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Dairy Facts 2016

NextGEN Symposium ‘One of the Best’ Work Conferences Ever

Oct 15, 2014

By Chelsee Woodey
Director of Legislative Affairs, IDFA

If you looked last week inside the lecture room of Stocking Hall, the newly renovated home of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, you would not be able to tell that the group of people came from the dairy industry. In a partnership between IDFA and Cornell, #NextGENDairy held its first symposium for up-and-coming leaders of the dairy industry. The nearly 50 participants represented a diverse group of people from IDFA member companies.

Each day of the symposium was fully loaded with sessions and activities. The program was well balanced with sessions for professional development, dairy education and leadership building that included a couple of field trips and freshly made ice cream from the Cornell dairy.

The symposium kicked off with a welcome from Dean Kathryn Boor, followed by a Myers-Briggs test. What an eye opener that was.

What's an ENFP?

Guided for three hours by Jim Henion of Cooperative Resources International, we talked about the elements that build our personalities and how our temperaments influence our problem solving. You would not believe how quickly those three hours went by and how much we all learned about not only ourselves but those around us. And, regardless of personality and temperament type, it was made clear that we need every type on our teams to be successful. (If you’re curious, I’m an ENFP [extrovert, intuitive, feeling, perceiving] and a loyal lab.)

Later that afternoon, we took a field trip to a nearby dairy farm where Steve Palladino, the general manager, graciously showed us around the free-stall barns and answered our questions. Animal welfare was a hot topic in that discussion, and it gave Steve an opportunity to tell us how they care for their dairy cows and what plans they have in place to keep them healthy. We also happened to arrive about three weeks after the birth of nearly forty calves. #NextGENDairy #literally.

At dinner that night, the keynote speaker was Kevin Williams, vice president of the supply chain for Muller Quaker Dairy, and he urged us to drive change in our own companies. Kevin gave us a snapshot of how he got to Muller Quaker Dairy and how his drive for change has helped that company grow. He said, “People will choose to follow you. He’s spot on.

Cornell Professors Lead Day Two

Good morning, day two! Let’s talk innovation! We heard from several Cornell professors and dairy experts throughout the morning and early afternoon. Dr. Carmen Moraru, associate professor in the Department of Food Science, discussed how dairy processing is evolving and emerging. Dr. Andy Novakovic, professor of agricultural economics in the Department of Applied Economics and Management, used an interactive tool, called Poll Everywhere, as he gave attendees a thorough history of dairy policy and how dairy programs have shaped its policy.

Kevin Ogorzalek, vice president of sustainability metrics at the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, talked about sustainability and stewardship in the dairy industry. We also heard from Dr. Scott Thomas, 3M’s director of research and development, who offered ways to cultivate and maintain an environment for innovation. It was such a simple but poignant message: “How can I add value and in a unique way?”

Mid-afternoon of day 2, we went on a field trip with half of the group going to the International Food Network, which provides product development services for the food and beverage industries, and the other half to Byrne Dairy’s brand new yogurt plant. What I found fascinating at the yogurt plant was every person’s particular interest. You could easily tell who among us ran plants because they were the ones closest to the windows, asking questions about equipment models and speeds at which they fill. The scientists asked about yogurt cultures. The rest of us? Well, we asked a miscellany of questions from art on their new label to the truck fleet they use.

Back to campus we went. After Wine and Cheese Tasting 101, we sat for dinner and an etiquette class with Barbara Lang, founder of B. Lang Consulting. No, it’s not what you think. We were not expected to read the rules of the etiquette handbook and follow them to a T. Instead, she told us a story about a dinner she attended with the Dalai Lama. A friend of hers at the table accidentally dropped food in her lap. Devastated, she didn’t know what to do. What did the Dalai Lama do? He dropped something in his own lap and evened the playing field. Her point was that dinner etiquette is not about following the book, but rather about making everyone at the table feel comfortable. Great concept! And that was only a quick taste of our two-hour dinner entertainment. Barbara was delightful, witty and charming.

Global Dairy and Personal Branding

Our third and final day at Cornell, we began with a session from Dr. Bob Yonkers, vice president and chief economist for IDFA. For those of us who work down the hall from him, we are graced by his dairy knowledge regularly. But for those who met him for the first time, which was the majority of the attendees, they got a great lesson on today’s global dairy marketplace and how we got there.

The second session of the morning was on personal branding. Don Schindler of Dairy Management Inc. is a hardcore biker who also happens to be a killer communicator. Do you have a LinkedIn account? Do you use Twitter and Facebook? We learned that these are sources that are the #nextGEN. This is the direction our professional world is moving and these are the tools we should all be using.

Branding yourself in a short paragraph or in 140 characters is the new personal commercial of who we are and what we do. Are you the kind of person who writes to-do lists? Do you use post-it notes? Have you ever heard of the app, Evernote? It’s like a post-it note app. And guess what? You can check things off when you have completed it! Amazing.

The symposium closed with a panel of dairy executives who discussed what it means to lead in an ever-changing environment. Larry Webster, CEO of Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc., offered good advice when he said, “You lead people, you manage business. Make sure that the base of your ‘skills’ pyramid is as broad as possible. Because once you move up, that base becomes smaller, and if you want to lead, you want to make sure that you know how to do the jobs of your employees and what it is like to be their shoes.”

Best Conference Ever

As I rode back to the hotel on the bus, I was chatting with a fellow attendee and he asked me, “What exactly does IDFA do?” What a wonderful opportunity for us to share with a new group of employees from our member companies and business partners all of the services we offer at IDFA. I found myself in that situation a lot as we went through each day. We shook hands and introduced ourselves, we talked about our jobs and what we do, we discussed the session we just finished, we asked questions, we ate Cornell’s dairy products, we laughed, we made friends, we networked.

I must admit, this was one of the best work conferences I have ever attended. My fellow attendees agreed and asked if they could come back next year. I came back to IDFA reenergized, chock full of ideas and ready to apply what I just learned over three days at the Ivy League school. I bought myself a Cornell t-shirt, too, just to prove I was there.

For more information about the Symposium or the NextGEN Dairy Network, contact Woodey at

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