The Swisher file Featured

11:35am EDT August 30, 2005
Education: Bachelor of science degree in agriculture, University of Illinois; honorary Ph.D., Purdue

First job: First job out of college, I went back to a family business, I was third generation.

What has been your greatest challenge in business?

I think one of the things, when we started, was that I ran from failure. I sort of got into business and realized how much I didn’t know and how little money I had, and I really did run from failure.

And that is a challenge — it’s not a good strategic plan. But now I run to success, and that is a far more exciting thing. It’s a more positive thing to do.

What has been your greatest business lesson?

I worked for a family business, and you sort of grow up in a family business and you don’t know anything different. And you learn very quickly that you treated everyone in that company with respect.

There wasn’t a question — that’s what you did. I didn’t realize that that was a philosophy. So I guess it was how my father treated people — I believe you need to treat everyone with respect.

Who was your mentor?

My cousin. He was eight years my senior. When I went back to the family business, he was there, and he really told me what was important and taught me, basically, how I could be significant. And worthwhile — maybe that’s a better thing, how I could be worthwhile.

I always thought about agriculture, initially because it was such a humane thing to do. To be able to produce food — that was impressive to me. You’re taught all kinds of things [in college], like what does Vitamin E do, and you have tables telling you how much you need in any specific diet and all these kind of things, but I didn’t know how really to apply that and get it out on that farm. And that is what he taught me.

And really taught me that a small company could compete against giants. And that was a change in my way of thinking.