“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
This new series highlights young professionals and their stories, because no matter our path we all have a little to share and a lot to learn. Read and learn from past feature posts HERE.
When I began this series, I made of list of the many different types of people/careers that I wanted to make sure I featured. It was really important for me to feature someone in the military, but to focus on who they are outside of that role as well. After losing my Uncle Jamie about a year and a half ago, after he had just retired from the military weeks before his 43rd birthday, I was really bothered by the fact that I didn’t really know who he was outside of that part of his life. This series is about sharing the stories of young professionals and being able to network with each other. For some, the military is a large part of who they are, but I think it is equally important to celebrate and learn about the other parts of their life as a young professional.
I don’t mean to put a damper on this week’s post, because I’m really excited to share Brandon’s story with you. He’s a few years older than the people I have featured so far, and that certainly shows in his experiences. I first met Brandon during my first semester as a freshman at K-State in an Ag Economics class. I clearly remember almost being late to class the first day (no surprise there) and not being happy when I learned that the seat we were in that day was our permanent one for the rest of the semester. Of course, one of the only ones left was in the second row next a somewhat intimidating guy who was clearly not a traditional student among what was mostly a class of freshmen and sophomores. That guy was Brandon, and I doubt he remembers, but I’m pretty sure his help each day was one of the main reasons I passed that class, considering it is still a subject that I don’t understand very well. Fast forward a few years, to the first student Agriculturist magazine I was on staff for. Brandon was our cover story, so that’s when I got to know him a little bit more.
I’ll be honest, after reading his questionnaire, I was again, a little intimidated. But I have the utmost respect for Brandon. He is ambitious, yet humble, and defines what it means to be hard-working and committed. I don’t know him well personally, but I don’t have to, to know that he’s also a great all-around person. I guarantee, you’ll find something in Brandon’s story that motivates you.
Name: Brandon West
Hometown: Marion, Kansas
College: Kansas State University
Degree(s): Agriculture Economics
Current Location: Kansas City
Current Job: Region Executive Officer at Livestock Market Association and Army Officer
I was raised the oldest of eight children in rural Marion County, Kansas where work was a way of life and if you didn’t do it, nobody would do it for you. Work ethic and responsibility was taught at a young age, and I give full credit to those values taught back on that Kansas farm to bringing me to where I am today.
After high school and before college, I enlisted in the Army with the sole intention of serving in combat during a tour of duty overseas. I came home and served one more year as an instructor before my contract expired, and I began my freshman year at Kansas State University. I thrived in the military and was good at what I did, but I knew that the next chapter awaited. I started my degree with the intention of going into law or international affairs. I worked for a Congressman and a Texas Governor during the summers of my first few years and was exposed to the legislative process while working on Capitol Hill my third year.
After experiencing Washington DC, I decided my future was in business, not politics, and I determined that my passion lie within the agriculture industry. I am extremely blessed at this point of my life to being doing what I love, for all the tremendous opportunities that such an industry has opened up for me, the friendships gained, and for the bright future that awaits.
How did you choose your college and your major?
For me, Kansas State University was by far my top choice. I had briefly considered Texas A&M University, but after touring K-State and hearing countless fond memories retold hundreds of times from faithful KSU alumni, it didn’t take much to realize that I bled purple. I was actually a Pre-Law and Political Science major my first year at K-State, but then transferred to the College of Agriculture to pursue an Agriculture Economics degree. The quality of faculty in the College of Ag impressed me, and I was won over by the many career options available in the agribusiness sector for Ag Econ graduates.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
My first three semesters at K-State, I was a competitor on the K-State Rodeo team. Shortly after I began my sophomore year, I became involved in Student Senate and served as a Student Senator for the College of Agriculture through my senior year, on the Agriculture Student Council and on the Student Government Association’s Government Affairs Committee.
I completed three internships. My sophomore year I worked in Kansas for a U.S. Congressman. My junior year, I worked in Washington DC for an agriculture trade association and worked on legislative efforts to draft the 2012 Farm Bill and the pending free trade agreements with Panama, South Korea and Columbia. My final year, I worked for a venture capital firm in Manhattan, Kansas and assisted in venture equity funding of Midwest based start-up companies.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?
Take time to develop relationships with classmates and with professors. Yes coursework is important, but prioritize building that rapport with your future peers and never turn down an opportunity to attend a career fair or social networking event. The best memories of my life and my closest friends were made during my senior year. If possible, I would attempt to take a light course load your last year to focus on your job search and enjoying the experience.
Tell us about your career so far?
I was hired my last semester of college by Dow AgroSciences, a fully owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company. Working for Dow was a tremendously valuable experience and the world class training they provided perfected my personal interaction, public speaking and time management skills. I moved twice during my three years with my first company; first to Minneapolis, MN and then to Raleigh, NC where I served as an account manager across a multi-state area managing multi-million dollar accounts. While I enjoyed the culture experiences traveling the East Coast, I was thankful to have the opportunity to return back to my home state of Kansas when the Livestock Marketing Association contacted me with a job offer. While leaving Dow was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, I took the step knowing that my long term future was back home in Kansas working with the people and in the industry that I have an undying passion for.
In my current role with LMA, I serve as a Region Executive Officer for Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois. LMA, since 1947, serves as the trade organization for America’s cattle markets and dealers. My job involves many roles including lobbying efforts on the state level for the beef industry, business policy guidance, maintaining relationships with our members and with allied industry groups, and servicing LMA’s extensive insurance and bond accounts.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
By far, I believe that the relationships developed with peers, classmates, and connections developed through campus involvement and my three internship opportunities has equipped me to succeed in the post-grad world. The saying “it’s not what you know, but who you know” can’t be more true.
