Behind The Business Of Seed

With responsibilities for Syngenta’s seed business in North America, Justin Wolfe says the best business practices he’s learned are to never stop learning and do business with those who value the integrity of a handshake—or today, an elbow bump. 

What’s ahead in seed technology?

Gene editing is a very exciting tool to help us in the next generation of innovation. The other big area we’re really focused on is digital decision science and predictive analytics, which will help take the guesswork out of product placement. It will help reduce trial and error for farmers and increase productivity. We’ve made a $400 million commitment to the U.S. business. An example of that is our planned R&D Innovation and Customer Experience Center in Malta, Illinois. 

What are the biggest challenges in bringing new products to market?

You have to take a long view in this business. On average, it can take 10-plus years to bring a new technology to market. We believe with gene editing that timeline will be reduced. 

What are some of the keys you’ve found to motivate employees?

I subscribe to the golden rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. Always look at things from their perspective.  You want to give them the autonomy to do their thing. You have to hire people with integrity, energy and intelligence. You can’t necessarily train those traits into people.

What’s a takeaway from 2020? 

We’ve had to do business in creative ways such as Zoom meetings, virtual field days and social-distanced plot tours. I’ve been blown away by the creativity my team is using to continue to serve our customers while keeping safe.

Tell us a bit about your career. 

I have been very fortunate in my career to have been blessed with many opportunities.  After college, I started out in a completely different industry. But having grown up on a farm, when the opportunity was there to move back into the agriculture, I took it. Throughout 26 years (21 of which were at Monsanto), I have worked across sales, marketing, strategy, licensing and general management, both in the US as well as internationally. I joined Syngenta in September of 2018 leading the Europe, Africa and Middle East seed business, and after spending eight years abroad, I relocated back to the US this summer to lead the North American seed business. I believe the diversity of my work background helps me lead with a very broad perspective.  


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