During a time when our schedules are busier than ever, we sometimes wonder if we can achieve success while also finding balance between our personal life and career aspirations. Today’s guest reminds us that life is about making choices intentionally and then leaning into them. Life is a juggling act. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices and “there are seasons for everything.”
Today’s Trailblazer attended Colorado State University (CSU) before becoming Certified Angus Beef’s (CAB) 11th employee. Tracey Erickson has been part of CAB for 29 years. She started as director of international business and has held various positions with the Wooster, Ohio-based organization, including her current role as senior executive vice president of marketing. In today’s episode, Tracey discusses her career at Certified Angus Beef, talks about how the brand has evolved over the last three decades, offers advice to those getting their start in the agriculture industry and much more.
Episode 9 Transcript
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Jessie Topp-Becker: Hey, Trailblazers. It’s Jessie. Welcome to another episode of Trailblazing in Agriculture, a podcast for anyone interested in hearing the stories of the agriculture industry’s pioneers and innovators. Today’s Trailblazer is a New York native who attended Colorado State University (CSU) before becoming Certified Angus Beef’s (CAB) 11th employee. Tracey Erickson has been part of CAB for 29 years. She started as director of international business and has held various positions with the Wooster, Ohio-based organization, including her current role as senior executive vice president of marketing. In today’s episode, Tracey discusses her career at Certified Angus Beef, talks about how the brand has evolved over the last three decades, offers advice to those getting their start in the agriculture industry and much more. Welcome to the podcast, Tracey. Thanks so much for taking time to visit with me today.
Tracey Erickson: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be a part of it.
Jessie: As we kick off the episode, Tracey, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Tracey: I would love to. I’ll start with today and then maybe work in reverse just a bit. Today I have the really wonderful privilege of working with the Certified Angus Beef brand, and I’ll be coming up on 29 years. I have oversight for our combined marketing efforts and very talented and creative marketing team. When I started with Certified Angus Beef, boy, I wasn’t sure that I would have seen the direction that I would get to grow personally, and then certainly the brand as well.
A little bit about my background. I actually grew up in New York, I was not involved in agriculture. Growing up, I did have horses and absolutely loved the outside and just loved riding and that whole part of life and animals in general. I was one of those kids who brought home every animal they could find. I remember finding a dog on the train tracks one day and convincing my parents we needed just one more. I thought that love of animals would lead me to being a veterinarian, and I did go out to Colorado State University. I had a friend who was attending CSU and convinced me that would be a great place to dive in and work on my pre-vet program requirements. And that was kind of a dream. So I sold my horses, paid my way to get literally out West from the East Coast and started in the program there on the CSU campus and absolutely fell in love with Colorado and the community that I was introduced to. All of my roommates had grown up on ranches, and it was a lifestyle that I really hadn’t been familiar with prior to taking that journey. In short order, I realized that the good Lord did not make my brain to get through organic chemistry. Although I do have to say all three of my initial college roommates all became veterinarian, so I was the one who did not, but other doors opened and I truly got engaged in the industry from a production standpoint. I think, because I was new to the industry, it was fascinating, and I loved it. I absolutely loved going home with my friends and helping them at their places, helping them work cattle, just whatever I could do to get involved.
That led to leadership opportunities within the Department of Animal Sciences and the ag college. I actually became president of our livestock club, was on ag senate council and was an ag ambassador. I just immersed myself in everything that I could. I wouldn’t say it was to compensate for my lack of industry background, it was just because I loved it. I felt very welcome; I felt at home. I was always learning. I wasn’t afraid to ask the silly questions. That kind of brought me to a place I think I’ve just been able to grow on a regular basis and to internship opportunities. When I was in college, I interned with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as well as the Colorado Beef Council. Those kind of set me, I’d say, in that agribusiness direction – both wonderful opportunities. Right as I was about to finish my undergraduate, which is in animal science, Colorado State was starting a program called meat industry leadership. It was a master’s in ag program. Dr. Gary Smith and Dr. Tom Field were kind of the originators and the advisors for that program. I was fortunate to be one of the first of what we called guinea pigs to go through that and it was a wonderful experience. They did continue that program for a number of years after that. I wasn’t done with my thesis defense yet, but that led me to an opportunity with Certified Angus Beef, starting in global marketing. Fast forward, that was 29 years ago, and it’s been a great ride since then. That’s the quick version, and I’m happy to dive into any piece of that that you’d like to.
