You’re a rancher and entrepreneur as well as a leader in the education and health sectors. How has braiding these identities together shaped the way you think about systems change?
I can't take credit for braiding them together. Something wonderfully unique about small-town America—especially in the West, where we have huge mountain ranges that we take for granted that keep us geographically isolated—is that we are all braided together. And so it's really a reflection of how rural Oregon is: We all work together, we all take our kids to the same ballet class or tee-ball practice or whatever it might be.
So it's a really natural next step to work really closely together across what would maybe traditionally be more firm boundaries between sectors. Everything goes beyond the boardroom. You don't just know the people you're sitting with across a table. You know their kids and how they did at their last hog show.
This is a big part of how things get done because it's really easy to have conversations with people about what needs to happen. Those conversations might pop up in the grocery store, they might pop up at a gas station, or they might pop up in a scheduled meeting. We build our relationships everywhere from professional settings to Home Depot. Everybody knows everybody's cleaning-out-the-garage outfit around here.
Can you sometimes get more done in an aisle at Home Depot than in a meeting?
Definitely, you can get a lot more done running into somebody off-chance. It also becomes quite a bit harder to balance your time pollution and work-life balance. From a relationship standpoint, you have to take a very respectful approach when you bug somebody in Home Depot. You respect the person in their role and you respect the person in their whole life. But we really can't silo much here and still get anything done. That includes your personal life in a lot of ways.
How has living and working on a multi-generation family farm shaped your outlook on how change gets made?
I consider myself always having one foot in the C-suite and one foot in the dirt. You have to have a lot of respect for both perspectives. Trucking is a good example: There are a lot of logistics behind licensure, fuel, and so on, that maybe somebody in a corporate office would know but not necessarily a truck driver. And yet, there are a lot of logistics to how many right or left turns you make, or how you back into a space, that only the driver is going to know. So both of those perspectives—and understanding the value of the information that both bring to the table—is critical in my mind to making effective decisions. Decisions that actually create change and do more good than harm.
When you come from any type of multigenerational business, you also have a long-term lens on everything. Your hope is long-term—for instance, I'm hoping to be one of the middle generations, not the last. But you don't have to be from a multigenerational farm or ranch to have a purpose or find something that really drives you. Everybody has something long-term they're looking at. Finding that common ground is how we move forward together.
What does finding that common ground look like? There’s probably no easy answer—
I have a really easy answer. You just seize every opportunity to shut up. It’s some of the best advice I've ever gotten. Normally, if you do more listening than talking, you get a lot further.