Entrepreneurial Spirit Serves Global Syngenta Leader Well
Burdett was drawn to agriculture at a young age, though, when he had an opportunity to trade working at a nearby horse farm for riding lessons. Although he started by cleaning out stables, he grew to love working outdoors and being around the farm, which also grew hay and oats for feed. He also loved being around the people. They became his biggest reason for staying in agriculture to this day.
“To me it’s about the people—and the values,” he says. “Ag people have a strong work ethic. Trust and relationships are important in any business, but even more so in agriculture. They’re family people. You can depend on them. I like the collaborative nature of agriculture and the willingness people have to work together.”
Burdett kept working with horses throughout his school years, often traveling to horse shows around the country in the summertime. He majored in agriculture and business administration at The Ohio State University.
After graduation, he interviewed for a couple of positions managing horse stables, but ended up going into a co-op management training program. The co-op placed him, only a few months out of school, as the agronomy manager of a location in western Indiana.
“Trust and relationships are important in any business, but even more so in agriculture. … I like the collaborative nature of agriculture and the willingness people have to work together.”
“Thinking back, it might seem surprising that they would do that,” he says. “And you have to earn the customers’ acceptance in that situation. You have to earn it with honesty and hard work. Do what you say you will do, follow through, get answers for people and help them solve problems. If you’re going to succeed, you have to be a trusted member of the community.”
Defying Doom and Gloom
Just a few years later, Burdett was putting that same approach to work at a full-service ag retail location in Illinois. The business was growing, a couple of big new farms signed on, and he was gearing up for what he was sure would be a really good growing season.
“It was really clicking,” he says. “Then something hit us.”
It was 1983, and the government created the Payment-In-Kind program, which was designed to reduce grain stockpiles by incentivizing farmers to leave fields unplanted for a year. In Burdett’s area, growers set aside one-third of their acres. For an ag retailer, it was a major blow. The company had about 40 outlets, and management brought in all of the managers for a meeting.
“It was all doom and gloom,” Burdett says. “We were going to have to cut back, lay off people, reduce orders, not fill up our bulk tanks, and so on.”
Driving home, though, he got to thinking: All of his competitors were going to do the same thing—cut back. His location’s business was on a roll, so what if he did the opposite? He met with his boss and laid out his plan to continue the growth he’d been seeing.
“I asked him to commit to my store,” Burdett says. “If other locations had equipment they couldn’t use, people they didn’t need, I could use them. I wanted to go for it, and my boss supported me.”
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“It was about building trust, building relationships, being dependable and providing value to our customers,” he says. “To this day, that experience stays with me.”
Value Over and Above
Burdett applied those same fundamentals when he started working for a Syngenta legacy company more than 25 years ago. Today, in his current role at Syngenta, he leads a newly created team that is unlocking the value digital tools and data analytics can bring to customers around the world.
One U.S.-based initiative he’s especially enthusiastic about is AgriEdge Excelsior®, a whole-farm management program for growers. Participating growers get state-of-the-art technology with software that supports management decisions by tracking crop inputs, costs, yields and profits. The program also offers risk-management features and expertise from AgriEdge® specialists and local resellers. The industry-leading Syngenta portfolio in crop protection, seeds and seed treatment also supports the program.
“It’s great when we can offer growers value over and above the products they buy,” he says. “For most of them, the information is the most powerful feature. They can know their costs, know their break-even yields and prices, and be able to make better decisions for their businesses.”
A remarkable 96 percent of AgriEdge Excelsior growers stay with the program each year. True to Burdett’s view of agriculture, AgriEdge Excelsior builds on strong relationships and collaboration to help customers succeed.