||Rivers Myres, AFC’s new CEO, noted in his address at the annual meeting that successful organizations are built on solid foundations and led by skillful managers who have a “clear vision of where the company is headed.”
Challenging weather, a gut-wrenching loss, yet robust margins mark AFC’s year.
by Alvin Benn
As 2014 slowly moves toward the midway point, leaders of Alabama Farmers Cooperative can look back on an eventful year just passed, one that brought triumph and tragedy.
It began in splendid shape with robust results, but then "Mother Nature" came calling, sending some of the coldest, wettest weather on record.
Added to that was the shocking news of AFC President Roger Pangle being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - a devastating illness Roger fought with courage until the end. He passed away Dec. 7, 2013.
"While the weather was challenging, Roger’s news was gut-wrenching," said Rivers Myres, who succeeded Pangle following his untimely passing at the age of 64.
In his report to AFC members at February’s 77th annual meeting in Montgomery, Myres noted that successful organizations are built on solid foundations and led by skillful managers who have a "clear vision of where the company is headed.
"However, not until you are tested do you really know if you have these components in place to weather the storm. I believe AFC proved its solid foundation and emerged as a stronger company."
In his presidential report, Myres based his comments on a belief that "companies are more than bricks and mortar" and success is achieved with teamwork, not necessarily on one person’s actions.
"Only together are we able to triumph," he said. "In the end, AFC stood strong through its trials and emerged with new vigor and vision."
It did so, he said, by digging "a little deeper" and drawing "on our inner strength."
As a result, he said, AFC not only prevailed in 2013, it also recorded its third best year in company history.
He said the Grain Division and Bonnie Plants generated record sales in 2013 while Feed, Farm and Home and Currie Gin produced their best financial performances in the past decade. In addition to those gains, SouthFresh - the company he was formerly president of - reported a third consecutive year of profitability.
Add all those gains together and AFC was able to pay $6.9 million in patronage to its members while, at the same time, deciding to retire $2 million in equity certificates.
Those decisions, Myres said, were a clear example that "we realize that paying patronage and retiring equity is vital to our members’ continued success."
AFC’s Secretary-Treasurer Tricia Arnold had good news to report during her appearance at the meeting, saying AFC’s sales in 2013 were $593 million compared to $463 million the previous year.
Arnold said the sales increase was primarily the result of a good year at the Grain Division, followed by Bonnie Plants. She also said all financial goals were met in fiscal 2013, results that "help strengthen the cooperative’s financial condition."
In his report, distributed to members at the annual meeting, Myres discussed his ascension to AFC’s top spot, saying he "hit the ground running" on Jan. 9 when he became president and chief executive officer.
"Even though it has only been seven weeks, I have had the opportunity to learn about all the aspects of AFC," he said, in outlining points to continued success for the organization.
The first, he said, is recognizing that member cooperatives and their farmers "are our owners and customers.
"Your equity dollars fund every salary we pay, every mile we travel, every building we erect and every effort we undertake."
Earning trust and confidence within AFC, he said, go hand-in-hand with transparency and integrity - two vital business ingredients that are "a must."
Prior to the annual reports from AFC leaders and department heads, members heard reports from two nationally known speakers, Charles Connor, president of the National Council of Farmers Cooperatives, and Ken Boothe, Nationwide, whose topic was "Land as Your Legacy."
Myres pledged to enhance already open lines of communication within AFC because it is "vital to that transparency."
A proud 4th generation farmer, Myres recalled how, at harvest time, he would always look for the perfect cotton boll to represent that year’s crop. At times, he said it wasn’t easy to pick the best in the field.
Myres used his personal "search" as a young farmer as an analogy about a man who once served as president and then came back to guide AFC during its time of need last year.
"When it comes to picking the perfect leader for AFC, we had that person for 18 years," said Myres, referring to former President Tommy Paulk. "Thank you Tommy for your tireless years of dedication."
Myres also praised Sam Givhan for his "steady hand" as AFC Chairman of AFC’s Board of Directors. Givhan completed his 2-year term at the annual meeting.
Pangle’s brief but strong leadership was evident throughout the event and Myres said he thought about him as he prepared his speech.
"I will try to honor his legacy," he said, adding, "I can still hear Roger say ‘cut expenses, increase margin and be at work on time.’"
In his report, Givhan left no doubts that Myres will carry on AFC’s winning tradition, saying, "I am looking forward to many great things from AFC in the coming years as Rivers has assembled a talented staff with significant cooperative, management and financial experience."
He signaled out for special praise Al Cheatham as AFC’s new vice president and chief operating officer; and Tricia Arnold in her new position as secretary-treasurer and chief financial officer.
Givhan echoed Myres’ comments about Paulk "for stepping out of retirement to serve as interim CEO at Roger’s request in July 2013."
"(Paulk) was a valuable resource for the staff, providing stability and a comforting presence during Roger’s illness," said the outgoing board chairman.
Givhan also issued a personal "thanks" to AFC staff and employees "for their hard work and dedication," describing them as "our most valuable asset."
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.