To be successful, you have to think like a farmer.

By Amber Kohlhaas, Communications Manager, Hagie Manufacturing  

Business isn’t always learned in the classroom or behind the covers of textbooks. Farmers are the original entrepreneurs - and they can teach us a lot about being great leaders. For starters, you only need to ask a single question to change the world: how can we find a better way?

Ray Hagie’s path to building one of the world’s largest agriculture companies did not start with a business plan and a loan. It started with solving a problem. Little did Ray know in 1947 that bringing to market the world’s first self-propelled sprayer would forever change the agricultural landscape. He was simply delivering a solution where there was a need.

Born an innovator, the Iowa State College graduate returned to his family farm in 1933 armed with a degree in Animal Husbandry and an entrepreneurial mindset. One of Ray’s first decisions on the farm post-college was to dedicate 1.5 acres to experiment with hybrid seed corn. When a drought hit three years later and Ray’s hybrids withstood the challenge, the increase in demand for the hardy hybrid varieties led to the opening of Hagie’s Hybrids seed corn plant in 1944.

At that time, Ray’s wheels continued to turn as the agriculture industry was experiencing a labor shortage while men were serving our country in World War II. Ray envisioned a resolution to this need and 1946, developed a self-propelled “personnel mover” to help reduce the painstaking time associated with detasseling. This innovative machine carried women and children through cornfields allowing them to efficiently perform detasseling with reduced fatigue. The originality of the product created high demand, was attributed to the creation of jobs, and enhanced quality of life in the time of need following The Great Depression. 

By the end of World War II, Dow released the pesticide/herbicide, known today as 2,4-D, for use in the control of broadleaf weeds. Ray envisioned a more efficient solution to apply this product, leading him to bring to market the world’s first self-propelled sprayer and to the founding Hagie Manufacturing in 1947.

No Roadmap for Success

Today, Ray’s reputation as an industry pioneer and true leader precedes him. Those who were privileged to have known Ray commonly acknowledge his straight-forward and honest management style. “Ray was a man of his word. He was a truly great innovator, motivator and leader, and a man who would never would let the grass grow under his feet,” said Dick Jergenson, a loyal Hagie Manufacturing team member for 60 years.

Ray’s influential impacts to the industry did not come to fruition through a roadmap that paved his way to success, but rather were culminated as a result of his immense passion and dedication to solving problems. “My grandfather earned a reputation for asking a lot of questions and always staying curious,” stated Alan Hagie, a member of Hagie Manufacturing's board of directors. “Throughout his life, Ray challenged the status quo and pushed everyone around him to be better."

A true pioneer of the industry, Ray was unique in his abilities to think like a farmer, envision solutions and lead a company with the purpose of providing quick-to-market innovations for customer needs. Ray’s lifelong pursuit to make an impact is something that he is widely respected for. “My grandfather’s initiation into the AEM Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor and pays tribute to his contributions that are still impacting the agriculture industry today,” noted Alan.

Today Ray’s legacy lives on, as the company he originally envisioned in 1947 proudly remains an innovative, solutions-based leader that will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2017. By preserving the history of innovation and inspiring the next generation, the off-road equipment industry will continue to grow and evolve by solving challenges with groundbreaking solutions that increase efficiency and productivity for the benefit of the entire population.

Nominate an Industry Leader

Ray Hagie is a 2016 inductee to the AEM Hall of Fame. If you know an inspiring leader, please consider honoring them with a nomination to the AEM Hall of Fame.

The nomination period for the 2017 AEM Hall of Fame closes on June 7. Nominations received after June 7 will be considered for the 2018 AEM Hall of Fame. 

Inductees into the AEM Hall of Fame should exemplify five guiding principles:

  1. Innovation
  2. Industry Contributions
  3. Leadership
  4. Corporate Citizenship/Social Responsibility
  5. Sustainability 

For more information about the AEM Hall of Fame or the nomination process, email or call AEM’s Jordanne Waldschmidt at 414-298-4152.