Jessie: That’s great. Thank you so much for that overview. It’s fun to hear you talk about how you were planning to be a veterinarian and how life took those different twists and turns and how you really immersed yourself in the beef industry. You joined CAB after you graduated, so you’ve obviously been there your entire career. Can you talk a little bit about the roles that you’ve had with the company over those years, Tracey?
Tracey: When I started with the brand, I was our first full-time director of what we called “export” at that point. I had the opportunity to travel, literally, around the world, but mostly Asia was the area that we were developing, Southeast Asia, some of the markets there, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean. I did that for about six years, and it truly was a time that was really impactful for me, personally, to grow and realize that, while it’s a big world out there, it’s a small world, and that really personal connections, I’d say, happen everywhere. I treasure that time, from the standpoint of the relationships that I was able to build.
In hindsight, I’m not sure that I could do it today. I say that because I was 23 when I started, I got on a plane, we didn’t have cell phones, I got off the plane and figured out trains and buses, and just made it work. And that was really exciting to me. Today, as a parent of five children, that is kind of interesting, but I never thought twice about it. And certainly the ability to represent our product and bigger picture, to represent CAB in global markets was a really unique opportunity.
We were living in Colorado then and had an opportunity to move to Ohio. My husband grew up on a ranch just east of Denver and the two of us I don’t think ever thought that we’d be headed to Ohio. But life changes, and I would say “never say never” because your priorities change. At that point, it was a priority for me to not travel as much and the opportunity to move to Ohio provided that, as well as being with an organization that I loved. We made the move and truly thought that was probably a five-year plan. That has expanded, obviously, we’re still here, this is home. It’s been a great place to raise a family.
As I transitioned to Ohio, I had the opportunity to take on about half of our divisions at that point – marketing, international, human resources retail (I’m gonna get in trouble for whichever one I’m forgetting). It was a huge learning curve to just dive in and learn all these different areas. I did that for a while and then marketing kept growing. We put into place what we call “the consumer-facing approach and initiative,” so the early years of the brand, it was really a push strategy. Then we transitioned to trying to go directly to the consumer and create more of a pull from a marketing standpoint.
As marketing kept growing, my role started to narrow I would say in terms of the number of areas I was touching, so I really focused on that marketing piece. Then I also had the opportunity as our family was growing to have some flexibility to work part-time for a number of years, I think it was after a third child was born. That was just a whole lot of juggling, so I was able to keep that job and continue to grow with the organization.
We really have grown in marketing. Today, more than half of our staff is on our marketing team. There are multiple disciplines across that spectrum; it would be some of the traditional routes for marketing that you would think of: advertising, promotion, creative. We have an in-house agency that does multimedia production, as well as graphic design. We have a full culinary team that is part of our marketing toolbox as well. We’ve got six full-time chefs at the culinary center. Marketing has really taken on a very broad approach. You know, we had tried to envision where they were going to grow, but I’m not sure that we could have seen all of the different areas that we’ve been able to engage for marketing.
Jessie: I want to back up a little bit. You talked about the first position you had with the company was director of international business and all the traveling that you did. I guess I’m curious, because you talked about how at that time you didn’t have cell phones and things like that. Was it unique to be a woman traveling to those countries at that time?
Tracey: Absolutely. I’ve had dialogue on this over the years. I’m not sure I was fully aware of how unique it was, only because I never felt that being female was an obstacle. Mick Colvin, who was the executive director of Certified Angus Beef for the first 22 years, is the one who hired me. In later years he told me that he had a couple of partners that said, “What are you doing hiring a young lady for that role?” His philosophy always was hire the person, and if you hire the right person, they can grow an expertise if they’re willing to dive in and learn. He said, “She’s excited, she’s passionate, she’s willing to jump in, so I think she’s the right person.” I absolutely appreciate that. Because again, I’m not sure I realized how unique it was.
