When Steve Johnson told his dad he wanted to study agriculture in school, the reaction was immediate.
“What did you do, fall and hit your head, son? There's an easier way to make a living!”
Twenty years later and not yet 40 years old, the Crop Production Services (CPS) Marketing Manager continues to make a living the hard way, but enjoying it every day.
“My days are full and my weeks are short, but I love it. I get a rush from it,” says Steve, who works out of Union City, Tennessee.
After “cutting his teeth” – his words – in the ag business with CPS in Michigan, Steve moved south. In 2006, he took over management of the seed business for the Tennessee/Western Kentucky division and in less than five years grew it from a $5-million business to nearly $40-million.
Next, he was promoted to Marketing Manager for the chemical business for that same region. Sales were $26-million when he took over that in 2010. Last year sales were over $50-million.
Always on the go, today Steve holds a number of responsibilities – managing the chemical business, purchasing/managing all fertilizer for the division, facilitating financial training for staff and promoting a safety culture at all locations.
Coming Up Through the Business
He’s come a long way and learned a lot since his first job, which was driving a truck part-time as an intern. While much has changed over the years, one thing hasn’t: he’s wore a CPS shirt to work his entire life. His 20th anniversary with the company will come up next year.
“CPS is the only place I’ve ever worked and it's provided me with opportunities along the way. Opportunities to grow from the bottom of the company into middle management,” says Steve.
“I've learned more just by working myself through the company than I did in college."
He hopes his story of putting in his time, soaking up knowledge, patiently waiting for opportunities to come along and always putting 100-percent effort into everything he does, will serve as inspiration to others that they too can have a long and fulfilling career at Agrium.
“When people know you're genuine and you can show them how you really have ‘been there, done that’ and have been in the trenches, and then they see how well you've done in the company, it gives them hope, it gives them aspiration that, ‘Hey, I can do it too. Heck, if ol’ Stevie Johnson can do it, anybody can do it.’”
While Steve studied Agribusiness Management in college, he prefers the real-life education that comes with being in the workforce.
“I've learned more just by working myself through the company than I did in college,” says Steve. “It’s about people. When you move through the ranks, you can look back and relate to people's challenges, obstacles or opportunities. You can help them develop at a more rapid pace by recognizing that, ‘Hey, I was there. How can I help them, how can I coach them, to drive themselves to reach the next level?’ That's invaluable.”
Looking After his People
In a management role now, Steve takes pride in trying to look after those around him by helping his division hit annual targets.
“I take it serious. Not only what I do for my job, but every purchase I make, every business deal I do, directly affects people under me and their families and I really care about that. I take it to heart. By making sound business decisions, everybody benefits.”
It was in recognition of his tremendous success in the region, in which he grew earnings significantly, he was selected as a recipient for a 2015 Agrium CEO’s Award.
“It blew my mind,” said Steve, describing his reaction when his supervisor Robert King contacted him with the good news. “It's something I never expected as I was just doing my thing, doing my regular job and pushing to always be the best. I guess somebody recognized that and nominated me. It just shows you that hard work pays off.”
Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it to Calgary for the celebration dinner. That’s another story in itself.
On the day, he was supposed to fly out, a record snowstorm hit Tennessee, leaving behind 21 inches of snow. If you’ve never been to that part of the country, it’s not exactly what you’d call snow country. Steve says typically, an inch-and-a-half is enough to shut down the city.
“It was snowing to beat heck out, but I was all packed and heading to the airport when they called me and told me my flight had been canceled. They said they could get me a flight out the late the next day, but it would have been nearly 20 hours of traveling and I would have arrived very late in the evening of the 6 o’clock dinner so it just didn’t work out,” he said. “I was disheartened, I really was, because I wanted to push my chest up a little bit and meet Steve Dyer and Chuck Magro and at least shake their hand. It's a big deal. But hey, it’s just one of them things.”
Steve’s story isn’t unlike many others in which there is typically a loving, dedicated and understanding spouse behind an Agrium employee. Her sacrifices make a big difference when it comes to his work/life balance.
”I'm truly blessed to have a wonderful wife who stays at home and raises the family. If you have a good wife who understands the ag business, you've got it all and my wife does,” says Steve. “I'm able to come home and enjoy my family, which is valuable to the success in a job that demands travel out of town.”
Steve and his wife have three children, two boys – 16 and 7 and a 12-year-old daughter.
“We tailor our lifestyle so my wife can stay home and benefit,” says Steve. “It helps me in my career as I can devote the time to it that is needed and ultimately the family reaps the benefits of that.”
Embracing the Technology
With at least another 20 years to go, there are no worries that Steve will ever lose his exuberance for the job, given how rapidly the industry is changing and all the innovation that is being introduced.
It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture and Steve loves it.
“When I look back just on the last five years and how rapidly the industry has changed – the technology and the whole business itself – and how it’s gone global, it’s just amazing.”
It makes for new opportunities every day, which he relishes and tackles head on.
“I enjoy new challenges,” says Steve. “Taking a concept right from a brainstorm stage and developing it, bringing it to the marketplace, selling it and then making a margin and profit off it. Watching things enjoy success like that, to me that's awesome.”
Expect another couple decades of awesome to come for Steve, who is sure to go through a few more CPS shirts before he’s done.