Steve McQueen created and incorporated McQueen Custom Farm Work Ltd., managed a large farm equipment dealership, provided sales leadership and agronomic support for two crop input businesses, currently acts as the Director of the Canadian Business unit for Emerald BioAgriculture Corporation, and is nothing short of extraordinary. Despite continuously travelling across Canada as a keynote speaker to share his knowledge of sustainable agriculture and crop health, he still found the time to sit down with me and address some of the biggest questions facing the next generation of go-getters. Steve is someone I personally look up to and appreciate in my life, so I was eager to share some of his wise words with everyone!
What is the origin of your professional career, how did you get to where you are today, and what are you up to these days?
My father started our custom farming business in 1950, but my first job was working on my grandfather’s tobacco farm from the age of eight. Then, around the age of 13, I started doing a lot more for my father’s business and, with that, custom farming and cash cropping just became a big part of my life.
By the time I got into grade 12, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, but had decided to pursue going to the University of Guelph to enrol in an agricultural program. However, my brother passed away during that year which had a huge impact on our family and the direction of our custom farming business. If I decided to attend university, it would mean that my Dad would be alone to run the family business, so after a long discussion around the kitchen table, I committed to join the family business while completing grade 13. From that point on, I was able to partner with my father and continue to grow our custom farming business, and eventually incorporate it in 1981. I began to realise the difference between academics and education, because from that point to where I am today, the road to gaining an education in agriculture was paved through hands-on experience and gathering knowledge from a wide variety of farmers and other professionals in the agricultural field. I fell in love with soils and plants, which is what I have largely spent my time doing for the last 40 years.
I did eventually sell off the custom farming business and have been involved in a variety of other businesses, all agricultural related, for the past 16 years. These have ranged from working as a Branch and Sales Manager for both an equipment dealership as well as crop input companies, to my current job today working with specialty nutritional technologies. Each experience has taught me so much more about the agricultural industry and how to effectively mentor my staff as well. Some days it is mind blowing in terms of how much knowledge there is to gain in this industry alone.
How did running a business at age 18 affect your professional and personal life?
Once you actually separate yourself from a road of academics through college or university, you are thrown into a completely different experience. For the most part, the people I did business with were older than me and had gained their own experience in our industry. It is a big change in focus from enjoying fun and games with your peers through schooling to having a great deal of responsibility placed on your shoulders. Running a successful business was not one of my high school courses and as I drove away from Glendale in June 1979, I became responsible for our staff, invoicing, collections, sales, machinery repairs and purchasing. It also included land rental agreements, crop agronomy, and marketing, all creating a whole new life experience for me.
The best part about this was that most of your education comes from mentorship and working with people willing to share their experience. Choosing to accept the mentorship was key to expanding my knowledge and education, and this created the life-long learner in me. This encouraged me to research and develop new concepts and opportunities within our industry so I could return value to my customers, completing a successful business relationship.
What was the most important factor in your development into a successful businessperson?
I believe that setting goals and having a vision of who you want to become both play a big part in what is deemed as success. The biggest task for me was that my dad wanted to step back from running the business, so I had to take over a lot of responsibilities at a young age. I grew up observing a man with a passion for family, strong morals, and a strong work ethic in running our family business. In carrying that responsibility forward, I was responsible for helping my parents step back from the business, as well caring for our customer base and employees and making sure the business remained successful.
Did you have people to look up to and to guide you as you were going along, or were there times when you were trying to figure it out on your own?
There are always people who want to mentor and help you, so I believe that the only times you feel alone are when you have probably shut someone out. I also believe that you should choose your friends wisely since, and this isn’t my quote, you are the sum of the five most influential people you surround yourself with. I’ve always made sure to surround myself with people who are knowledgeable and experienced, watch how they operate, and be willing to ask the hard questions to help me move forward. Although there are times you need to have alone time, this is where relying on family and your closest personal friends becomes so key. Separating business decisions and emotional decisions takes some personal care and this is when you lean on those you love.