I started traveling to Japan, in particular, and there’s a lot of pictures that I have from that time period with me and a roomful of 50 gentlemen, so it was pretty unique to have a female in the market. I’d say almost as different as that was my age, right? Because in many cultures, titles are a big deal. Particularly in other markets, you don’t have folks that are that age that are directing an area of responsibility. I would come into some markets early on and I was evaluating distribution companies that we’re going to work with. We were on some of our first trips in some of the markets, not all of them, and literally go in and look at how their company functions, their distribution systems, were they potentially a good partner, and that was a big responsibility for a young person, regardless of gender. Truly, I don’t think it was ever an obstacle; I think it was different.
It was hard for some of my business associates. We were in Korea with the US Meat Export Federation right after the market liberalized, and there was a trading company that I needed to have a meeting with. The gentleman was really put off that he had to visit with me. I didn’t take it personally, because what I realized as I spent time in these markets is that people didn’t work with women in the capacity that I was there to engage with them in. There were women in the workplace, absolutely, but this is almost 30 years ago, now, it was just unique.
When I took that mindset, the challenge I gave myself was to grow relationships and to show that I was capable and competent. Once you did that, the walls really started to come down, and there were many individuals that I built strong relationships with on a personal and professional level. There were just some folks who were a little standoffish at first. I would say by the time I wrapped up my time in that role, we truly were not only friends, but had a great professional relationship.
Jessie: I enjoyed how you talked about proving yourself capable and competent, and the value of relationships and going in there and truly being genuine in those relationships, because like you said, it’s such a culture thing.
Tracey: Absolutely. And I think, too, for the people that I was engaging with, once they knew you were capable and competent, right, then it almost became a unique experience. We would go to restaurants where typically women would maybe open the doors or just things that were culturally relevant in those markets and the hosts that I would be with say “American lady, American lady!” They would try and do things in a different way, so there are some funny moments in all of it. But I think it’s like anything in life – if you just embrace it, you don’t take it personal. I never felt that I was treated poorly or inappropriately or that I wasn’t given the same opportunities. Was it different? Could it have been uncomfortable? Yeah, but it didn’t feel that way. So I feel very fortunate from that standpoint.
Jessie: When you joined Certified Angus Beef, I believe you were employee number 11. I would say that in today’s day and age, it is fairly unique to stay with the same company that you started your career in. What is it that has kept you at Certified Angus Beef for 29 years, Tracey?
Tracey: So many things! There is truly no place I would rather be. This is a unique organization. First off, if I sum it up, it’s people, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Because you look at, first off the ranchers and farmers that we represent as a nonprofit subsidiary of a nonprofit parent – the American Angus Association – we truly have that purpose and that connection to incredible families across the United States. And so that is first and foremost.
And yet if you look at the people that we work with in every segment of the industry, I don’t know another organization that could provide this type of breadth, this type of opportunity to see where a product starts through from a production level, and then ultimately, to sit with chefs and restauranteurs, whether it’s an any state or 50 international destinations. Those people are incredible. I love having the opportunity to make connections between ranching families and end users, and then they realize that they have so much more in common than they have differences. It’s really cool. Being a part of that, I would say is tremendous.
All of that wouldn’t be enough, though, if it wasn’t for the culture of our organization. And truly the culture is absolutely outstanding and that was started by Mick Colvin. I mentioned his philosophy in terms of hiring people who had the right mindset, who were willing to learn. Mick didn’t use the term at the time, but in later years, we really have a built into a servant leadership culture. We had the original author come in and speak to our team about servant leadership and that approach. As I think about it, that’s truly what Mick did. He hired people that he believed in [and] he would stay out of their way. I would say he empowered those team members to just do their best. And truly, that’s a culture that we try and maintain today, even with 150-plus team members. We recognize that we are all here to serve each other. We’re all in leadership positions, whether or not we have the opportunity to directly supervise, and we really try to keep that culture alive. That’s a couple of the things that make this a really unique (of course, I’m a bit biased) place to work. But that would be it, right? It’s what we get to do, it’s the culture that we get to do it in.
