Movers & Shakers: Jen Hartmann of John Deere

Imagine crafting a tweet for John Deere. 

Not the hardy blacksmith we credit as an American entrepreneur, but the behemoth equipment company he founded in 1837 that is now worth $110 billion – with a b. Where do you even begin to spell out 280 characters that live up to the hype of one of the most iconic brands, not just in agriculture, but in American business? 

Well, you could ask Jen Hartmann.

The social media maestro herself – more formally known as the Director of Strategic Public Relations and Enterprise Social Media  – could give you some tips. She has been guiding the Deere & Co. public relations ship for over a year. And remember, this wasn’t any ordinary year. 

Magnetic caught Jen for a quick Q&A to talk about Deere, leadership, and her (very busy) life outside of work.

 

Magnetic: John Deere is one of the most recognizable and valuable brands across all industries, not just agriculture. Would you say this is your dream job?

I grew up in a rural community outside of the Quad Cities – the home of Deere World Headquarters, and dreamt of working for Deere for as long as I can remember. When I got my first internship in PR, I set my sights on one day being the head of PR for the company. It wasn’t until I started working here just over 12 years ago that I realized just how iconic the brand really is, how many fervent fans there are, and just how much the brand has meant to generations of customers.

 

John Deere Social Media

You took over your role from a 21-year John Deere communications and PR veteran literally days before the pandemic shut down the country. What was that like?

I’m genuinely not sure there are words to describe what those first several weeks and then months really felt like. It was surreal. We had factories around the world all working to keep the supply chain and production rolling – while executing all the safety protocols we could gather from health officials to ensure the well-being of our employees. We had another factory convene employees to produce face shields for health care workers. And salaried employees outside manufacturing units headed home to navigate full-time remote work and online schooling for their children.

I fielded over 300 media inquiries during those initial first weeks and felt like I never took a breath. Looking back, I’m grateful I had to hit the ground running and quickly build relationships with internal stakeholders, leaders and media outlets. As my former boss quipped, it took him 21 years to get 21 years of experience. It only took me 3 weeks.  

 

John Deere Tweet

When it comes to social media, John Deere can be known to have some witty tweets and unorthodox user-generated content (just go search #JohnDeere on TikTok). How does your team stay creative and keep a 184-year-old brand fresh?

#JohnDeere now has over 3.5 Billion views on TikTok – and we haven’t posted a single TikTok to our brand channel. Our fans, customers and employees keep the brand fresh thanks to all the incredible content they share and the real-time approach we’ve taken to our social media channels. Our brand fans and customers have us covered! 

For that very reason, we’re not as concerned about posting content as we are about building communities on each platform. Engaging in meaningful ways. Sharing in celebratory moments. Connecting with families in real life. And yes, using humor and a bit of snark at times to have fun with our audience on Twitter. The last thing people want from a brand handle is brochure copy. Twitter is about engaging in real time, in real conversations.  

 

Jen Hartmann Family 

A recent tweet of yours noted that you’re celebrating a 10-year anniversary of having a brain tumor removed. How did that change your perspective both personally and professionally?

I spent a lot of time after the surgery considering how to make the most of this incredible gift. First, I started a nonprofit, the Royal Ball Run for Autism, to celebrate incredible individuals like my daughter, Lyric, and to build a support system for local families touched by autism. Next, I decided this new lease on life meant my husband and I should absolutely continue trying to have a baby. I’d suffered several miscarriages by the time I had my surgery and we had all but given up. Proud to say our son Kade turns 8 next month.

 

Jen Hartmann Tweet

 

How would you describe your leadership style and who do you look to for leadership inspiration?

I’m an idea person and tend to follow my gut vs. adopting scholarly guidance or corporate norms. My lack of process, documentation and analysis probably drives a lot of people crazy. And yet, I’m most comfortable identifying problems, inspiring a vision, and letting my team go – in whatever direction or skill sets they need to follow to get there. I had a former team member tell me she used to warn anyone new to the team that “Jen will not be holding your hand….she’ll want you to take the lead and go.”

 

What does Jen Hartmann like to do in her free time…assuming you can carve some out?!

My husband and I both love baseball and we’ve instilled that same love for the game in our son. There’s nothing I love more than watching him or the Cubs play ball. And of course, anything Royal Ball Run for Autism is my sweet spot. We’ve built an incredible community of family members and friends through the organization and it’s such a joy to share in the unique challenges and successes of being a special needs parent.

Jen Hartmann Family

What’s a good book or podcast you recently devoured…and a key takeaway or ‘ah-ha’ moment from it?

