ABERDEEN, SOUTH DAKOTA, U.S. — After 15 years as chief executive officer (CEO) of Wheat Growers, Dale Locken plans to retire. On Aug. 1 Chris Pearson, the cooperative’s current chief operating officer (COO), will assume the CEO role.
“Since becoming CEO here in 2002, I have been honored to work with the tremendously talented, extremely dedicated Wheat Growers employee team, who strive every day to provide outstanding service to our 5,100 farmer-member owners,” Locken said. “It has been the most rewarding and inspiring period of my professional career in agriculture.”
Hal Clemensen, president of the Wheat Growers, said Locken spent much of his tenure adapting the cooperative to meet the current and future needs of Wheat Growers members, assuring that Wheat Growers remained innovative, progressive and relevant for generations to come.
“As a board, we are grateful for Dale’s service to Wheat Growers, his leadership to the organization and also for his friendship,” Clemensen said. “We will miss his presence in the board room and his guidance about the direction of the business.”
In the years since Locken joined Wheat Growers, the cooperative has expanded grain storage, upgraded grain handling facilities, added shuttle loading facilities and expanded its agronomy service centers. Wheat Growers also developed a strong, effective safety culture that today has become a model for the agriculture industry.
Clemensen said that when Locken exits as CEO, Wheat Growers will be in good hands.
“The Wheat Growers board unanimously selected Chris Pearson to be our next chief executive officer,” Clemensen said. “Chris is passionate about farmer success, deeply knowledgeable in what it takes to run a successful cooperative and firmly committed to the employees who support our farmer-members.”
Several years ago the Wheat Growers board put in place a succession process, and at the same time was always on the lookout for potential candidates that fit their criteria for a new CEO of the cooperative.
“We took this task very seriously,” Clemensen said. “The most important role the board has is to decide on and engage a new CEO. In this challenging agriculture climate, we knew we needed a CEO to align with our strategy and culture. So we set the criteria very high and created a very rigorous process.”
Clemensen noted that when Pearson was originally hired, he had a strong background in agriculture along with the qualities, characteristics and skills for a CEO. He was thoroughly evaluated against the criteria of the Wheat Growers board, underwent extensive evaluation and in the end was determined to be ready to serve as the new Wheat Growers CEO following Locken’s retirement.
“As a result of that work, we believe this will be a very smooth transition,” Clemensen said. “In Chris Pearson, we have an internal candidate who knows our organization well and brings extensive experience gained outside our organization.”
Pearson joined Wheat Growers as senior vice-president of operations in 2013 and was promoted to COO last year. Pearson spent 14 years in local co-op systems there, holding several positions ranging from entry level to COO.
Pearson’s leadership and expertise have been recognized by several agriculture industry groups. He is serving or has served on boards for Dakotaland Feeds (president), James Valley Grain Cooperative (current member), the Agriculture Retailers Association (current member), Consolidated Sourcing Solutions (past chairman), and the Agribusiness Association of Iowa (past member). Pearson received an undergraduate degree in ag studies from Iowa State University.
“I am honored to be named the next chief executive officer of Wheat Growers,” Pearson said. “This is a tremendous organization, and we have the best employee team in the industry. I’m looking forward to continuing to work alongside them in this new role. I’m also honored to work with the farmer members who own this organization. They should expect Wheat Growers to deliver a consistent and predictable high level of service, to continue to be their partner and to use technology and innovation to enhance our communication styles and increase production capabilities on their farms.”
Wheat Growers is a grain and agronomy cooperative with more than 5,400 active member-owners in eastern North and South Dakota, U.S. Despite the name, its members now grow more corn and soybeans than they do wheat.
Wheat Growers markets approximately 160 million bushels annually – and has been serving member-owners since 1923.
Wheat Growers is governed by a board of active producers elected to represent five districts, and backed by 45 delegates who serve as the liaison with the general membership. Cooperative headquarters are located in Aberdeen, South Dakota, U.S.