Fourth-generation farmer Tejo Willemsen has a broad perspective of the dairy industry. As a farmer, immigrant, Emerging Leader and the owner of his own milk hauling business, Willemsen has experience with all different aspects of the industry — something he says he hopes to bring to Cooperative and industry leadership roles.
Recently elected to serve on the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and the United Dairy Industry Association Board, Willemsen is a member of DFA's Strategic Planning and Policy Committee. He farms with his son Thomas, milking 1,000 cows and farming 900 acres in Frankton, Ind. Willemsen also raises all of the dairy’s heifers and moves 18–20 loads of milk per day in the Mideast Area with his milk hauling company, Evermilk Logistics.
What made you decide to become more involved with DFA?
As farmers, I think we sometimes tend to bury ourselves in our own dairies, and I realized I needed to broaden my view outside of my dairy. I wanted to learn more about the co-op, and the opportunity came up to join the Emerging Leaders program. I’ve learned a lot about DFA in these past two years with the program, and it’s been a great experience.
Do you think the Emerging Leaders program has helped prepare you for a Cooperative leadership role?
It has definitely given me more knowledge and experience about the Cooperative — how it works, what it does, and how and why decisions are made. I’ve also met a lot of other members and DFA staff through the program. It’s interesting to meet other people from the Cooperative and have frank and open discussions with them. We have a lot of farmers from all over the nation, and every region is different, so sharing our experiences with each other is a great way to learn. I also did some public speaking training through the program, and that helped make me more comfortable in a group. As a dairy farmer, you get pretty comfortable with your cows, but when they put you in a group of people, that’s a different story.
Why is it important for members to be engaged in their Cooperative?
It’s important for me that our farmer-leaders maintain balance. There is a lot of diversity in our membership, and we need to make sure every farm has a voice in the Cooperative.
Everyone has his own view and perspective of how things should be done, and you can sit around the kitchen table and talk about it, but it’s better to get involved and try to make a difference. That is one of the good things about DFA — that diversity is how we keep our organization balanced. Whether you milk 10 cows or 5,000 cows, everyone should have their voices heard.
What makes you a strong leader?
I think my strongest leadership skills are that I’m pretty good at keeping things together — I don’t walk away from conflicts, and if there’s tension, I’m usually there to make sure we come to a fair consensus. Plus, as a farmer, milk hauler and immigrant, I bring a broad view to the table. I’m not just an Indiana farmer — I think on a global scale, and I think that’s very important these days because we live in a global market. I also believe that good leaders need to be open and transparent. It’s a fast world and the industry is changing rapidly, so communication is key.
Do you have future aspirations to get more involved in DFA leadership?
Of course I have ambition to do more, but I’m talking about balance all the time, and I need to make sure I keep balance in my own life and businesses too. There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, and I’m not the type of guy to do something if I can’t put 100 percent into it. I’m at a point where I have good managers working for me, and I’m comfortable enough to take on a Cooperative or industry leadership role without hurting my own businesses. I will continue to stay involved with my Cooperative — I just have to find that balance.