Because I work so much, I tend to stay clear of business or news-related podcasts. I’m currently obsessed with the Piketown Massacre podcast series and have been listening to it every morning during my workout. It’s my escape.  


Follow Jen on Twitter for great insights on PR/social media, leadership, and life at @jenalyson.

Movers & Shakers: Amber Bristow of #crAMBERryChats

Describing herself as a ‘cranberry cowboy,’ Amber Bristow knows her story in production agriculture is unique. After snagging a degree in Sports Management (‘because that’s what all the farm kids do, right?’ she asks) and taking on a brief stint in an office job, she felt the pull to return to her family’s farm in West Central Wisconsin, making her the fifth generation to live and work the land.

And while working the 230 acres of cranberries is a job by itself, Amber quickly realized she could take her day-to-day work and share it with the world… enter #CrAMBERryChats. Her social media following surged and suddenly she found herself educating and advocating on behalf of cranberry producers and female farmers.

Magnetic was lucky to snag a quick Q&A session with Amber this month:

Amber Bristow

What’s one interesting fact that non-cranberry producers should know about cranberry farming?

A big misconception in our industry is that cranberries are grown in water since that’s all that is ever really shown in the media. But in reality, our cranberries are grown in sandy, acidic soil, and grow on low-running vines. They are a perennial plant and are only in water (like what you see in the Ocean Spray commercials) during harvest. The rest of the year is pretty dry! I can walk out in the vines without getting my boots wet.

 

What’s a typical day look like for a cranberry farmer during this time of year (mid-July)?

Mid-July is our growing season! We are watching the cranberry blossoms drop and the tiny berries emerge and grow. It is important we keep a close eye on vine health to make sure they are getting enough nutrients to keep up with the growing fruit. We are also irrigating nearly every day to make sure the berries are hydrated. It’s important the vines are well taken care of because they are already developing next year’s buds.

Cranberry Farm

What’s it like to work within a large cooperative grower-owned group like OceanSpray?

We love working with Ocean Spray! They are really great about keeping the growers in the loop on the business side of things as well as providing scientists and researchers to help us solve any problems we might be having at the marsh. They really take our feedback into consideration and are always open to suggestions when it comes to running the Co-op.

 

Let’s go back to the beginning of your #CrAMBERryChats adventure. Why did you decide to start advocating and educating on social media? Similarly, what drove you to start your podcast Forward Farming?

I came up with #CrAMBERryChats while I was mowing the lawn one day (My best thoughts come from the lawnmower!). I was replaying a conversation I had with someone local who asked, “what’s it like working in the water all day?” and realized that there wasn’t much information out there about what cranberries look like the majority of the year. 

I thought, ‘I have a phone and I have social media,’ why don’t I start sharing my life on the marsh and try to reach some people that might be interested in cranberries? I created my page in January 2020 and just started posting my day-to-day life on the marsh. some of the projects we were working on, and just the overall growing process. I found a great group of female farmers that shared my page, and it just took off! It’s a very humbling feeling when I receive a message or comment saying “WOW! I had no idea that much work went into my cranberry sauce!”

I actually wanted to start a podcast before I started my social media page. I had everything planned out in my head but got cold feet when it came time to act upon it. It wasn’t until I started following Becca (Becca Hilby of @farmingwiththehilbys) on social media that I got the courage to start thinking about it again and I pitched the idea of Forward Farming to her and she agreed to be my co-host even though we had never met in person or had a real conversation before!

Forward Farming Podcast

If you could only share one Forward Farming podcast episode with someone to get them hooked, which one would it be and why?

One of my favorite episodes has to be “WhYs It SpIcY- Our lives as Farmers and Wives”. Even though we are a farm-based podcast, we try to incorporate all sides of farming into every episode – the good, the bad, the ugly. Just to remind our listeners there is WAY more to life than what is shown on social media. Becca and I felt there was not enough representation from the female farmers out there and we talk about our struggles of being a woman in a “male-dominated” industry and how we balance the busy life as a farmer with our home lives. We often say that this podcast is a form of therapy for us where we can both vent and laugh.

 

You’re about to be a mom (congrats!). Assuming #Cranbabe becomes the 6th generation to work on the farm, what do you see as the biggest change coming to the industry that he or she will encounter?

Thank you! Lil Cranbabe is due at the end of August and we are so excited to raise the 6th generation out here – just in time for harvest! I think the biggest change coming to our industry is the technology. There has been so much change since I was a kid, I can’t imagine what things will be like in 20 years (hopefully easier!).

But I also think climate change could have a huge impact on the industry. Our plants depend on a cold winter during their dormancy period to remain dormant, and a cool spring to come out of the dormancy. With the shorter/more extreme winters mixed with the earlier/warmer springs, and it seems like summer storms are getting more intense/frequent, it is throwing us for a loop on how we can be better prepared for the next year, even though the next year is never the same as the previous. 

