Guest Columns

Industry Issues

The importance of industry relationships

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

Having worked with the dairy foods industry for more than 30 years, I’ve been fortunate to know and work with an intriguing and interesting array of leaders from companies across North America and ally with people in organizations around the world. Through the years, several of my friends in Washington, D.C., have grown into leaders in other associations, in Congress and in government agencies. It’s not something I think about very often; in fact, I pretty much take these relationships for granted. But at our recent board meetings, I was reminded of just how important these relationships and friendships are and how they have become an integral part of my life.

When Dave Fuhrmann, CEO of Foremost Farms, announced that the October board meeting would be his last because he’s beginning a well-earned retirement, we all reflected on the happy, sad, difficult and triumphant times we had shared together through industry challenges and through our encounters at industry meetings. Almost immediately it became obvious to all of us that Dave would no longer be at industry meetings, nor would his fun wife, Sandy, be there for the receptions, dinners and occasional Green Bay Packers games in the hotel sports bars. So much is tied to our work relationships that it goes unnoticed until we realize these relationships can end abruptly as people move on to other endeavors.

This isn’t a maudlin reflection on what is past, but rather a valuable lesson for those who are in the process of building careers as well as ending them. It’s not just about your endeavors and achievements; it’s about the people, friendships and relationships that you form and that form you over time. You never know how those relationships might change your life or have an impact on your pursuits, but surely many of them will make a difference or a lasting impression.

An important example from my career in Washington, D.C., which has involved quite a bit of dabbling in politics, is my relationship with a current Congressman from my home state of Ohio who was first elected in 1990: John Boehner. When Congressman Boehner joined the House Agriculture Committee, I went to introduce myself and explained our members’ interests in getting the federal government to adopt a more market-oriented dairy policy. He took an interest in our efforts, understood our goals and got involved.

Over the years, John Boehner rose through many leadership positions in the House, including chairman of the House Republican Conference in 1995, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Workforce in 2001, House Majority Leader for a year in 2006 and House Minority Leader beginning in 2007. Then on January 5, 2011, my friend, John Boehner, swore in the 112th Congress as the 53rd Speaker of the House and was re-elected for a second term as Speaker in January 2013.

While the Speaker leads the actions of the House, he also is just behind the Vice President of the United States in succession to the presidency. That means he’s a pretty big deal with a lot on his plate. But, fortunately for the dairy industry, he wasn’t too busy to remember our issues when the farm bill came up for votes in the House. He got involved and helped us win a floor amendment in the House of Representatives during the 113th Congress. Thanks, Mr. Speaker.

Not all relationships can yield that kind of result, but it’s a valuable lesson to remember, so you’ll be sure to nurture each and every relationship. They are all important, and you never know where you and your friends may end up.

In today’s era of social media, I certainly value my Facebook friends and LinkedIn relationships, but I didn’t find them online. On any given day, I may have breakfast with association CEOs and corporate executives, a meeting on Capitol Hill, a trip to visit members and a lunch or dinner to celebrate the achievements of others in my community. It takes time — face time — to develop these relationships, which have provided such rich opportunities for my personal and professional growth.

The dairy industry has many extraordinary people who give of themselves every day to make their organizations, the people who work with them, and their products and services better than ever before. Working together, we can do awesome things to encourage innovation and growth for the U.S. dairy industry, but equally important are the contributions we make to each other through our relationships. There aren’t many things in life more important than that.


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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