Joe Kerns Lecture

Jared Swab

On a dreary October day in the Memorial Union’s Sun Room, Joe Kerns of Ames based Kerns & Associates took the crowd of students, faculty, and community members on an emotional rollercoaster ride as the speaker for this year’s William K. Deal Endowed Leadership Lecture as a part of CALS Week. He told us about how a B- student found a little traction in the real world through resiliency, entrepreneurship, and the value of mentors.

“Suddenly, suddenly, then all of a sudden”, was a point referenced by Kerns multiple times throughout the evening. The meaning behind it being that we need to recognize the smaller leading up to the predicament that gets our attention. Kerns told us about the low point of his life when his wife divorced him in March of 2005 as an event he should have been able to see what was about to happen. He would go on to say that “We need to recognize the suddenlys, before the all of a sudden”.

“I’m not a big fan of Hillary Clinton, but I think she might’ve had the village thing kinda right in a book that she wrote. Those of you that are students in the audience, you’ve got mentors that are going to help you out along the path, identify them, and those of us that have graduated and perhaps are contributing to the tax base, we have a responsibility to reach back, and help those that could need it”. Later Kerns added that while nobody does it by themselves, nobody is responsible for your success but you. In describing factors of success Kerns used Psychologist Angela Duckworth quotes stating, “The best predictors are passion combined with perseverance”, and “Grit will trump talent every time”.

When asked his reasons why he attended the lecture, Jake Stotts replied “Joe’s a really good friend of mine, I’ve worked with him for the past three years”. His take away from the lecture was, “Pay attention to your surroundings and take every advantage you can from things. I think we go through life thinking serendipitous things will happen, as opposed to every little thing, every relationship could mean your next direction”.

Izak Christensen had this to say about the event, “I’m fairly involved in the Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative, which Joe and his wife Karen have been a great sponsor of, so I meet them through a few things there, and having heard him speak tonight, am very impressed, that was a great speech. I have a genuine interest in agriculture and some of the risk management things they do. His main message was ‘suddenly, suddenly, then all of a sudden’. I think we all have a tendency to just blame the last thing in the line, whether it be failing a test, not doing as well at an interview because you didn’t prepare the night in advance because you had a homework assignment. So being able to be very forward thinking and broad in what you’re looking at, versus just blaming the last thing in the line”.

Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Wendy Wintersteen’s take away from the night was, “I think that the important message that he really delivered was that we are all on a path to the future, and if we give that some consideration and thought to that then we can move forward in a much more successful way. His comments about suddenly, suddenly it happened; it is not suddenly, it really is about every step you take. So if you are purposeful in your actions and you think about what you hope to accomplish in your life, then you can make a plan, and we’re all headed somewhere. If we make a plan, then we have a much greater chance of ending up where we’d really like to be in life”.

When asked what the toughest speech he’s given was, Joe Kerns replied with, “It would have been in October of 1998, you could see it coming, this implosion in the hog market, and you’re having to advise producers that their best interest is better served shutting down rather than continuing to run into a wall. You could economically prove this out, and you were hoping that you were wrong, but I was so convinced that I wasn’t wrong about this, so you had to encourage folks to throw in the towel now while you still have assets rather than give it all up. And it seems like such an incredible injustice that the economic reality doesn’t take prisoners. It’s not fair, it’s not just it just is”.