Rod Pierson, Director of Plant Operations for POET, believes in constant improvements—on the job, in his personal life and throughout his community.
As a young child in South Dakota, Rod Pierson never doubted that he wanted to be an engineer when he grew up. “I chose my degree based on my older brothers,” all of whom studied engineering in college, Pierson says.
Whether he chose engineering or it chose him, he soon went on to obtain an agricultural engineering degree at South Dakota State University. And today, as Director of Plant Operations at POET’s Sioux Falls, S.D., headquarters, Pierson has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues while helping advance and improve the operations of POET plants.
After college, Pierson joined the South Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT) as a Design Engineer. After three years at the DOT, he moved on to electronics manufacturer Toshiba in Mitchell, S.D., as a Process Engineering Manager. Eight years later, in 1997, he took the position of General Manager at the POET production facility in Scotland, S.D., now POET Research Center.
What ultimately led Pierson to POET was an interest in getting back to his roots. “I was looking [to transition] into a smaller industry,” he recalls. Because he grew up on a farm, POET spoke to both his history with agriculture and his professional and academic experience.
In his current position, Pierson oversees operations of POET’s plants and coordinates plant activities with those of the rest of the company. Pierson’s days are a mix of managing plant improvement projects and studying data to identify opportunities for advancement. Pierson does all of this while following a simple creed: “Anything in life can always be improved, and that’s what I strive for,” he says. He’s living out this mission statement as he works to improve himself by finishing up an MBA degree through the University of South Dakota.
One of Pierson’s first achievements when he joined POET was implementation of a data-collection system, says John Finck, who worked with Pierson as a Plant Manager at POET and now works in Scotland as a Plant Manager for POET Research. “When Rod came to Scotland, he brought with him this inquisitive appetite for knowledge about our process,” Finck says. “He used the data to drive the company forward. He taught me that data collected and interpreted correctly would be the answer to many process issues. I heard him comment more than once that a previous colleague of his would tell him, ‘Data will set you free.’”
As Pierson established himself at POET and moved up the ranks, he impressed Operations Engineering Manager James Schwarz with his professionalism. In his current position, Schwarz says, Pierson “gets a chance to use his talents to help us out.” What stands out most to Schwarz is Pierson’s intelligence. “His ability to see something, to visualize it as if he’s standing in front of it, is fantastic,” he says.
But Pierson isn’t just a valuable player within the walls of POET. His colleagues are quick to mention he is an esteemed community member, as well. “Rod is very involved in the community he lives in, and he puts a lot of time and effort into improving the lives of those around him,” POET President and CEO Jeff Broin says.
The most visible of Pierson’s community activities is his weekend work as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT). When Pierson talks about this role, he downplays the significance of his volunteer hours. “When I was originally working in Scotland [in 1999] … they didn’t have enough EMTs to support the ambulances,” he remembers. While others may have read about the problem in the local paper and then moved on to the next issue of the day, Pierson took action by pursuing EMT training. He’s still an active volunteer, taking calls on weekends. When he’s not doing that, he can be found acting as President of his local chapter of fraternal organization the Optimist Club, coaching softball, working with the local Junior Achievement group and taking part in his children’s athletic endeavors.
Pierson is, simultaneously, a systematic thinker, a disciplined worker, an admired leader among co-workers and a respected community member. “[Pierson is] a very giving, generous person,” Broin says. “He’s a quick learner who is highly motivated and very methodical in his approach to processing problems. He’s a fantastic problem-solver.”
That momentous decision Pierson made decades ago as a youngster seems to have been a better choice than anyone could have imagined.