And then of course, the product is phenomenal. I have eaten so many amazing meals with Certified Angus Beef over the years and was fortunate to have that, but the product becomes less and less of what it’s all about, truly over time, right? It’s those relationships that allow us to pull the product through. And of course, it has to stand on its own; all of these things wouldn’t continue to work if we didn’t have a truly outstanding product. But that product and sales growth comes with all the other teams.
Jessie: Being with Certified Angus Beef for so many years, what was it or when maybe did it happen, Tracey, that Certified Angus Beef took off? I feel like a lot of people are really familiar with Certified Angus Beef, but what was that tipping point that really catapulted CAB into the public eye and made it so visual and such a predominant brand that we see?
Tracey: That’s a great question. When we talk a lot about our history, we have an immense respect for the early pioneers of this brand. Those who were literally pounding the pavement to get into the first distribution companies, first retailers. By the time I started with the brand, and it was established at the trade level, the big thing that you saw in terms of not only volume growth and product standpoint of personnel growth would have been to the mid-90s, when we licensed what was at that point IBP. So all the major packers had been a part of the brand prior to that, kind of one by one, and then that was the last of the major packers to come on. At that point, we had some pretty aggressive goals in terms of product movement, so that carcass utilization was going to be beneficial and certainly something that makes sense economically for them to continue to produce. I can remember some years of gains and growth in 20-plus percent annually per year on our team.
That was right about the time that we relocated from a family standpoint to Ohio. And it was exciting, it was crazy. We realized we had to shift to more of a consumer marketing mindset. I’d say right in that time period was the difference. And then truly over the years moving forward, we’ve had continual growth. And if we were to look at a chart, we have pretty much consistent growth, aside from that a blip in ’03 and then not as aggressive of a growth curve through the recessionary years. Overall, it’s been a pretty consistent rise and growth in overall popularity.
Jessie: Earlier you talked about the large staff that you have devoted to marketing. Why has that focus on marketing been so important? And what does that kind of look like from a marketing standpoint in your staff that you have at Certified Angus Beef, Tracey?
Tracey: Well, marketing, that is what we do. It really is what this brand is all about. Truly, we are a marketing organization. We own the trademarks, we own some buildings here in Wooster, Ohio, we have a few vehicles, we never own a product. As you look at our whole structure, everything we do leads back to our partners having success. If we have a group here in Wooster, we’re sitting down, we’re engaging with them, we’re trying to get them to understand the value of the brand or maybe increasing their brand offering. It’s all about what we can bring to the table from a marketing standpoint. And so while we have team members that focus more on our sales approach, it’s a bit of a difference from a typical sales organization. They’re not making the sale. They are selling, don’t get me wrong, they’re selling hard. They’re selling ideas, they are selling promotional plans or they’re selling the ad features from the standpoint of working with partners to get them to do more of that and to really increase their offering, to bring in different cuts, to help with ideation. So marketing becomes the language that we’re able to provide that added value.
We want a partner when they work with us to feel like they just increased their team. Everyone and whatever segment they’re in, they’re busy. You see business owners operating a restaurant right now, and besides some staffing shortages and just trying to get back on their feet, and there’s things that we can come alongside those partners and be tremendously helpful with. So marketing is all very comprehensive from our standpoint. What I always tell partners as well is there’s a lot of things we do today, some of them that have grown out of requests from our partners … most of them are grown out of requests. My guess is if you look at our team five years from now, that has evolved. Similarly, because we’ve had requests and just are able to meet those needs of what the industry is asking us for.
Jessie: Similar to how you discussed how Certified Angus Beef has kind of changed over the years since you have been there, marketing and some of the things that you’re able to do in terms of marketing and reaching your target audience has certainly evolved as well. Can you talk a little bit about how your marketing efforts have evolved over the years, Tracey, and maybe some of the unique things that that Certified Angus Beef is doing?
