March 2, 2018

How One Farmer Discovered All Leadership Has To Offer

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Smack in the middle of suburban Glendale, Ariz. is the 2,000-cow Ponderovey Dairy. There, the herd size might be average for Arizona, but the Rovey family’s commitment to improving the dairy industry is nothing but. Paul Rovey is one of the dairy industry’s longest-serving leaders. His path to leadership was nothing if not humble. “Leadership is not something that is really natural for me,” he says adding he has participated in several leadership development groups throughout the years. Still, this visionary set out to become the best leader he could be and worked hard to achieve the goals set for his business, following in the footsteps of his father, Emil Rovey.

“My father was only five years old when his dad passed away,” Rovey explains. “He, his mother and three brothers continued the 80-acre family farm. My father was a hands-on farmer, whether it was night irrigating, milking cows, driving tractors, ordering water or paying employees.” In 1978, Rovey graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. He returned home to the farm, took over the dairy from his father and married his high school sweetheart, Debra.

“We were milking 200 cows at that time and we’ve built it to 2,000 cows today,” he says. Within 10 years of purchasing the dairy, Rovey was approached to join the United Dairymen of Arizona board. That position was his first step into leadership and would lead him to serve the dairy industry for more than 20 years. Finding Passion Rovey says from a young age his parents encouraged him and his eight siblings to find something they were passionate about and pursue it whole heartedly. So when he got started in the dairy business, he did just that.

“When we took over the farm from my dad, we were milking Holsteins,” he explains. “I wanted to buy some Jerseys for my kids to show.” Rovey set out to learn all he could about the Jersey breed. It just so happened a woman in his area was trying to find a way to slowly liquidate her business, so he purchased her entire heifer program. Every heifer, roughly 300 of them, came to their farm. “We just bought the whole lock stock and barrel,” he says looking back with a laugh. “We were very quickly into the Jersey business.” Rovey says transitioning from Holsteins to Jerseys was a learning experience, but he doesn’t regret it. “We realized that Jerseys are kind of the thing to have,” he says.

Becoming A Leader While some would argue leadership is a quality you’re born with, Rovey says it’s one that he had to work to develop. “I think leadership is something that everybody has to develop,” he explains. “You can choose to do it or choose not to do it.” Although there are a few common characteristics of good leaders, like having an outgoing personality, anyone can become one, according to Bob Grace of the Leadership Effect.

First, gather feedback. “Ask others what you do well, what you could improve on and what you are missing out on,” Grace advises. Next, build off those strengths and learn to fill the gaps. “For example, training seminars, courses, books, videos and TED talks can all be good resources,” he says. Then take time for reflection. “Review what you have learned as a leader on a regular basis, honestly assess your skills against the challenges you are facing,” he adds.

Finally, seek out a mentor. Early in his career, Rovey was part of a leadership program in Arizona called Project CENTRL (Center for Rural Leadership). The leadership development program helped him take steps to develop his leadership skills. He says serving on boards has also helped enhance his skills as a leader. Giving Back “As I reflect on my father’s legacy, I know it was his leadership that helped us get where we are today. He understood that in a strong industry, opportunities abound,” Rovey says.

It’s in this spirit that he has dedicated his time to serving the dairy industry for several decades, balancing farm responsibilities while serving on several industry boards.

“I have a really great family, and when I’m home I work like crazy and then we do our family things, you know, aggressively,” he says adding that spending time with his wife and kids on the farm helps. Throughout his tenure of leadership, Rovey has always made an effort to visit farms wherever his meetings are. Spending time on hundreds of dairies throughout the U.S. has provided valuable insight not only to understand the industry differences across the country, but also on things he can do to improve his own farm. He’s also gained new business ideas, like the idea to start milking sheep.

“It definitely takes a lot of extra work but it helps the industry move forward,” he says. “In that, it is definitely a rewarding thing to live to see changes and improvements and opportunities for the whole industry.” The heart of a true leader is selfless. Following the example of his father, Rovey has dedicated countless hours, logged many miles and sat through countless meetings for little direct gain for his business. “You’ve got to look at it in a broader sense and say, ‘You know the industry is going to benefit. When the industry benefits, I benefit from that,’” he explains. “Looking at it as something to only benefit you is not where leadership comes from.”