Steve Bruere of Peoples Company
Interviewed by Kevin Kimle - Excerpts
Kimle: What do you think are some of the most compelling opportunities in agricultural technology?
Bruere: At Peoples Company we've tried to pay attention to things that can impact our business. For the farm management business, we think we've just scratched the surface on some of the technology that's coming into the space and how you can get more efficient with farming. I think agriculture and farming is one of the last great places of arbitrage in the world. Technologies that have been put to work in some other sector can be implemented in agriculture Even though there's a lot of great farmers and there's a lot of technology, we haven't fully -- in my mind -- embraced a lot of that technology and figured out how to actually apply it and become better stewards of the land while being more profitable. Folks that have embraced technology are in a better position to, in our business, pay higher rents because they have higher yields and profitability and do it in a sustainable manner.
Kimle: How does that issue of sustainability impacting farm real estate and impacting the long-term value of land?
Bruere: Sustainability is impacts everything that we do. We spend a lot of time working with investors and a lot of this investment capital want their investments tied to sustainability practices. It flows back from the food to fork movement, people want to know where their food comes from. We've spent a lot of time in our farm management business making sure that we're addressing long-term sustainability and conservation issues.
Kimle: Do you market niches developing that may offer new opportunities in production agriculture?
Bruere: You're seeing a movement back to some smaller scale farming and organic production sometimes. It's allowing that new entrepreneur that maybe has a smaller scale farming concept to be viable and bring something to the market that the consumer wants. I'm a huge fan of production agriculture and that drives our business, but it's exciting to see some of these new things. We took a tour of the Nebullam facility, the indoor farming business, it's mind-blowing. When you can produce crops year-round, indoors in a controlled environment without weather risk. It's pretty exciting.
Kimle: When you think about some of the high impact entrepreneurial people that you've met or that you've worked with, what are some common characteristics or skills or behaviors as you’ve observed in them?
Bruere: What I've found is some of the most successful people are always willing to listen and always willing to sit down with you and give advice with an open-door policy. For some of the folks that were willing to help me out early on, I was kind of shocked that they'd take the meeting with me and give their time. But they were very interested in what I had to say. Successful people are always learning. They always want to know what you know and they're not telling you how the world works. They want to learn from you, and these are people are very successful. In turn, I've tried to be willing to help young people out and lend an ear, and be willing to give advice. Every time I do that I think I learned more from them than they learned from me!
Kimle: What lessons have you learned in building Peoples Company from being mom and pop, as you've described it, to now 70 employees across the country? A business that hosts one of the biggest land investment meetings in the world (Land Expo).
Bruere: The biggest lesson that I've learned is that it's really easier than I thought it would be to be successful. But the hardest part is being patient, slowing yourself down sometimes and waiting on things to work out. You start a new project, but then give up on it and move onto the next one. Then six months later that initial idea starts to work. Then you're trying to juggle multiple projects and ideas, and I wish I would have been more patient to let results and issues materialize because they inevitably do. You've got to believe in the process and believe in these concepts as you roll them out and give them time to work.
Kimle: And what about challenges?.
Bruere: The single greatest challenge that that we have is people. Finding high quality people that have similar values and buy into the culture and the vision of the company is challenging. I completely underestimated how hard finding the right people would be. It's easy to come up with great business ideas, but finding good people to execute on those ideas -- that continues to be the biggest challenge.
Kimle: You've done a really good job reaching back into universities and identifying talent.
Bruere: Yes. Through the years, we've found that it's easier to recruit young people and teach them the business than go and recruit people from other firms and try to make them adapt our philosophies.