These days, it’s hard to imagine life without the convenience of technology. How did people get anything done without computers, email or instant messaging?
Jan Braatz can tell you. She just celebrated 50 years with Purina Animal Nutrition. In a time when people change jobs or companies on an average of every three to four years, Jan’s tenure is, well, unusual. What’s more, the love she has for her work, co-workers and company hasn’t wavered over those 50 years.
Fifty years. Think about it. In 1968, you couldn’t hit backspace when you made a mistake on your typewriter. You couldn’t enter totals in a few fields, click “send” and have a customer’s invoice appear immediately in their inbox.
“The advancement of technology is totally unreal,” says Jan, now a bulk ingredients planner. “When we came into the computer age, to think that you could sit in one spot and handle four facilities...that wasn’t fathomable.”
Now Jan can manage bulk ingredients for our feed plants in Fond du Lac, Mauston, Spencer and Little Chute, Wisconsin, from anywhere she has Internet access.
“Wisconsin winters can be unpredictable,” says Jan. “If the roads are bad, I can call and ask to work from home -- all thanks to technology and supportive supervisors.”
That flexibility is one of the reasons Jan has stayed with the company.
“When I first started, I was able to come in at 7 a.m. so my husband could get our kids on the bus,” says Jan. “I would be off work in time to be home for them after school. Back then, a company that worked around your life was a novelty.”
Many opportunities, one company
Right out of high school, Jan applied for a job in the billing department of what was then the Ralston Purina Company. Positions in billing, customer service, stock and inventory control, buying and traffic, credit and logistics have spanned Jan’s 50 years with Purina.
“It’s been nice -- I could do different jobs, but didn’t have to leave the company,” she says.
Having the right leadership throughout the years has also enabled Jan to grow within the company. She recalls how her supervisors encouraged her to adapt to changing processes and technologies in her own way.
“It’s hard for me to read a [training] book on how to do something,” says Jan. “I like hands-on learning. My supervisors let me dig in and figure things out.”
Having real-time access to training modules helps, too.
“Land O’Lakes offers a lot of training that you can do on your own,” she says. “If I have 15 or 20 minutes of downtime, I work on something. Then I leave it sit until I have time to work on it again.”
Her dedication to self-improvement is just one of the things that makes Jan a great employee.
“Jan’s attention to detail and tremendous work ethic make her a great example, not only to folks within our planning team, but to people across the organization,” says Clay Ogle, bulk ingredient MRP manager and Jan’s supervisor. “On top of that, her energy and enthusiasm are unmatched.”
The ups and downs
During Jan’s time with Purina, there have been some challenging periods for the ag industry. In the 1980s, the U.S. went through a major agricultural crisis thanks to a fall in the price of commodities, a grain embargo, high interest rates and high oil prices. These factors contributed to the worst agricultural economy since the Great Depression. Times were tough for farmers, which meant they were tough for feed and seed businesses, too. And while the Great Recession that began in 2008 took a bit to catch up to the ag industry, when it finally hit, it hit hard.
“It was stressful because you saw the strain it put onto our customers,” recalls Jan. “Trucking companies were up against bankruptcy, struggling to get enough loads to stay in business. In general, the markets and their effect on the industry was mind-boggling at times.”
As the ag industry enters yet another challenging period, Jan is optimistic -- we’ve made it through before and we’ll do it again.
“We’re all in this together,” she says.
For Jan, “we” truly means everyone -- Baby Boomers, Generation X and, yes, even Millennials.
“I’ve never felt insulted by the younger group of people I work with,” says Jan. “They’re all great. And because of my length of service, many of my bosses have been younger. I’ve never felt like, ‘Well can’t you just leave so I can get someone younger in here?’”
'What a true professional looks like'
“Land O’Lakes has lots of good opportunities for young people coming up,” Jan says. “They can move from feed to seed to dairy and stay in the same company.”
And what better example for entry-level employees than Jan?
“I would love for folks who are early in their careers to have the opportunity to shadow Jan and see what a true professional looks like,” says Clay.
Above all, Jan hopes that her co-workers find the same joy in working as she has.
“I never feel like I don’t want to get out of bed and not come to work,” she says. "Land O’Lakes is such a great company and I hope that the young workforce we have will be as happy and loyal as I feel.”