Jeff Cecil: Marketing Leader Motivated by Meeting Growers’ Needs

This farm boy at heart has a passion for helping customers succeed.
Jeff Cecil has a passion for helping customers succeed.
Jeff Cecil learned to feel satisfaction from a good day’s work as a boy, helping bring in the harvest on his family’s western Kentucky farm. In addition to corn, soybeans and wheat, the farm had a large allotment of air-cured tobacco, which was harvested by hand. It was hard, physical work.

“You’re out there in the field with your father, grandfather and older brother. You see how hard they’re working, and you want to be like them—you want to impress them,” he says. “So you push yourself. And at the end of the day you can look back, see everything you got done. It is a good feeling and gives you a sense of accomplishment.”

In his current position as head of crop protection marketing for Syngenta in North America, his memories of growing up on the family farm are never far from his thoughts. Cecil and his team are responsible for marketing the Syngenta crop protection product line, including the introduction of all of the new technologies that Syngenta is bringing to customers.

Seeing the Results

“The memories from my own farming experiences relate well to what I hear and see from the challenges that our customers face. It’s really gratifying when I see that we’re helping growers solve problems and succeed,” he says. “I see what our technologies can mean to their bottom line—like a grower who used Trivapro® fungicide last season and got more than a 20-bushel yield benefit. That directly translates into more dollars in the grower’s pocket at a time when the farm economy is tough. That gets me excited and keeps me passionate about my job.”

“In agriculture, one size does not fit all. There’s a reason we see different colored tractors out there.”

Jeff Cecil
In one of his previous positions, Cecil had global responsibility for Syngenta Seedcare insecticides. He travelled to Vietnam after Cruiser® seed treatment insecticide received registration for rice in the country.

“These very small-scale growers would come to see me just to say thank you to Syngenta for helping them feed their families,” he recalls. “Our products really made a difference to them. With our help, these growers could be more productive, increase incomes and know there would be enough to eat. It really made an impression on me.”

“Learn the Business”

As he was growing up, Cecil expected to go back to the family farm after college. But when he enrolled at Murray State University, about a two-hour drive from home, his grandfather encouraged him to major in business, not agriculture.

“He told me, ‘You’ve learned a lot about agriculture on the farm. Now learn to run it as a business,’” Cecil says. “It was some of the best advice I ever took.”

Meanwhile, Cecil’s father took on more responsibility for managing the small ag retail location that he owned. So Cecil and his brother worked to take on much of the farm work while still in college getting their degrees. He scheduled his classes Tuesdays through Thursdays when possible and drove home to work the other four days of the week. In the off-season, he worked at a local ag retailer. Those experiences, plus his work at a tobacco warehouse, helped to shape his appreciation for the industry and the challenges farmers face.

“Which tobacco warehouse they chose was a big deal,” he explains. “You’d go with the one you thought could get you top dollar through the auction. Results are vital, but respect and trust are really important, too. You have to treat people the right way.”

He also learned that each farmer, each operation, is different. “In agriculture, one size does not fit all,” Cecil says. “There’s a reason we see different colored tractors out there.”

After finally deciding to leave the farm, he put that knowledge and his love of agriculture to work as a sales rep for Ciba-Geigy (a legacy company of Syngenta) and rose through the ranks over the years. Now, when he and his team are building five-year plans for bringing new chemistries and products to market, it’s critical to understand and anticipate growers’ needs—like the need for giant ragweed control back on the family farm in the 1980s. Acuron® corn herbicide, introduced by Syngenta in 2015, would have come in really handy.

“In the river bottoms, the giant ragweeds would get as big as trees,” Cecil says. “Now, for the first time, we can control tough weeds like that all season with a pre-emergence treatment. I spent many days pulling ragweeds out of our fields or unplugging combines in the fall. That assures me of how valuable the right technology can be to our customers.”