Duane Hobbs: Finding a Place
“It planted a seed,” Hobbs says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to be in agriculture.”
Since those early days, Hobbs has fashioned himself into an integral part of the ag community. The Syngenta sales rep has spent more than four decades in the industry and has received numerous honors for his work, including the 2017 Syngenta South & East Coast Commercial Unit Leadership Award and the 2016 Pennsylvania Ag Education Society Man of the Year. Additionally, he currently serves as a member of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Agricultural Advisory Board, a post he’s held since 2009.
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“I love agriculture,” he says. “I have a passion for farmers, and I work for the best company in the industry.”
Telling His Story
Long before he was an award-winning salesman, Hobbs was just a high school kid trying to figure out where he belonged in the world of agriculture.
He got involved in the National FFA Organization (FFA) in the hope that practical experience would show him the way forward. As a member of FFA, he attended meetings and raised Chester White hogs. He learned more about what it meant to be a part of the industry.
However, Hobbs didn’t know where he wanted to go with all of this newfound knowledge until he started participating in the organization’s public speaking competitions. His mother, Evalynne, who also served as his co-writer and coach, encouraged him to compete. Over the course of his involvement, he came to understand the immense power of narrative in shaping relationships with agricultural audiences.
“The basis of every public speaking engagement is telling a story, and that was a way for me to find my place in agriculture,” he says.
Hobbs’ work in a nearby country store helped him to sharpen those skills and taught him to apply them in a marketing context. Jack Lewis, the store’s owner, was a mentor to Hobbs. He taught him the strategic, relationship-building value of empathizing with customers.
“He taught me a very important principle that resonated with me,” Hobbs says of Lewis. “He said to me, ‘People are born with characteristics about themselves that they can’t change, and you have to meet them where they are and understand where they’re coming from to be effective in helping them buy what they want and need.’ I guess that kind of hit me pretty hard.”
Hobbs carried the lesson into his career in the agriculture industry. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and turf management from Oklahoma State in 1973, he took a sales position at a U.S. agriculture conglomerate, where he worked for 28 years. There, he gained experience and learned the intricacies of marketing.
During this time, Hobbs set down roots in southeastern Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Renee, raised two sons, Jonathan and Jarred. They embedded themselves in the community—in its schools, stores and sports. Nestled between the region’s rolling hills and winding creeks, they built a life.
In his professional life, however, Hobbs was still on the lookout for a company that fully aligned with his values and allowed him to use his talents as a salesman and marketer to maximum effect. He was searching for an organization that understood its customers and made a healthy, growing crop protection business its priority.
“I’ve discovered that my place in agriculture is helping other people be successful. Success to me isn’t about personal gratification or accomplishments. It’s about seeing others be successful.”
When an opportunity at Syngenta arose in 2001, Hobbs couldn’t say no. He had admired the business from afar and was thrilled to learn he could take a position and stay in the region he had come to know so well.
“I launched into working for the most successful crop protection business I’ve ever worked with in my life,” he says. “And the rest is history.”
The Next Generation
Now, as a Syngenta sales representative, Hobbs serves customers from all walks of life, just as he did in Jack Lewis’ country store decades ago. Often, he says, that role involves helping customers envision what it will look like when they pass their farms down to their children. As someone with deep roots in agriculture, Hobbs understands the significance of that transition.
“The thing that I’ve learned about the next generation is they’re very capable of achieving success,” he says. “They want people to believe in them, and they want to try to do it on their own. The only thing they need is someone to be there if they have a question or something comes up. They thrive on the responsibility.”
Hobbs works every day to give customers the tools to turn that potential success into actual success. In this role, he pays tribute to Lewis, his mother and his father, who each gave him the guidance he needed to find his own version of success.
“I’ve discovered that my place in agriculture is helping other people be successful,” he says. “Success to me isn’t about personal gratification or accomplishments. It’s about seeing others be successful.”
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