Lori Thomas: Seasoned Sales Professional With a Passion for People
“I have found my commercial sales experience to be the most valuable,” she says. “It provided an intimacy with the industry and allowed me to better understand my customers’ businesses and experiences. That has opened many doors for me in my career.”
Growing and Flourishing
Thomas grew up on her family's farm in central Iowa. She was always interested in business and had an affinity for agriculture due to her upbringing. She always planned to stick to her roots.
“I was raised on a farm from the very beginning, so I never considered working in another industry,” she says. “I was comfortable and familiar with rural Iowa and agriculture, so that’s where I pursued my education.”
Armed with a degree in agricultural business from Iowa State University, Thomas began her career at a seed research facility. Although she had hoped to pursue a career in ag finance, it was the mid-80s, and the farm crisis was at its peak. She opted to go back to school to earn her MBA to open more doors. She quickly got her foot in at a Syngenta legacy company.
“Once I had that additional degree and training, it really provided a lot of opportunities for me,” Thomas says. “I moved from the research department to managing the customer service team and then onto a number of roles in marketing. I wanted to expand my background to include more crop protection and seed treatments, so I came back to the commercial side. Having a number of experiences in the commercial and marketing side of the business has been great for my career.”
“Every professional career has some components of sales: You’re trying to influence others to see your position, so strong communication skills are imperative.”
Thomas is currently a district manager for Syngenta in western Iowa. She leads a team of eight sales reps and manages a sales portfolio for the Syngenta Crop Protection and Seedcare™ businesses. She now works just a few miles from where she grew up and where her brother still maintains the family farm.
A main component of Thomas’ role is interacting with her customers to understand their challenges and find ways to meet their needs. It remains one of her favorite aspects of the job, as it allows her team and her customers to be collectively successful. Helping others be successful is a key priority for Thomas. She does not underestimate the importance of a mentor and knows that collaborative growth is imperative in the industry. She credits several mentors with providing invaluable feedback and advice, which taught her how to think differently. She strives to provide the same positive
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“Agriculture is a great industry to work in with tons of opportunities to build a strong career,” she says. “One thing I encourage young people to do is to not only build their technical capabilities and understanding of agronomy, but to focus heavily on strong communication skills and explore and train on sales discipline. Every professional career has some components of sales: You’re trying to influence others to see your position, so strong communication skills are imperative.”
Looking back at her long, successful career in ag, there is one piece of advice Thomas knows is most important for any young person starting a career. “Be active, not passive, and proactively manage your career,” she says. “We need to drive our careers and our career aspirations. Find mentors, shadow different roles, and visit leaders within your organization to see their career paths and trajectories. Because of this, I’ve had tremendous opportunities and have had no roadblocks to upward mobility within this industry.”
Pamela Cole Smith: Dedicated Chronicler of Agriculture and Farm Life
As an agricultural journalist, Smith is dedicated to helping growers solve problems.