Tracey: I would love to. We are in a position that I’m going to say can be challenging from a budgetary and overall marketing standpoint, but I think it makes us better. Many years of working on this, I certainly look back on how creative we’ve had to become. As you look at putting marketing dollars into an event or resource, whatever it might be, we’re nonprofit, we work on nonprofit dollars, and we are building a global brand. And building, because we are not there yet. We’re still on this journey and we’ll keep investing. And every dollar that we invest has to work harder than that dollar. It has to have a multiplier effect, at least four to five times the dollars that we spend. We try to be seen in the marketplace as a consumer-facing brand and do things that other consumer-facing brands don’t do, because we just have to be able to leverage and to continue to grow the brand from that same point.
What looks different today? I mentioned some of the areas. We didn’t have a culinary team a decade ago. We had the start to it, but today that team is a big part of how we go to market and we support our partners. Of course the whole digital and social landscape. That is an area that we continue to grow and we continue to learn. We have a TikTok channel now! Who would have thought a TikTok channel? There are places that we just continue to invest in and try to grow in.
I would say as we engage with partners from a production standpoint, as well as an overall efficiency of dollar use, at times we may be considered frugal. That is the best compliment that someone can give us. What we’ll say is there’s an event and it would cost X number of dollars. Typically, we’re going to offer a fraction of that, but we’re going to bring expertise, we’re going to bring partnership, we’re going to bring chefs, which bring so much more than the dollars we pay. In many instances, we’re able to be at the table for the amounts that we’re able to spend and have a pretty good presence at the table. So that is definitely something we will continue to do.
I want to take a minute and circle back as we talk about digital and social and how that is different today. We’re at a time that is really interesting, because I feel like those who are engaged in digital and social and, of course, it’s predominantly a younger generation, but not exclusively, right? There’s definitely adaptation amongst all generations. However, I think that whole area of marketing and understanding is growing at an increasing rate. And we still have an audience that is not (I know this is hard for some to believe, particularly some of the folks on my team) that is not on those platforms at all, at all. So we still have to use traditional mediums to reach them.
In our audiences, if you look at the demographic of perhaps a meat buyer, on the retail side, you look at some of our ranching families, right, we have to have one foot firmly planted I would say in each of those areas right now. And so a decade forward does it look cleaner? I don’t know, maybe there’s something new and you still have a generation that today is comfortable with the current social environment that is there. But that definitely is something to think about, because you can do a phenomenal integrated digital campaign, and that’s what some of our partners want us to do, and we have lost a big portion of the audience that never sees that. We’re trying to navigate that and know the right place to put our resources to grow and maximize. Certainly, that’s an ever-changing environment.
Jessie: It’s interesting, like you’re talking about, marketing mediums are so diverse and are constantly changing, especially in the world of digital. But I think that there is still a place for print mediums, and you want to be careful about how you spend those marketing dollars. Like you said, there’s always a budget and we always have to be cognizant of what that budget is. You also have a variety of partners to engage with. How do you go about identifying what that best marketing mix is for each of those partners: consumers, farmers and ranchers, restaurants, etc.? How do you go about that or what does that brainstorming session look like?
Tracey: That’s a great question, Jessie. It really is individualized. Years ago, I had this vision that we could standardize our approach; we can have a template that would work across the board and then you just tweak it a little bit and we would be good to go. I think like many of us, you learn that personalization – individualization – is critical.
We try and have ready resources. We try and create things like seasonal campaigns and initiatives that we can use as a starting point. What we realized is that every customer’s need, every market’s needs, and so we’ve got some plug-and-play assets that if we need something tomorrow, these will work. But our goal is truly to work with our partners, particularly our chain partners or retail, same with some of our restaurant partners, and know what’s going to work in their market, what do they need? And then try and build honestly customized marketing plans. So trying to just be very responsive to make sure that in their market that is what works.
