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#WomenInAg: Courtney Kingery, CEO of Indiana Soybean Alliance

Interview & Story about Women in Ag, the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, and the Indiana Corn Growers Association

Advocating for Indiana Farmers


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Despite her solid Indiana farm roots, Courtney Kingery still calls herself an “accidental aggie.” As a teen, her family pushed her to pursue a career that went beyond the multi-generational corn and soy family farm, and after graduating from Hanover College with a degree in economics, she planned to apply to law school; however, an entry level position soon put her on another path. She started as a grain trader at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and was promoted continuously until she became the marketing manager for ADM’s oilseeds and food ingredients.


As Courtney steadily scaled the corporate ladder, she says she found that it was more like a “jungle gym” than a straight climb in that there were unique opportunities that propelled her in different directions along the way. Today, she’s celebrating her third anniversary as CEO of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana Corn Marketing Council and the Indiana Corn Growers Association, a position she took on in 2019.


Land Values sat down with Courtney to learn about the changes and challenges she’s experienced over her career, the importance of mentorships and why success is different for everybody.


Land Values (LV): With such an interesting background that brought you from corporate to nonprofit, was it a natural transition for you to take on the position you’re currently in?


Courtney Kingery (CK): One of my life goals was to retire from Corporate America and work in a nonprofit by the age of 55. It was a goal I had for myself and I feel very blessed and honored that I was honestly able to do that at 45. Prior to that, I had left ADM and went to Tate & Lyle where I was leading a global platform – a global business unit – and it was one of the fastest growing business units within the organization. And to leave that sort of role for a nonprofit is not the typical trajectory in one’s corporate career.


Courtney points to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Sandberg served as CEO of Facebook.


CK: One of her principles as she puts forward is that life is not your career; your life is not often a ladder. You know, we often use the phrase “career ladder.” Sometimes it’s much more like a jungle gym. Sometimes you go out, sometimes you go over, sometimes you go a diagonal. And that’s very much what it feels like for me. Moving over into this nonprofit space and leading these nonprofit organizations was not the straight linear move, but it very much fits with my values and my goals and who I am as a person. So, it’s very core to my values.



LV: Can you explain what you do in your current role?


CK: In my current role, I’m the CEO of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and the Indiana Corn Growers Association. I work on behalf of the 20,000 corn and soybean farmers in Indiana. Indiana corn and soybean farmers are central in our decision making and what we do and how we calculate and how we think about value.


LV: What’s your day-to-day like?


CK: There’s no typical day-to-day. My main responsibility is being a champion for the organization, a champion for those growers, and building stakeholder relationships. We love to have our board of directors, our farm leaders, out talking to people, talking to trade teams, talking to stakeholders, but they’re also running multi-million-dollar businesses themselves. And so that’s where I can help do that on their behalf. I also lead the team here. We’ve got a great staff who I oversee and who are the ones behind the execution and work of the alliance and the council.


LV: Did you have a mentor that helped you along the way?


CK: I’ve had dozens of mentors throughout my career and at different stages of my career, at different points in my career. But I’ve never really been in a “former mentor structure.” Instead, my mentors have been very much like I see someone that I admire and I reach out to them and say, “Hey, can we grab a cup of coffee?” or “Can I talk to you about this? I’m struggling with this a little bit. How do you think I should handle this?”


LV: Do you think it’s important for people to seek out others for advice and guidance throughout their careers?


CK: Absolutely. It’s human nature to want to seek out others and talk to others. When we run into some challenges or need to think differently about things, it’s great to have that network of people who you trust that are willing to not only say, “Hey, you’re doing a great job,” but also “I think maybe you handled this one not the best.”


LV: To date, only 14% of principal operators are female farmers and they control about 7% of U.S. farmland. Is it difficult to be a female agricultural leader?


CK: When you look across the ag industry, it’s not necessarily women and ag, it’s just ag. Even in my family, my mom was just as active as my dad – just in different ways. When you look at the leadership on the farms here, women and daughters are very active. They just don’t necessarily talk about it. And so I guess I’d start off with challenging it’s predominantly male when you look across our board of directors. We’ve got a great mix between female and male leaders. What I really see it as is that women who are in agriculture need to talk about it and talk about what we do – and not be afraid to step into the spotlight.


Indiana has some great examples. Our secretary of agriculture is Lieutenant Governor Susanna Crouch. Our dean of the School of Agriculture at Purdue is Karen Plaut. Our CEO for the dairy checkoff is Jenny Browning. Women are in leadership in agriculture all over the place. And we have been through generations.


LV: Do you have any advice for somebody who might be interested in taking that same jungle gym path you’ve taken, switching from Corporate America to nonprofit and still feeling like they’re fulfilling what they are after?


CK: For me, it started with knowing myself. And having really honest conversations with myself, with my husband about where do we see our family going right now? What are my values? Ask yourself: What do you want for yourself? What do you want when you grow up? What can you do to get there? Because success is different for everybody. Know your own personal definition of success and don’t be afraid of it. It’s personal for you and it doesn’t have to be like anybody else’s.


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