|A Bottom Line Leader|
Roger Pangle New AFC President
The new president of Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Inc. (AFC) is a "bottom line" man who doesn’t mind being called a penny pincher when the need arises.
That’s good news for AFC officials who expect Roger Pangle to continue the aggressive leadership displayed by predecessor Tommy Paulk who retired on July 31, 2012, after 17 years as president.
Pangle’s elevation from executive vice president and chief operating officer to president culminates 16 years of working closely with Paulk, who was his mentor, boss and friend.
After that lengthy association, there were never any doubts within the organization that Pangle, who assumed his new duties as president on Aug. 1, was the right man for the job after Paulk announced he was retiring.
"Roger is certainly qualified to succeed Tommy," said AFC Board of Directors President Sam Givhan. "He’s a very good businessman, especially when it comes to working with a sharp pencil and that’s an important part of what we do."
Perusing profit and loss statements, and discussing budgetary matters may be boring to some, but, for Pangle, they are vital ingredients of running a successful operation.
Paulk and Pangle may not have been joined at the hip as the AFC’s top two officials, but their solid working relationship eliminated the need for an extensive search for a new president.
Givhan expects a "seamless transition" as Pangle becomes only the fifth president of an organization dating back to 1936. He’s not the only one who feels that way.
Paulk is, by far, the biggest believer in Pangle. Throughout their close working relationship, Paulk let his top aide and other AFC officials know, if anything happened to him, "We had the man who could take over without any problem at all.
"I’ve always felt that way," Paulk said. "I always knew Roger was going to do what was right and look after the best interests of our member farmers who own the company."
Hunting and fishing buddies for years, Paulk and Pangle developed a mutual admiration relationship that’s not always the case in some large organizations.
"With Roger there’s never been an inkling of jealousy or empire building," Paulk said. "He is a completely goal-oriented person who wants most of all to develop good teamwork within AFC."
One of the many things Paulk likes about Pangle is his way of "speaking his mind" and not worrying about upsetting the boss by making legitimate suggestions.
"He’d always tell me what he was thinking," Paulk stated. "We could have hired somebody at minimum wage to come in and agree with me, but that’s not how Roger operates and we’re better off because of it."
AFC directors and Co-op managers are also singing Pangle’s praises, saying he’s the right man for the job and they are ready to help in any way they can.
"He’s got some big shoes to fill, coming in after Mr. Paulk, but he’ll do an outstanding job," said Reggie Shook, twice named AFC Manager of the Year, general manager of Lauderdale County Co-op. "What I especially like about him is his conscientiousness."
Shook said Pangle’s frequent visits to his Co-op to see how things were going made quite an impression on him.
"Sometimes I’d see him twice a week," Shook recalled. "He’d always ask if there was anything he could do to help. That’s a sign of good management."
AFC Director Bill Sanders of Goshen in Pike County said Paulk and Pangle were "extreme opposites" in temperament and other areas, "but worked well together and we all benefited as a result."
"Roger pinches pennies and Tommy is the dollar man," Sanders remarked. "When it comes to leadership styles, Tommy is the shotgun man while Roger prefers a rifle with a scope."
Sanders said Pangle is taking over an already smooth-running organization with a solid chain of command "and that adds up to a bright future for us."
Born on a small farm in east Tennessee, Pangle, 63, enjoyed every aspect of agriculture and learned at an early age that chores were meant to be shared by everybody in the family.
That goes all the way back to when he was just 6 years old and eagerly hopped up on the family’s tractor. He knew his size didn’t help matters, but that didn’t deter him.
"I was so small I couldn’t push the clutch down with one foot and had to knock it out of gear," he said, with a laugh, during an interview.
The Pangle farm was too small to generate enough revenue to support the family, so his dad’s primary job was at the area’s Alcoa plant.
When he got home in the early afternoon, however, he really went to work and farmed until the sun set. His long hours made an impression on his son and it’s stayed with him throughout this career.
"We had a tobacco crop as well as 40 head of cattle and lived off the land," he recalled. "That’s why I decided to pursue a career in agriculture. What I really enjoyed was the animal and plant side of the business.
Small family farms can be demanding and exhausting, but Pangle also learned different lessons in "city life" when he got a job at the Coca Cola plant in Maryville, Tenn.
That’s where he was involved in sorting returned bottles including some that were "nasty" enough to turn his stomach.
"It was the absolute worst job at the plant and nobody wanted it," Pangle said. "It was as low as you could go and, since I was the newest worker, it was up to me to do it."
His agricultural-specialty turned out to be seeds and he parlayed that experience into a career making him known throughout Alabama and the country.
When Pangle graduated from Tennessee Tech in 1971, he had a friend in the wholesale business in Knoxville so, while he waited for word on resumes he had sent out, he drove a truck and made deliveries.
It wasn’t long before he got a job as a wholesale seed salesman in Guntersville. He worked there for five years and it was a huge territory, one that stretched all the way from Selma to Nashville.
On occasion, he’d run into competing AFC salesmen and managers, and strike up conversations with them. Little did he know at the time, one day, he’d become one of the most important executives at Alabama Farmers Cooperative.
Pangle began his AFC career in 1976 as a district sales manager in northeast Alabama, eventually transferring to the headquarters in Decatur as a seed buyer.
With the economy having its share of problems, AFC has developed a strategic plan to deal with it, according to Pangle.
"We have in our strategic plan several underlying principles. One is to maintain the financial integrity of our organization," he said. "By doing that, we can take advantage of opportunities during down cycles of the economy. In other words, you go with what you know and that has helped us tremendously through the years."
What Pangle and other AFC officials know right now is the growth potential of grain, especially with today’s higher commodity prices. At AFC’s recent annual meeting, grain was in the spotlight.
Grain was the second most profitable area of AFC’s operation in 2011 with before-tax earnings of $5.1 million and Chief Financial Officer Dan Groscost said it "exceeded the budget for the year."
The new AFC president has been keeping close tabs on grain, saying expansion of facilities is a likelihood in the coming years.
Controlling expenses is vital to the strength of AFC, said Pangle, who added, "We’ve been totally focused on mergers and consolidations through member Co-ops."
Pangle indicated decisions to merge some Co-ops have been successful because they have helped to not only strengthen operations but also produce "good managers" to run them.
One of the priorities within AFC in recent years has been to spread its wings to let the public know it is open for business at Co-ops from Huntsville to Mobile.
"In our rural areas, I’d say just about everybody knows what we do, but in urban areas like Birmingham it hasn’t always been the case," he said. "That’s beginning to change and many people now know they can go into any Co-op and buy items without being a member."
During his years as executive vice president and COO, Pangle developed a national reputation and was active in many farm-related service organizations.
In addition to serving as a leader of several state and regional organizations, Pangle is a board member of Universal Cooperatives, Inc. in Minneapolis where he is a past chairman.
He also serves as chairman of Agri-AFC, an LLC owned by AFC and Winfield Solutions of Land O’ Lakes.
In Decatur, he is a member of the Kiwanis Club and once served as president. He also is vice chairman of the board of directors of Progress Bank. He and his family attend Westmeade Baptist Church.
Pangle and his wife, Brenda, have two children – a son, Erik, and a daughter, Brittany. Erik and his wife, Gretchen, have a son, Hunter, and a daughter, Sydney.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.