Destination Career is a series profiling recent Purdue Agriculture graduates.
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Graduate plants seeds for success in fast-paced career
By Lisa Schluttenhofer
Photo by Lisa Schluttenhofer
Kyle Schwarzkopf, a 2010 Purdue graduate who majored in agronomic business and marketing, is the Select Seed Hybrids district sales manager for north central Indiana.
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Kyle Schwarzkopf's career is growing as he cultivates relationships with farmers and strives toward new opportunities.
Schwarzkopf, a 2010 Purdue graduate who majored in agronomic business and marketing, is the Select Seed Hybrids district sales manager for north central Indiana. He works with farmers to identify hybrids that will best fit their soils and operations.
"I get to help farmers make decisions that will affect their bottom lines," he said. "Helping families make decisions allows them to keep the farm in the family for generations to come."
Schwarzkopf's career allowed him to return to his hometown of Camden, Ind., where he began with just a few sales contacts. When a longtime district sales manager decided to retire, an opportunity opened for Schwarzkopf. Now he manages a larger area (primarily in north-central Indiana) and has almost ten times as many sales contacts.
"Typically, in a good year, it's reasonable to gain 1,000 bags," Schwarzkopf said. "This is really unusual; with a lot of hard work, it generally still takes at least five years to get to this point."
Such rapid growth also led to challenges. Selling seed is a very personal business that requires a lot of personal contact with customers. On a typical day, Schwarzkopf said he drives more than 100 miles and visits six to 10 farmers, sometimes riding along with them in their farm equipment. That one-on-one contact is paying off, even after such a short time in the position.
"I have had to really work to establish credibility with my clients, who are used to working with the same guys for a lot of years," he said.
One way he built this trust was by working with a farmer who could not plant until late in the season.
Schwarzkopf researched hybrid varieties that would suit the farmer's needs - research that others weren't offering. Ultimately, Schwarzkopf found a short-season hybrid that would meet the farmer's needs. Schwarzkopf said the extra work paid off.
"That farmer's going to have a good crop, and it feels good to have been a part of that," he said.
That extra effort could mean the farmer will put his trust in him for many years to come, said Schwarzkopf.
Schwarzkopf is the third generation in his family to work in the seed industry. He heard a lot about the industry growing up, but he thought he would be doing something else after graduation.
"Growing up, I actually hadn't really thought about doing the same thing as my family did," Schwarzkopf said.
He started at Purdue as a landscape architecture major, but decided to change his major after a few classes. He met with Lee Schweitzer, a professor of agronomy and academic advisor. Schwarzkopf was immediately impressed by Schweitzer's open invitation to meet and discuss the department's programs.
"I know you hear it a lot, but the agronomy department is like a family," said Shwartzkopf.
He said Schweitzer helped him look at his interests, strengths and experiences. Schwarzkopf said didn't want to be in a large corporate environment or spend all day in an office, and he was familiar with the structure of local seed companies. Together, Schwarzkopf and Schweitzer determined that agronomy would be a good fit for him.
"It was actually the agronomy department that drew me in, and as I took classes, my passion for the field developed. Now that I'm in the seed industry, I realize that I had a lot of knowledge going in."
Schwarzkopf credits his Purdue Agriculture degree with a lot of his success. In addition to the coursework that honed his agricultural and business knowledge, he said his experiences helped him build relationships and work with a variety of people.
As a Purdue Agronomy Ambassador, he helped connect undergraduates with high school students and alumni. Sherry Fulk-Bringman, the laboratory and outreach coordinator who is the advisor for Agronomy Ambassadors, said his hard work made a difference in the department.
"At Tippecanoe County Ag Days and outreach events, he would talk to students about agronomy topics like corn processing," she said. "Most elementary students haven't heard of agronomy and don't know what an agronomist is, so he really helped the program. He may have even helped grow some of our future students."
Working with his customers today takes similar skills, and that same spirit of helping others drives his work at Select Seed.
"By helping them with their seed needs, I get to take part in the progression of the farm; it's great to watch farms grow," Schwarzkopf said. "Sometimes I hear things about what farmers are trying, and I can take offer suggestions to other clients."
Internships, classes and experience have helped him understand his clients, and he said that makes me a better representative for Select Seed.
He has also helped train new sales associates and hopes that role will expand.
"When I teach, I also learn," he said. "My experience from internships, my family and my first year in the job has let me help train new people."
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