Free time & farming aren’t two things that normally mix. In the little spare time that you have, what do you and your family like to do for fun?

I love to bow hunt! I don’t get a ton of free time in the fall, but I try to take full advantage of every free weekend or evening by sitting in the tree stand. It’s my favorite way to relax and just enjoy nature in a different way.

 

Movers & Shakers: Scott Uknes and Eric Ward of AgBiome

When they aren’t busy changing the face of biological crop protection, Eric Ward and Scott Uknes could be up to a whole list of activities: road cycling, studying up on work cultures, or even consuming books and documentaries on European musical legends.

The AgBiome co-founders are a unique pair, each sporting an impressive resume that’s weaved them through the agbiosciences space for nearly forty years. And between their plant biology expertise and leadership experiences, there’s plenty of eyes on what they and the AgBiome team are pumping out in Durham, North Carolina. 

Magnetic got a quick Q&A with the duo to learn more about their friendship, vision for AgBiome, and what they are up to in their spare time.

 

Magnetic: How did you two become friends, and how did that evolve into working together?

We both entered the Ph.D. plant biology program at Washington University and met the first day of new student orientation in August of 1982.  We both went to grad school at Wash U for the same reason – we were interested in transforming plants, and Wash U was the best place in the world for that.  

We’ve stayed best friends ever since, and have worked together for most of the intervening years.  Scott came back to North Carolina from working at Bayer in Germany in April 2012 and started incubating ideas for a new company.  Eric was working in the UK for Two Blades Foundation and came back a few months later.  

We’re both pretty avid road cyclists, and were riding together late that summer when Scott mentioned that he was thinking about starting another company, and asked Eric if he would be interested in helping out. It turned out to be a pretty fateful bike ride…

 

Scott Uknes (L) Eric Ward (R)
Scott Uknes (L) Eric Ward (R)

 

What’s your vision for AgBiome and what’s the market opportunity?

Although biologicals have been around for some time their efficacy has not been the best.  We’re showing that biological crop protection products can effectively compete with and complement synthetic pesticides.  And we aim to be a significant global player in crop protection, backed by our awesome technology platform and the pipeline of new active ingredients that it’s producing.  We think this opportunity is similar to that for pharmaceutical biologicals in the 1980s when Amgen, Biogen and Genzyme started working on them.

 

What’s something unique or interesting about your collective and individual takes on leadership and how you manage teams?

Eric: Scott and I both believe that people have to be happy to be productive and happy in the Jeffersonian sense — deep, lasting satisfaction from pursuing your goals.  So we work hard here to create an environment that appeals to people’s natural intrinsic motivators. 

Scott: Eric and I both are enamored with the Stanford Project on Emerging Companies, where they showed that companies with a commitment culture (commitment from the company to the employee and a commitment from the employee to the company) perform best on a whole bunch of metrics including long-term value creation and employee fun and retention.  We set out to create this culture at AgBiome, and I believe we have been mostly successful.  However, whatever you try to do culture-wise because people are involved, new behaviors will emerge – this makes life very interesting and fun!

AgBiome HQ
AgBiome HQ

 

What was the last book you read, and what’s a key takeaway or insight you took away from it?

Eric: Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, by Jan Swafford.  Absolutely amazing how productive and creative the guy was despite having pretty horrible health problems.  He spent plenty of time feeling sorry for himself but nonetheless managed to stay optimistic about humanity’s ability to perfect itself.  He never quit, no matter how bad he felt, and the results are self-evident.

Scott: Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson.  It is a murder mystery set in a remote, isolated town, Siglufjördur, in the extreme North of Iceland.  The author captures both the beauty and the loneliness of a place where people are unable to travel due to massive snowstorms in the darkness of a sunless winter.  Being alone, whether due to your location, circumstances, or your attitude, can change the way you interact with others.  

 

What was the last podcast or documentary you consumed & share a highlight from it?

Eric: I recently listened to an episode of Russ Roberts’ EconTalk with Katy Milkman, a professor at Wharton who recently wrote How to Change.  It’s a critical review of the literature on habit formation.  Super interesting and gave me the idea that creating an opportunity for a fresh start is a great way to launch a new habit or an initiative in an organization.  I believe we have a great opportunity to do that coming out of the pandemic.