To give you an example. We have a retail partner and we were in a part of the country that we’re able to do some television appearances with our chefs. We were able to do some spot tv buys, perhaps radio. Today, they may have a digital component. That might look really different from a partner on the West Coast that wants strictly a digital buy in and wants us to maximize that. Then we’re doing some traditional outdoor. We just got a proposal come in this week down in the southeast part of the country and we’re going to be doing outdoor: a combination of digital billboards, as well as static billboards. There’s definitely a place for that as well. It is all over the board, and the key being that while it may look like this isn’t as coordinated, it really is because it’s meeting the needs that are very much targeted individually.
Jessie: Maybe diving in a little bit specifically, Tracey, in a day where plant-based burgers are on many menus, and the talk of cell-cultured meat is something that that we hear about, how does Certified Angus Beef try to market the benefits of beef and promote the benefits of it vs. some of those alternatives?
Tracey: Great question, and you’re absolutely right. We hear so much about plant-based protein in the marketplace today. It’s one area that we have tried to be really intentional about providing information, providing good comparisons from a nutritional standpoint. Certified Angus Beef, like all beef, is that nutritional powerhouse. Really just, I would say, staying the course.
What we’ve learned is, if you focus on the value of the product offering that you have and stay positive. I think that is really important. Interestingly, at Certified Angus Beef, we have to be careful not to overreact. I don’t say that because I’m at all minimizing the environment, the concern that maybe some of the misinformation that plant-based protein can bring up. I say that because our audience loves meat and they love Certified Angus Beef.
We had a comparison session with a group of chefs on some of the plant-based products, and the feedback that we got was, “Why? Why did you do that? We’re really not interested in that. We’re interested in Certified Angus Beef. And we’re interested in animal protein.” So it’s been a bit of a learning process.
We want to stay in the conversation, we want to provide factual information, but we want to be careful not to get derailed and spend too much time on that because our audience is beef lovers. And, again, I think that’s just one that definitely will continue to be a resource, but make sure that we stay in the lane and keep driving forward for the brand overall.
Jessie: When you think about the future of Certified Angus Beef, Tracey, what are you most excited about?
Tracey: The future of Certified Angus Beef. I love that question. I’ll take a moment and share that Mick Colvin, the initial executive director of this brand and true visionary for 22 years, I remember one day he was asked that question and asked if he thought the brand would grow to where it is today. He said, “Absolutely.” There was not a bit of hesitation in his voice for that answer, so I will say the same thing. Do I know exactly what it will look like? No. But I do know that it will continue to grow, continue to grow and impact, ultimately, to lead back to the mission, which is to drive demand for registered Angus cattle, to keep farming and ranching families strong and in business. I think the ways that we’ll do that may look different.
As I mentioned earlier, our network, we do have brand champions throughout the world. As I think about what’s most humbling: individuals, people love this brand, they feel a part of something bigger, they feel connected as a family, they take it on as their own. Exactly what we’ll be doing and where we’ll be doing it is hard to say for sure, but I know we’ll be doing more of it. We’ll have more people at the table, we’ll be driving more demand and I think continued growth will come along with all of those lessons.
Jessie: I’m sure that growth or that picture of what that growth could look like is even more exciting for you when you think about. Like you said, you have people who love the brand and you have a team who is passionate about working to promote that brand to your audiences.
Tracey: Yes, they are second to none. I’m a little bit biased, but both the people in the industry that we’re fortunate to engage with and then our team here, we have a really nice mix. We have tenured staff with 20-plus years and then we’ve been fortunate to hire a good number of people in the last few years and some right out of college, certainly a great age range across age demographics. We challenge each other, which is the best place to be in that we’re not all talking from the same perspectives and, certainly, that makes us better.
Jessie: It’s fun when you have those diverse age ranges and experiences, what everyone brings to the table and what you can accomplish when you work together as a team. If you could go back in time, Tracey, and give your younger self one piece of advice, whether it was as a college student or as a new professional, what one piece of advice would you give yourself?
Tracey: That’s a great question. There’s a lot of pieces running through my mind. I think as it relates to career, and I get this question all the time, life balance, work life balance, how do you do it all? I think is maybe to take it a little easier on myself.