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job?
Over time, I have come to rely on my iPhone 6 for almost all of my needs especially during my many days on the road. My computer is always a briefcase away for the more time intensive correspondence, but I use my phone to respond to priority emails as I receive them. A few apps that I find invaluable are 1) Genius Scan: for scanning and sending docs on the go 2) Intellicast: weather 3) CamCard: for storing digital business cards 4) Concur: for selecting hotel and flight rates 5) Expensify: travel expense reporting 6) Cattle Market Mobile: to evaluate market history for my member markets 7) The Economist 8) Map My Run: for those runs in those cities where you have no idea where you are 9) Uber: always Uber. I regularly use social media apps to stay connected to the home base and to stay abreast of my friend’s and family’s lives when I am out of town. I have found that social media is also an invaluable tool to maintain a connection to my clients both on a personal and in a business capacity, with allied industry groups and with everyday news.
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?
I take a step back and refocus on the big picture. Sometime the mundane and tedious tasks can take focus off of why you do what you do and serve as a distraction from the main mission at hand. In the scheme of life, our problems are really small compared to others who are far less fortunate. Maintaining an attitude of thankfulness, channeling your inner passion and surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting people are essential.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
My typical work day when on the road can start at 7am and sometime not end until 10pm depending on my travel schedule and nature of my meetings. I do my best to always set aside time, no matter my schedule, for my health whether that be a weight lifting session or a run through whichever city I am spending the night. I have found that rigorous exercise is natural prescription for reinvigoration and will keep you looking, feeling and performing your best. In addition to physical health, I try to devote some time each day for intellectual health and always travel with a book in my briefcase to set aside time for reading at the end of the day or over lunch.
While long days of travel and meetings can be physically and mentally draining, I make a point to put forth the effort to develop relationships with friends I have in the cities and states in which I travel. Sharing dinner and an evening of levity with a fellow world changer with like-minded goals and ambitions keeps me focused and grounded with an always positive outlook on life and the future.
What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far?
I chose to re-enter the military a year after I graduated college and pursue a Commission as an Army Officer. The Army’s Commissioning program was a year and a half long and was full of rigorous study, mental, physical and leadership challenges. I undertook the Commissioning program while juggling my full time job with Dow Chemical, and it was by far the most challenging endeavor I have ever completed. I grew tremendously as an individual from a confidence, mental and discipline standpoint and gained invaluable training and experience in leadership. I received my Commission as a Lieutenant in the Kansas Army National Guard last August and was awarded top honors including the top award for leadership, the distinguished Honor Graduate Award and the Top Outstanding Graduate Award by Kansas Governor Brownback.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?
Life right now is full of travel, new places, new people and new experiences. I am blessed to enjoy my job to the point that most of the time I don’t realize that I am working. While not in the office or out of state, I like to be involved in the American Royal in Kansas City where I serve on the Board of Governors. I prioritize cultivating relationships with college and professional friends, am a regular attendee of Woodside Health and Tennis Club, work on my dismal golf skills any chance I get, go hunting and am an avid reader. I continually make an effort to stay engaged and culturally in tune with the world around me, so I prioritize staying abreast of political, economic, and social trends on a daily basis.
Aside from my full time career, I also serve as an Army Officer on a part time basis with the Kansas Army National Guard. This involves devoting a certain amount of time during some of my evenings or weekends to develop training plans and operation orders for my soldiers to ensure they are at a maximum level of preparedness for future missions abroad.
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
I am a huge believer in the benefits of fitness and nutrition in promoting optimal performance both mentally and physically. The discipline that it takes to stay true to a physical training and nutrition regiment I believe carriers over to other areas of my life.
Rising at 5:00 am to make it to the gym by 5:30 for an hour workout is the best routine I have found to get the day off to the best start while at the same time freeing up time after work for community or social activities. A healthy breakfast, usually a protein shake, egg whites, toast and oatmeal is a must. Because I’m normally in hotel rooms three nights a week, my travel morning routine usually consists of 60 pushups, a few sets of crunches, and sometimes a morning run. Black coffee is always a must, and when on the road, you can’t beat a bacon, egg and cheese bagel from Panera.
From a productivity standpoint, I carry a stack of sticky notes with me in my Franklin Covey planner and will write down, at the beginning of each day, the top six tasks that need completed. At the end of the day, any of the six tasks that aren’t completed are carried over and place at the top of tomorrow’s to-do-list.
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
I always have my mug of black coffee at my desk or while traveling along with a jug of H2O for my daily gallon of water challenge.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?
All limitations aside, I would learn Portuguese and would partner with several like-minded friends and American investors to buy out The Agriterra Group, a London based agriculture company operating in Mozambique and producing beef, maize and cocoa for international and African consumption. I have long seen Africa as the last wild frontier and a continent which holds much potential for meeting the economic demands of countries transitioning from third and second world to first world economies. I would like to play a part in helping Africa develop into the beef exporter that South American is. I think that Mozambique’s location, climate, political landscape, proximity to ports, government’s incentives and other factors, make it an optimal country for an American based business to gain a foothold.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
The people! Not a day goes by that I don’t miss the daily interaction of classmates and professors. I have yet to find myself in an environment so conducive to personal growth while surrounded by similarly driven individuals thirsty to contribute each ones given talents for the betterment of society.
Brandon, thank you for taking the time in your busy schedule to share a little bit of yourself and for being so honest. And know that your hard work and service is appreciated by so many.
As always, thanks for reading friends!