Leadership Q&A with Gage Kent
See All | 09/28/2021
We’re excited to launch a new series of articles featuring insights on the connection between innovation and leadership and how organizations across Iowa are addressing some of the most significant challenges in agriculture, food security and sustainability.
The family of companies that is now Kent Corporation got its start when G.A. Kent started manufacturing cattle feed in a small mill in Indianola, Iowa, in 1927. His first product was Kent Baby Beef, the first cattle feed composed entirely of high-quality protein with no filler material. The company, headquartered in Muscatine, Iowa, has grown to serve customers in the food, beverage, ingredient, agriculture and pet care markets.
Gage Kent has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of Kent Corporation since 2007. As Kent Corporation nears its 100th year in operation, Kent reflects on the core values of the company and the way that its 2,000 employees execute on those values that has allowed the company to stand the winds of time and maintain a good economic value proposition.
Kent Corporation was named a U.S. Best Managed Company for the second year in a row in the program sponsored by Deloitte Private and The Wall Street Journal to recognize outstanding private companies for their achievements.
- Why is continued innovation critical to the future of agriculture and food production?
Growth is how the world moves forward. When it comes to innovation, growth is about doing more, better.
The importance of innovation was highlighted in 2020 as the world faced the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, Kent teams made the decision to accelerate the construction of a new distillery at our Grain Processing Plant. Thanks to focused work by engineering teams and many others, we were able to open our most advanced distillery eight months ahead of schedule. This facility allowed us to increase the amount of value-added ingredients made from a kernel of corn and deliver more high-quality ethyl alcohol to support the production of essential products in the fight against Covid-19 including: hand sanitizers, disinfectants, cleaners and surfactants, mouthwash, cough and cold medicines, and in the manufacture of active pharma ingredients, vaccine components and Covid-19 testing reagents.
Innovation is also key to addressing sustainability and global food security challenges. There is an opportunity for companies that have always tried to make sound, positive and respectful decisions to speak up and lead the conversation in social, economic and environmental sustainability. Meeting the desires and dietary requirements of a consistently growing world population will require innovative technology. Kent is pursuing these global challenges with a team of diversified companies and a vision to be a recognized leader in creating value through innovative foods and ingredients for the whole family.
- How do today’s leaders identify and encourage innovation in their organizations?
Simply put, they make it a priority.
First, it is the responsibility of leadership to instill strong core values in its workforce. These values become guideposts for everyone in the organization when they are collaborating on big and small decisions for the betterment of the company.
At Kent, we encourage and support a true focus on building an innovation pipeline both internally with our products and externally.
Externally, we enjoy our footprint within the Iowa State University Research Park as a way to partner with other innovators in Iowa; our Vice President of Innovation works out of the Kent Innovation Center in Ames. Internally, we have an online platform – eMerge – where employees can share and collaborate on ideas to help Kent grow. Maintaining a culture of respect among all our people is integral.
- How does Kent Corporation grow the next generation of leaders?
We try to cultivate a culture of where employees are encouraged to grow and meet their full potential. We are growing in the midst of a lot of change and I couldn’t be more proud of our employees’ efforts to plan, execute, be resilient and stay consistent. From Field to Family™, Kent is helping a growing world do more through the manufacture of food, beverage and ingredients, agriculture and pet care products.
Because we span several industries, we offer the opportunity for employees to gain a depth of experience. I like to say we offer careers, not just a job to our employees.
Our in-house learning and development team offers DiSC training, learning modules on Office 365 as well as a thorough Foundations program which consists of three classes: Leading Self, Leading Others and Leading the Business. Cross functional groups representing many areas of our company participate in this program each year.
In addition, on average, Kent supports 20 to 30 employees with 100% tuition each year.
- What excites you most about the future of agricultural innovation in Iowa?
I am excited about Iowa’s enduring, strong position, not only in the American economy, but also the world economy. Here in America’s Cultivation Corridor, exciting innovations from farmers, university researchers, industry scientists and entrepreneurs are happening daily, and at an accelerated pace. With efficient access to rail, barge and truck transportation as well as a rich education infrastructure, the area continuously prioritizes supply chain resiliency and workforce development.
I am also looking forward to the completion of the Iowa State University Kent Corporation Feed Mill and Grain Science Complex in fall 2022.
- What advantages does Iowa provide for agriculture and biosciences companies?
For researchers, leaders and entrepreneurs, there is no better place to start or grow a business. World class universities and research institutions and a growing start-up ecosystem provide support and connections to partners and mentors. Proximity to some of the most innovative and progressive livestock producers in the world provides the opportunity for testing and on-farm research.
The science and technology that goes into raising healthy livestock rivals – and is integrated with – the innovations in nearly every other industry we rely on for modern life. Nowhere in the world is that more true than in the Midwest; and especially in Iowa. The ample resources in Iowa are helping make agriculture and biosciences more efficient and sustainable.
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