” he explains. “You can’t get a sense of their problems and what’s going on out in the field, if you’re not out there.”

Just living and paying taxes is not enough

Charles E. Call, retired Summit County farmer and Former chief, ODNR Division of Reclamation, 1976-1983

He’s proud to call himself “just a farmer,” but Charles Call also spent a lifetime in community and state activities, as well as public service.

“I was fortunate to have a father who was a community builder and who advised me that just living and paying taxes was not enough. You should also commit yourself to the causes that you believe in.”

And Call’s uncle, a successful college professor, admonished his nephew that “the more you give, the more you get.”

Call, who will turn 85 in July, listened to both men and spent his lifetime working with and serving others.

Along his path, he traveled with people in academia and agribusiness, as well as the political heavyweights and corporate executives. “I was always challenged to try harder,” Call concedes.

But to make the contributions he has, Call counts the “fiercely loyal, unwavering support and assistance” of his wife, Jean, as his best inspiration. “In the difficult economic times after WWII and Korea, she never faltered in her steadfast belief that we had made the right decision to stay in agriculture.”

“Without her urging, I would not have been able to accept Dr. [Bob] Teater’s invitation to join his staff as Chief of Reclamation, a challenge that gave me more satisfaction than anything I’ve ever attempted.”


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