Scott: Documentary – Pavarotti by Ron Howard (2019).  The film was panned by some critics, but it is very personal and inspirational.  Most powerful is Pavarotti’s last performance, Nessun Dorma, which he sang after he knew he was dying from pancreatic cancer.   In case you are not familiar with this work, the chorus is (translated to English) “No one will know his name, and we will have to, alas, die, die!”  To which Pavorotii replies, “… I will win”.  Not exactly cheery, but very powerfully human.  It is unbelievable to me that he could sing this without breaking down emotionally.

 

Who is your mentor in the industry & how did that come to be? 

Eric: I’ve had several.  Scott is certainly one, and one of the most important.  Another is John Rabby, who I’ve known for more than 20 years, and more than anybody helped me appreciate the importance of being focused on the customer.

Scott: Like Eric, I have several, including, most importantly, Eric.  Eric provides me with daily feedback and insights, and I would simply not be the person I am nor have any success my teams have had without his regular counsel and guidance.  I would also like to mention that more recently, Marijn Dekkers, our board Chair (and former CEO of Bayer AG), is having a great impact on my life.  He is very smart, sophisticated, and a direct communicator, so it is easy to get feedback that you can put to work right away.

Movers & Shakers: Tyson and Cally of Ag Aviation Adventures

Tyson and Cally of Ag Aviation Adventures are not your average young ag professionals.

During the growing season, you’ll find them based in Minnesota as they work with farmers and co-ops for all their crop-dusting needs. But in the offseason, you can expect them to disappear to the mountains (or somewhere warm!) to get their adventure fix. 

All of this and more is captured on their Ag Aviation Adventures and Adventure Rig YouTube channels. 

Ag Aviation YouTube Channel

Magnetic got a quick Q&A chat with the adventure-loving couple last month:

Magnetic: How did you get into agriculture and aviation?

Tyson knew he wanted a career in aviation but had no desire to go into the airlines. While in college, he met a fire-fighting pilot. He knew immediately that’s what he wanted to do and, in order to start banking time for that position, he pursued Ag Aviation. He’s now been an Ag Pilot for nearly 12 years with no plans to go into the fire-fighting industry.

After three years of long-distance during the growing season, I (Cally!) realized that I needed to work with him if we ever wanted to spend time together. We convinced the company that Tyson works for that they needed to hire both of us, and we haven’t looked back since. I manage the ground operation and keep Tyson in the air. 

 

What’s a fun fact about the work you do that most folks wouldn’t know?

Most people don’t realize that Ag Pilots only fly 5-10 feet above the crop canopy at 150 mph (with a turbine aircraft).

 

Favorite part of your lifestyle? Living part-time in Colorado and part-time in the Midwest?

Working hard in an industry that we love and then playing harder in the offseason. It’s also incredibly rewarding to share what we do with the world and hopefully enlighten those who are less connected to agriculture more about the industry.

Crop Duster

What’s a recent new adventure you’ve been on? 

We recently took up kiteboarding. We traveled to Southern Baja, Mexico, to learn and found an amazing community of people who spend most of the winter participating in wind sports on the Sea of Cortez. We’ve made amazing friends, and it’s pretty fun to be immersed in a different culture for 6 weeks of the year. And also, tacos. 

Plus, kiteboarding is super humbling. The other day I saw a statement that really resonated with me from that experience, essentially that “sucking at something is the first step at being sort of good at something.” 

 

You guys are on the road a ton – what’s a favorite podcast you tune into while crisscrossing the country?

The BiggerPockets Business Podcast is both entertaining and educational. The hosts talk to entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses, and it’s fun to hear people’s stories and also super inspirational to hear the turbulent journeys into business ownership.

We’re also big fans of the Farm Traveler Podcast. It’s super informative, and the guests are always well-educated experts in agriculture.

 

If you weren’t flying today, what do you think you’d both be doing? 

Tyson: We’ve talked about trying to build a couple of houses in the case that I stopped flying. Real estate is booming in our town right now, but there is a bit of a contractor shortage. It’d be fun to try! 

 Cally: If we weren’t working at an aerial application company, I would continue educating and informing about agriculture and build a career around that. 

Crop Dusting

Drone companies are left, right, and center in agriculture – some now with spraying capabilities. What are your thoughts on if those replace or complement traditional crop dusting? 

We get this question a lot. We’re not sure of the timeframe, but we think that maybe eventually, drones will be applying chemicals at an effective and efficient rate. Maybe 2 years, maybe 20.

There are a lot of things to consider when it’s marketed that drones can spray. For instance, chemical labeling and approval, application rates, amount of time it takes to spray a certain amount of acres (on good days, we can spray 2,000-2,500 acres with an Air Tractor 502), spray pattern, etc. We won’t say that it won’t happen, but we believe there is still a lot of work to do for drones to replace an Ag Pilot entirely.