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DAA: S. Richard Tolman

S. Richard Tolman

Chesterfield, MO | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 2014

Rick Tolman, M.S., ‘78, joined the National Corn Growers Association in 2000, and currently serves as the chief executive officer of the St. Louis-based group that represents 40,000 dues-paying corn growers and the interests of more than 300,000 farmers who contribute through corn checkoff programs. His work with and for farmers actually goes back to 1982 when Tolman joined the U.S. Grains Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of U.S. barley, corn, sorghum, and related products worldwide. “Under his leadership, the National Corn Growers Association has grown in membership, checkoff funds, and in market opportunities for corn farmers,” said his nominator, Kenneth A. Foster, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics. In 2008, Tolman was recognized as the Agribusiness Leader of the Year by the National Agri-Marketing Association. Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? I did my undergraduate work at Brigham Young University. I had never been east of Wyoming. Coming to Purdue was a big decision for me. It was a long way from home. I had applied to several universities, and had been accepted at several, and offered several assistantships. When I looked at the options that I had and narrowed it down, the choice for me was between Purdue and Texas AM. Both made me similar offers and both had outstanding programs. I choose Purdue because of the quality of the Ag Econ faculty and program and its outstanding reputation. I have never regretted that decision. Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? Yes. I was on a full-ride assistantship and was married and had one child. I was scared to death that if I did not keep my grades very high, I might lose my assistantship. The competitive environment was tough and the expectations were high. I got very good grades, but I put in a lot of time and effort. What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Who gave you the advice? After I interviewed for a trading position with General Mills in Minneapolis, Dr. Ray Wilson asked me how the interview went. I said I was really interested in the job, but was not sure how well that I had done in the interview. I had the contact information for the interviewer in my hand. He asked to see it and said, “There are times to be bold.” He picked up his phone and much to my dismay and embarrassment, he dialed the person and got him on the line. He proceeded to sing my praises and tell the person that if he was smart that he had better offer me the job. I did get the job offer, but ended up turning it down. The advice to be bold has stayed with me. That singular incident has come back to me and motivated me to be bold where I otherwise may not have. What is the best advice you have ever given? To whom did you give the advice? I like to share the analogy of pitch and catch with every new person I hire. H you are given an assignment, it is as if you are playing baseball catch with the person that gave you the assignment. When the ball is in your glove, it is yours to take care of and complete the task. But, the final part of completing the task is to throw the ball back - pitch and catch, pitch and catch. Reporting back on a completed assignment is crucial and will make you look good. Don’t make the person who gave you the assignment ask if the task is complete. “Throw the ball back.”