ARCHER—An opportunity to lead a “David amongst Goliaths” is something that made the Archer Co-op Grain Co. general manager job appealing to Mike Schon.
The 43-year-old Spencer resident replaced longtime general manager Scott Summa in May to lead the cooperative, which remains just as independent now as was when it was founded in 1907.
Schon has been in the agribusiness sector his entire professional career and he has a longstanding relationship with Summa, who has hired him twice before.
The two worked together at Valero Renewable Fuels — Hartley and at Pro Cooperative in Pocahontas.
As Summa inched toward retirement, he reached out to his protégé to see if wanted to take over for him and Schon was interested. Summa put in a word with the co-op’s board and the rest is history.
“I always kind of joked and say, ‘Well, this is the third time that he’s hired me and now that he’s retired, either I’m going to have to retire here or end up being a Walmart greeter or something,” Schon said.
Transitioning from being the vice president of sales and marketing at Pro Cooperative, which has 20 locations and serves more than 1,500 farm operations, to the standalone Archer Co-op and its 360 or so member-owners has been a good change for Schon.
“It’s a great little company,” he said. “It’s been very successful and it’s 111 years now that we been independent and all alone and we’ve really kind of thrived off our independence and ability to take care of customers. It’s kind of refreshing to be part of that.”
One of the small things Archer Co-op has done to service customers is installing a chairlift in its headquarters so that older visitors have easier access to the upstairs offices and reception area.
In addition to taking care of customers, Schon thinks Archer Co-op has managed to be successful thanks to strong leadership from the board. He noted the body is fiscally conservative, but also strategic in its expenditures.
“When they’ve had to spend money, they’ve done it right,” Schon said. “Case in point, 20 years ago they were pretty innovative in opening those two bird barns south of town here. Those are our laying hens and we do about a million eggs per week when we are at full production.”
He acknowledged the facility has had some ups and downs like the bird flu epidemic in 2015 or the crash in egg prices a few years back; however, overall it’s been an extremely valuable asset Archer Co-op.
“It’s a good steady income on a monthly basis, actually, a weekly basis for us,” Schon said. “That certainly helps prop up when things are tight, marginwise, in other departments — agronomy and grain and feed. So, yeah, it’s been a good venture for.”
The success of the co-op also has been good for the city of Archer.
The elevator and DK Plastics are the largest employers in the community of about 125 and the most substantial contributors to the town’s tax roll. Archer Co-op employs 15 full-time staff members, seven part-timers and four seasonal employees.
“We’re definitely a big tax base to the city and a very good employer with very good benefits,” Schon said. “Most co-op benefits — that I’ve been around — are second to none when it comes to the workforce and labor pool in northwest Iowa.”
Although the co-op does wield of ton of influence in town, Schon still is careful about maintaining a positive relationship with Archer residents.
“I consider us a David amongst Goliaths when it comes to the co-ops, but in the town of Archer we are the Goliath,” he said. “We just have to be responsible neighbors and good neighbors — you’ve seen me at the city council meetings and stuff — I want to hear what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.
“We need to take pride in our facility just like someone else taking pride in their landscaping. I think that’s pretty important to the perception that we bring to the community.”
A few months into his new gig and with harvest underway, Schon seems pretty content with his decision go from working for a giant to leading a giant-killer.
“It’s like drinking from a fire hose some days because it’s a lot to take in, but I got a good staff that helps me do those things, we collaborate a lot and talk about things we need to get done,” he said.