Tim Hassinger says he “felt like a sixth-grader in a new school” on Monday. That’s because it was his first day as president and CEO of his new company, Lindsay Corp., in Omaha.
For the previous 33 years, the 55-year-old Hassinger had worked at Dow AgroSciences, now part of DowDuPont, in Indianapolis, eventually earning his way up to become president and CEO of that organization.
But in July, Hassinger was tabbed to become the next chief of Lindsay, a $518-million supplier of agricultural-irrigation equipment and transportation-safety supplies.
The recession in crop prices means that it’s been tough times lately for Lindsay, so Hassinger has got a lot on his plate as he succeeds the retiring Rick Parod. And a good part of Hassinger’s challenge will be simply taking the measure of a new company after more than three decades of successfully figuring out the one he left.
An Illinois native and University of Illinois graduate, Hassinger joined Dow Chemical and then its Indianapolis-based joint venture with Eli Lilly, which became Dow AgroSciences, trekking around the globe and working his way up the company. He became CEO in mid-2014.
Chief Executive talked with Hassinger at the completion of his first workday with his new company, publicly traded Lindsay, and he had a lot on his mind:
Q: So why did you take the new job?
A: Having spent my whole career in agriculture, I wanted to continue to stay in agriculture, and this was an opportunity to do that but do something different, and in a different sector.
Plus, Lindsay is publicly traded and positioned well for growth. It’s small enough to be able to get your hands on it but large enough for a global footprint.
Q: How much contact did you have with the company in the whole hiring process?
A: All of my interaction was with the board. I interviewed with a recruiter and then met with the board two separate times before accepting the offer and then had a chance to meet with the current CEO. I came into the office three or four weeks ago to say hello during a house-hunting trip with my wife. So today, for many people it was my first time working with them.
“I want to avoid making strategic decisions in the first 100 days because I want to get all the background and different perspectives on the table.”
Q: What was going through your mind?
A: Practical things like getting my computer to work and making sure my cell phone was OK. And key team members that you’re going to be working with — where do they sit? I sent out a 100-day plan to all employees this morning, so that went out right away. I had been working on that message in the interim. The message was translated into local languages — I wanted that message to be sent out immediately so employees would know what I would focus on in the first 100 days.
Q: What is the theme of that plan?
A: Listen and learn. First, getting around to meet with customers, employees and other stakeholders. I’ve committed to a number of people that I’ll try to see in the first 100 days and to various business reviews. Getting to understand the business and make sure I meet people to get their perspectives on how the company is doing, what do we need to do differently.
Q: So it’s not a 100-day outline for your business strategy, but more of a personal roadmap.
A: I want to avoid making strategic decisions in the first 100 days because I want to get all the background and different perspectives on the table. With the holiday season coming up, it gives me a chance to take a few days of being with the family, of reflecting on what I’ve heard, and come back with what changes I would like to make. Then I’ll meet with the leadership team, find out what they like and dislike, challenge one another, come to agreement and implement that in the first quarter.
Q: Are there pressing needs?
A: Yes, if you’re in agriculture, given the fact that farmer profitability is much lower than several years ago. We’ve seen this sector like most sectors in ag see a steady decline over the last several years. Keep profitability up and seek opportunities in a flat to declining market is what we have to do.
Q: So you felt like a kid in a new school?
A: Yes; for example I didn’t know many of the employees, the company’s terminology and the different work processes. Everything was differently than what I was used to but that is what makes it exciting.
Q: What kinds of stuff did you do on your first day at Lindsay?
A: I had a leadership team meeting after I got in. I wanted to get their view about how they’re currently working, what they like, what excites and concerns them about the future of the company. It was an opportunity for me to describe my own style.
Q: What is your management style?
A: I see myself as someone who’s pretty easy to talk to and a good listener, but I want to make sure that they knew about my DiSC [personality] profile. I shared that with them [and] what are the lookouts or watch-outs related to that. I tried to be as open with them as I could about my own personal style and hear what they wanted from me too.
When that meeting was over, we had coincidentally an international customer that was in town, and I went to lunch with them. And I spent the afternoon in one-on-ones with several team members.
Q: So what do you think of Omaha?
A: It’s a very nice city. It has the Midwest friendliness that comes across. It reminds me of Indianapolis but it’s roughly half the size.
My wife will relocate here at the end of the year. We agreed on a property here in Omaha. We’ll close in mid-November. In the meantime, I get to explore Omaha. Currently, I’m living close to the office, so it gives me a chance if I want to work later, I’m able to just do that.