Shawn Potter: A Passion to Empower Others

Early experiences on the farm drive his desire to help growers succeed.
Shawn Potter
Shawn Potter knows small-town life. For the current head of marketing services at Syngenta Crop Protection, growing up on a small family farm in southern Saskatchewan instilled a certain sense of community and appreciation for hard work. His family grew grain and raised cattle. But in his early years, Potter had plans that would take him away from this rural way of life.

“When I was on the farm, I took a lot of things for granted,” he says. “That was just my parent’s lifestyle—how they worked and what they did. When I got done with high school, I decided that I really didn’t want to be involved in agriculture anymore.”

In Saskatchewan, the most logical alternative was to work in oil. But it didn’t take long for Potter to start missing the people and industry he had known his whole life.

“I started to realize that my agricultural roots were much deeper than I realized,” he says.

After his stint in the oil industry, Potter headed off to the University of Saskatchewan for a degree in agriculture economics. He already knew agronomics, but wanted to understand the principles behind sales and marketing. Just before graduation, a close friend asked him what he would do after college. When he gave a generic answer, she challenged him.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you want to make an impact? What do you really want to do?’ and I just kind of stopped and paused for a second because it wasn’t just, ‘I want to do something,’ but, ‘What impact do I want to make when I get done?’” Potter says. “That was actually the moment when I really started thinking about what ag actually does to contribute to society and the impact it makes in people’s lives.”

Making His Own Impact

After college, Potter went to work for Novartis, a Syngenta legacy company, as a sales representative. To Potter, sales was enjoyable, but he preferred focusing on how to help growers make the best decisions to increase their farms’ profitability—a goal that lined up with both economics and marketing.

“What I really liked to do was figure out how to position the products in the best interest of farmers, so they could use the tools and technology to maximize their return,” Potter says.

Over his 22-year career at Syngenta, Potter has transitioned between sales and marketing roles several times. He’s found common ground between the two disciplines and credits a lot of his success to skills he learned while watching his mother back home on the farm.

“Sometimes things get thrown your way, and you just have to roll with the punches and do what needs to be done. That outlook on life stems from a farm background and gives you the ability to deal with adversity.”

Shawn Potter
“When I look back at the family farm, she became that silent leader, who would do anything that needed to be done,” Potter says. “When everything was chaos during the busy times, she was the glue that held things together. She never complained. She just kind of accepted that role within the family and kept things going smoothly on the farm.”

Potter has taken a lot of those lessons to heart and applies them to his current role at Syngenta. However, he says that “roll up-your-sleeves” work ethic isn’t unique to his mother or him in the agricultural community.

“Sometimes things get thrown your way, and you just have to roll with the punches and do what needs to be done,” Potter says. “That outlook on life stems from a farm background and gives you the ability to deal with adversity.”

Passion for the Future

Potter has a son and daughter and offers them the same advice he gives to other young people he meets at FFA gatherings, during trade shows or on farms across the country: Find your passion.

“Find something that you love to do—something that will help you make a difference in other people’s lives—and you’ll excel,” Potter says.

He believes the diversity of jobs in agriculture is the reason why the industry continues to attract young leaders, including an increasing number of women. “Whether you want to be an entrepreneur or have a passion for marketing or science, agriculture has something for you,” Potter says. “You don’t have to be a farmer to find the right fit. You can come into agriculture from any discipline. That’s why the industry appeals to so many people.”