For years, Land O’Lakes, Inc. has worked to challenge stereotypes. Take the farmer, for instance. Many people picture an old man who wears overalls, milks cows by hand and is stoic at the dinner table. That’s not true at all.
When you think of a plant manager, what do you see? Maybe it's a man. He wears a hard hat that's scuffed from years of use. His face is weathered, his demeanor is gruff.
What you probably don't picture is Micah Holland, the manager of our dairy plant in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Micah's far from weathered. You might even say he looks youthful, despite the long hours he puts in at the plant.
And his demeanor isn't gruff at all. You see and feel that the moment you meet him. Micah is someone who genuinely cares about his employees and wants what's best for them. He connects with them any way he can: one-on-one meetings, hallway conversations and mentorships, to name a few.
“I believe in people,” he says. “You have to have the right organizational structure, the right people to fit that structure and the right development for those individuals.”
From the farm to the plant
Micah spent most of his youth on a farm with his grandparents outside of Baltimore, Maryland. They grew produce for the local grocery store while raising a cow and chickens. Like all farm kids, Micah’s learnings went far beyond crop and animal care.
“My grandpa was in the Navy—that’s where I got my structure and time management skills from,” says Micah.
At age 12, Micah moved off the farm and into the city with his mom and lived with her until he finished high school. Instead of going to college, he worked a string of warehousing and manufacturing jobs. Two years into it, he decided he wanted something more.
“I wanted to get my degree because I kept getting laid off,” Micah says. “I worked in the textile business, but it was seasonal. I’d get laid off after three months of work.”
Micah started college when he was 21, the age when many students are preparing for graduation. He worked full-time to support himself and help pay for his education. It was during Micah’s second year of college when he figured out what he wanted to do for his career.
“I interviewed my plant manager at the time for a classroom assignment,” Micah says. “After speaking with him I thought, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do’ because of his passion for continuous improvement and delivering results.”
He changed his major from accounting to business and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University, a historically black institution in Baltimore. Down the road, Micah would go on to complete his MBA at Eastern University in Philadelphia.
After earning his undergraduate degree, Micah took a supervisor role at Specialty Filaments. When the plant shut down, he worked a year at Eight O’Clock Coffee Company before moving to the Kellogg Company.
Micah’s management style
During his 17 years at Kellogg, Micah learned project management, process management and production, scheduling, and people development—everything you need to know to run a plant. But for Micah, the best, most difficult and most rewarding job was being a supervisor.
“Everyone comes to work with different work experiences,” he says. “My thinking [back then] was very black and white. I learned—very quickly—that, to be successful, I had to deal with each person or situation in a different manner while staying true to expectations.”
Micah has studied the people he's worked for throughout his career, applying their positive traits to his management style.
“My first boss was a micromanager,” says Micah. “I didn’t like it, so I chose not to be that kind of manager.”
Instead, he chose to be a people leader. Someone who would lead with a talent mindset.
Being a people leader at a dairy plant means more than making sure employees do their jobs. Micah emphasized that when he started at Land O'Lakes in late 2016.
“I’m not responsible for any one thing,” says Micah. “I make sure different departments and individuals are aligned and working together, so we can produce a quality product in a safe environment.”
He communicates regularly with plant leadership in daily morning meetings and one-on-one meetings. Micah uses these opportunities to ask employees what they need from him to be successful.
“Continuous improvement isn’t just for machinery,” he says. “You should always be striving to improve and do things more efficiently.”
Micah enables employees to succeed by creating an environment that supports people at all levels. He helps provide employees with visibility to company leaders by encouraging them to present on topics such as Industry 4.0 (digital manufacturing).
The mentor and the mentee
Micah has had a handful of mentors throughout his career. His first mentor was open and honest with him concerning his performance whether good or bad which, in Micah’s opinion, is how it should be.
Throughout his career, Micah has mentored about a dozen people from both inside and outside of work.
“Once I recognize someone who has the passion and hunger to grow and also has the skillset, I want to help that person succeed,” says Micah. “I take joy in seeing someone achieve results and grow in their career.”
These days, that someone is Josh Weber, Carlisle’s production manager.
“Josh came to me and said, ‘I want to be in your position someday,’” recalls Micah. “I told him, ‘I’ll stay close to you and give you feedback.’”
During their monthly one-on-one meetings, Micah and Josh spoke candidly about day-to-day work. Josh shared some of the challenges he was facing, and Micah gave guidance based on his own experiences.
“Micah’s encouraged me to be comfortable with speaking up when I’m maybe not fully aligned with a decision,” says Josh. “He truly believes that people should be heard and appreciated.”
By leading with a talent mindset—including looking to maximize individuals’ potential—Micah has helped Josh move from production supervisor to production manager. And soon, Josh will take his career to the next level as the new operations manager at our ingredients plant in Pine Island, Minnesota.
“It’s been awesome to have someone like Micah be so supportive of my career,” says Josh.
Josh’s career move demonstrates exactly who Micah is—a Land O’Lakes people leader who focuses on people.
“I pride myself on being one of the most consistent individuals you’ve ever met,” says Micah. “This is who I am, how I operate and what you can expect from me every day.”