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DAA: Vernon R. Hawkins

Vernon R. Hawkins

Greensboro, NC | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 2011

Through the agronomy department’s cooperative education program, Purdue sophomore Vern Hawkins had a six-month assignment doing “a hundred different kind of jobs” at a retail cooperative in Winamac, Indiana. The next summer, his co-op placement took him to ICI Americas, where he was asked back the following summer. From the co-op program, he pocketed 12 academic credits, hands-on experience in the business world, and a job offer with ICI, a legacy company of his current employer, global agribusiness Syngenta. Today, Hawkins is president of Syngenta Crop Protection, the top profit-contributing subsidiary within the corporation with more than $1.5 billion in annual sales. He brought considerable leadership experience along with sales and marketing expertise to the position, which he assumed in January 2010. He was vice president of U.S. commercial operations, led the U.S. horticulture business unit, and led brand management, biological research and development, regulatory affairs, and development planning teams in the NAFTA region. Mobility facilitated his advancement in the company, he says — both his willingness to travel and to move every two or three years. “I probably had the best development you could ask for in preparing to lead a company,” he says. He characterizes his management style as open and personable, tempered by accountability and high expectations. Once a member of FFA, Hawkins now supports the National FFA Foundation and has chaired the National FFA Sponsors’ Board. He returned to Purdue last fall as the featured speaker at the College of Agriculture Learning from Leaders program. His own career validates his advice to students that work experience, through internships or other means, is important for real-world connections to their education in the classroom. The Indiana native has never lost his love of the outdoors and enjoys everything from golf to chopping wood to most sports — but especially Purdue basketball.