How do you think young people in high school should approach making a choice on which direction to take their career?
I think there are a couple things, one of which is that your career path has to be what you truly are passionate about. Understanding that your first path may not be your final path or passion is ok. As Dan Sullivan stated, Christopher Columbus did not head out to find North America, he headed out to find Asia. So, I want to motivate people to always keep moving forward, but if the path isn’t right for you, then go left or right. All the opportunities come your way when you are active, not when you are waiting for something to happen and that’s how you develop who you want to become.
When it comes to students, I think it is unfair that there is such a big decision so early on in their lives, and I think the fear is that they are scared to make a decision that they will be stuck with for the rest of their life. Young people need to be able to say, “So this is what I am doing today, but I may change and I’m okay with that”. Learning how to ask questions and discover opportunities needs to be mentored and coached from all sides, including parents, teachers, coaches, and neighbours.
Do you think young people put too much pressure on themselves these days?
I think there is a lot more pressure put on young people today than in the past from inside themselves, from their parents, and also from peers. Many of the forces exist because we have set societal standards that they feel like they have to achieve - like getting a good job, getting a car, getting a house, saving for retirement and so on. It is important to remind young people to be realistic in their expectations and not to set standards too high to meet other people’s expectations. When feeling this pressure, we have to make sure to remember our ultimate goals and be satisfied with where we are today. Again, it is critical to understand what is truly important in our lives and who we ultimately want to be.
How do you think you find fulfillment and happiness in life?
When I glance back and think about how I try to assess fulfillment, I start by managing the day I have. For example, when I lost my brother, I basically established a few things that I wanted to do every day. When I wake up, I remind myself about how blessed I am to have another day because not everyone gets another day, especially as a healthy individual. I then choose to be happy, as attitude is our choice.
I also believe that as we gain experience in our lives, we have a responsibility to share that back with the people with whom we cross paths, so I like to try to look for opportunities to teach people something every day by sharing something that would help them in their life whether personally or job-related. The key part is in order to do this I have to be continually learning myself, so I am always trying to find new ways to enrich my learning. I really do enjoy learning, and sharing back with people.
But fulfillment is also the small things that we see and do each day, particularly, sharing with and taking care of family, neighbours, and nature as we put ourselves out in our communities.
For someone that has decided they want to take control back over their life, or maybe they haven’t been living up to their potential and realize that now, where do you think they should start with bringing things back to where they could be?
If you’re trying to start over - and it isn’t much different if I look back to when I sold off my custom farming business, walked home unemployed, and decided I would change everything - you have to step back and take inventory of where you’re at and who you are. You have to make sure you are being very honest with yourself and it is a time when you need to rely on the truest of friends and family you have, to help you capture that. You may have a distorted or negative view of yourself, so they can support you in finding and regaining your positivity. Once you have taken inventory, then you can start the process of searching for your new adventure and next career.
Take smaller steps at first, because if you take a big step and it fails, then you will probably retreat back to where you started. Develop a plan and think about it systematically with patience, yet be deliberate in growing forward. Well you are focusing in getting your career back on track, do not forget to stay accountable and commitment to your everyday responsibilities such as caring for family and friends. This will really help in keeping things in perspective.
A friend of mine once shared with me the idea that plants cannot run away from their situation when they are under stress. They must adapt and stay grounded where they are to conquer their issues. I always loved this analogy, because as humans when we encounter problems, we tend to run away rather than staying grounded, and figuring out how we can adapt. But I believe that just like plants, we have to hold on to the belief that we are able to adapt and grow in new ways even when under extreme stress. Believing in yourself, as well as others believing in you, is key.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Patrick MacDougall and I am a licensed REALTOR® based out of Tillsonburg, Ontario. I service the Oxford, Norfolk, and Elgin County areas and work everyday to bring as much value to others as I possibly can.