11.3.2016 | printed in the Summer 2016 issue of VITAL magazine
The phrase “family farm” feels redundant. There is no farm without the family. They work together, play together, eat, rest and pray together. It’s not a business; it’s a way of life.
Growing up on a farm near Wanamingo, Minn., I worked sideby-side with my father, Lowell Broin. He was my first role model, and his lessons shaped my life personally and professionally. What I’ve gained, I hope to pass on to others as well – as a father to my own children and as the owner of a business to everyone I work with. Lessons from the farm hold true in every aspect of life.
In light of celebrating Father’s Day in June, I’d like to share some of those lessons with you, as they are the very spirit of this more than 1,900 team memberstrong company.
YOU HAVE TO INVEST MONEY TO MAKE MONEY
When I was 15, I showed purebred Yorkshires at the Minnesota State Fair in both the FFA and open class divisions. After placing near the bottom one year, Dad could tell I was upset. He gave me some advice.
“If you want to place near the top, you need to buy the Grand Champion boar and breed for next year’s winners.”
So that’s exactly what we did. Dad loaned me $1,000, and the next year I placed in the top five with all of my entries. I paid my father back and paid for half of my college education with the money I made from that investment.
That lesson has also guided my professional life. When POET was in its infancy, with just a couple dozen team members, I had the opportunity to hire an amazing scientist, Steve Lewis, to help take our company to the next level.
I knew we could barely afford to do it. But I also knew we couldn’t afford to not do it. We hired Steve, and thanks to him POET has pioneered dozens of process improvements and step changes in technology including our high gravity fermentation and our patented BPX raw starch hydrolysis process. Just like that investment at the Minnesota State Fair, investing in Steve has paid dividends for this company many times over.
FOCUS ON HIGH QUALITY / LOW COST
I think Dad was addicted to auctions. He would go to every auction he could find, in sunshine, rain or snow.
But he rarely purchased anything. He was adamant that through patience and tenacity, the right deal would come along at the right time. And it always did.
I remember him coming home with a slightly used combine he had bought for less than half the price of a new combine. It had been a bitterly cold day and a sparsely attended auction, and he’d gotten one heck of a deal by simply making sure he was in the right place at the right time.
In the same way, POET’s first ethanol plants were built from high-quality used parts. We travelled to auctions at ethanol plants and creameries. We’d get a distillation system from New Orleans, tanks and pipes from a bankrupt plant in Wisconsin and stainless steel items from shutdown creameries, all at a fraction of the price.
A building I rented on Main Street in Scotland, SD used to be filled with used parts we’d bought from all over the country. We weren’t always sure if or when we’d need a piece of equipment, but if we saw a good deal, we took it. In the long run, it saved us a significant amount of money. Without those low equipment costs, POET would not have survived the early years and would never have become the company it is today.
GOOD LAND SHOULD BE PUT TO GOOD USE
My family got into the ethanol business based on the idea that we need value-added agriculture. My father saw our great Minnesota cropland laying idle, and the government was paying him to leave it that way. In addition there were deficiency payments and storage payments with no end to oversupply in sight.
That really stuck in his craw, so he got to work figuring out a way to put his crops to good use. And so our small farm-scale ethanol plant was born.
He never imagined that his effort would impact agriculture at the scale POET does today. We purchase 600 million bushels of corn each year and turn it into ethanol, high-protein animal feed and other valuable products.
Our roots in agriculture are a guiding force for POET. The spirit of the family farm is at the core of what we do here. We strive to be highly ethical and moral, to do the right thing in every situation. We treat others with respect and dignity even if they don’t always do the same in return. Most importantly we strive every day to leave the world a better place than we found it. All of these things that have made POET successful I learned on that farm in southeast Minnesota.
I’m proud to carry my father’s lessons with me throughout my life. To him and to every other father out there doing the same, be proud that you have taught your children many lessons they put into practice every day.
A Father's Impact