My Way of Thinking: The President’s reviewAs America approaches another Presidential election, let’s take a couple steps back from the partisan sniping, unending television ads and biased mainstream media reporting to examine the situation from the perspective of a real world scenario in agriculture. The setting is the boardroom of Liberty Co-op in Iowa, and Barry Soetoro, Liberty’s General Manager has just arrived for his performance review with board president Jim Madison.

Madison: Well Barry, as you know it’s time for your performance review to determine if you’ve accomplished what you promised the board and our farmer-owners when you interviewed for this job back in 2008. Granted, you were facing some tough economic headwinds here at Liberty Co-op caused by previous policy to push banks to make farmland loans to new farmers that really couldn’t afford it, and when those defaults started, the domino effect on the whole state of Iowa was pretty dramatic. But you came in promising so much hope and change that you were selected to lead this Co-op back to prosperity.

So let’s review some of your key objectives and your results:  1) You committed to cut our debt in half by the end of your four year term; 2) You committed to bring us together; the farmer owners, the board and the 50 retail plant managers that make up the operating team.  I believe your exact words when accepting the job were “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal”; 3) You committed to reduce the rising cost of custom application; 4) You committed to a new way of doing business, and that your administration would be the most transparent ever; and finally 5) you committed to closing down our foreign operations.

How do you believe you’ve performed?

Barry: I believe Liberty Co-op and our farmer owners are better off than four years ago. I solved the escalating custom application costs, and everything is scheduled for the foreign shut down. As far as the deficit, it was a much deeper hole than I imagined. And amongst the farmers, I believe a lot of the Iowa State fans/farmers are beginning to see that my U. of Iowa philosophies are sound. All in all, I definitely feel I’ve earned another four years.

Madison: Barry, I don’t see it that way. Let’s start with the debt, which under your watch has skyrocketed from $10.6 million to $16 million. A 51% increase! This also represents 70% of our annual gross revenues.

Barry: Wait a minute…. That’s not my fault.  It’s Dubya’s fault. He left me with a mess.

Madison:  Yes, Dubya made some mistakes, but we hired you to fix it. Not only did you fail to fix it, you made it worse. You failed to lead. You’ve been operating this Co-op without a budget for three years now! And when your operating team failed to produce a budget, you built your own budget. Your investment priorities, your direction, your financial plan.  And your budgets were a joke… you called for an additional $9 million in debt over the next 10 years!  And the board, controlled by your Hawkeyes, voted unanimously to reject both of your budgets. What happened to your pledge to go “line by line” through the budget to eliminate waste and balance the budget?

Regarding reigning in custom application costs – your solution was requiring all pesticide purchases to be custom applied or pay a fee. Some growers don’t want custom application, and they can’t believe this Co-op would mandate this tax to cover the costs for those using custom app. Now with more custom app acres than we can handle, our growers won’t get to keep their favorite operator, plus you didn’t budget to hire more drivers and buy more sprayers. Brilliant.

And this custom app. situation was a perfect example of your disregard for transparency and unwillingness or inability to bring people together. The Cyclone fans had some great ideas, but you rammed your Hawkeye ideology down the throats of our farmers. Your plan has some good elements, but the process, the loss of individual freedom and the ultimate financial cost to Liberty Co-op will be your legacy.

Ultimately, you’ve failed to lead. I’ve never seen our farmers, and this Co-op so divided. You and David Axlegrease have intentionally taken this approach to secure another four years as the GM. You’ve divided this Co-op based on race, gender, financial success, and faith trying to sway Cyclones and independent farmers to vote Hawkeye.

I guess we should have done a better background check. We knew it was a risk hiring a new GM that had never even run a retail location, but we hired you to restore this Co-op believing you would build upon the foundation of Hawkeyes Clinton and JFK. But it’s now clear your foundation lies with Frank Marshall Davis and Saul Alinsky.  

Should Liberty Co-op hire a new General Manager? Or does Barry deserve four more years to make his policies work? Cast your vote and comment.