I believe as women, regardless of whether it’s when I started or today, there is that fallacy around the thought that you do it all. And you don’t. You do different things at different times, and you make choices. What I encourage my team members is: be happy with the choice you make. Make the choice intentionally, make the choice that works for you and your family, and then lean into it, because otherwise you miss the joy and the moments when you’re there with the family; you miss the joy and the moments when you’re able to do what you can from a career standpoint. Knowing that when we juggle those things, you have to make some sacrifices and there are seasons for everything.
I do think at the point that I am at, it would be to maybe have been not as intense in some of those years early on. And I think that’s human nature, right? When you have initiative and the type of people that we hire here at Certified Angus Beef, certainly we don’t hire folks without initiative, and that’s a wonderful thing, but at times, we can, you know, almost put a little too much pressure on ourselves and think we can do it all at the same time.
Jessie: As a mom with two young boys, I can totally appreciate what you’re saying and relate to that. To see the joy in every moment and to just find that balance. It’s hard, but just to pursue what you want with passion, but to find that balance. And I know personally, it can be a struggle sometimes. But I appreciate that advice.
Tracey: And I think the term balance truly means that sometimes things are going to be out of balance. But as long as you’re always getting back toward center, that’s the important thing.
Jessie: Absolutely! One of the questions I like to ask all of our guests on the podcast is who has a trailblazer been in your life? Or someone who has made an impact? And what has made them a trailblazer for you?
Tracey: That’s a great question. There are a number of people who come to mind. If I had to pick one, it would be Dr. Gary Smith when he was at Colorado State University. Because of the time in my life that he was able to impact me. We worked very closely together through my graduate program, undergrad as well; he was there and he taught some courses.
What I remember specifically about Dr. Smith is challenging us to be our best. He would share personal examples of things that he had done that had such a high level of integrity. What caused him more work and just planting those seeds. For me, I just vividly remember some of those stories. The other thing that was super important as a college student, and I’ve tried to maintain this throughout my career, is the attention he gave to people. He would call us all by name. He would call us by first and last name, he did that to make sure we were awake in class! But more important, when you would go to his office, he’d have all these papers and he knew where everything was in all those piles, of course, but whatever he was doing, he would put it down, he would look up, he would put his hands up, and you had his full and undivided attention, regardless of what topic you were coming to him about.
I think that’s so important, especially today as we get more and more distracted. When we’re talking to people, not only do we care about what they’re saying, but we value their presence and we value being in their presence. I’ll just never forget that. It was so affirming to me to have someone certainly of his caliber and of his intellect and position to invest in me like that. I probably asked him some crazy questions, but whatever it was, he was willing to engage and pour into me at that point. And so I’m very grateful.
Jessie: It’s always good to have people like that in your corner. Is there anything else that you want to talk about or that we haven’t touched on?
Tracey: I think we’ve covered everything that I want to bring to light. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the series. It’s a great series that you’re putting out there and I’m going to listen to the rest of them as well. I listened to a couple, so I’m looking forward to learning more about what some others are doing in their fields in the industry.
I would throw maybe one thing out there and certainly as a young listening audience, take opportunities to be involved. I know it’s hard to add one more thing in, but particularly at a point where you can juggle, just get involved, meet as many people as you can, and keep those connections. It’s easier to stay connected today, but make sure and take some of those in-person opportunities to connect across the industry. Those folks will definitely be people that you rely on for the rest of your career. And then likewise, you can be there for them when they need something or this or that or an opportunity to collaborate.
Jessie: It really is crazy how small that agriculture world is when you take time to get to know those around you. And a lot of times, it’s who you know, not what you know. And in the ag world when it’s so small, that can really come in handy. Well, thank you so much, Tracey. I really appreciate it.
Tracey: Fantastic! Thanks so much for having me. Have a great day.
Jessie: I was so inspired by my conversation with Tracey, and I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did. Thanks again for joining me as we chronicle the stories of trailblazing women in agriculture as part of the Trailblazing in Agriculture podcast.