In 25 years, the 2023 Corteva Agriscience innovationLEADER of the Year has become a leading supplier of color to landscape and recreation areas and is now heading toward expansion.
Colorbiotics, headquartered in Ames, manufactures colorant for mulch and recreation surfaces like rubber and rock as well as the equipment that applies the color. More recently, the company has launched a line of bio-based asphalt products and is currently building a second facility in Ames to serve as an asphalt research lab.
The new products use soybean-based technology to extend the life of existing asphalt by up to five years and allow recycled asphalt to be used for new jobs. Since launching, three Colorbiotics asphalt products have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its BioPreferred Program, which requires products to be mostly composed of biological matter.
Colorbiotics Vice President Kent Rotert started working for the company’s founder, Becker Underwood, in 2006 and has stayed through all the company’s major acquisitions over the years. The company was recently acquired by Sika AG, a Swiss multinational specialty chemical company that supplies the building sector and motor vehicle industry.
Rotert shared his thoughts on successful leadership and Colorbiotics’ opportunities for innovation.
What drives a successful leader?
I believe good leaders must be passionate about the business. They should be committed to growing the company by sharing a vision employees can understand and support. I am also a believer that you can always improve. I try to demonstrate that philosophy by constantly supporting process improvements and product innovations. Most of all, I think good leaders need to support their team. It is important for me to help create an environment where innovation thrives, and then reward our team members when their innovations make our company successful.
How do you define innovation as an organization?
To us, innovation involves both products and processes. On the product side, we have simple innovations like product improvements, but we are also developing disruptive technology that could revolutionize an industry. Simultaneously, a simple process improvement may help us day-to-day, or completely change how we can serve our customers better.
In most cases, any innovation should show a return on investment. One area that might not show a direct return on investment is improving the safety of our processes. We value safety for our employees regardless of whether it’s going to make us money. If we can develop a process that is safer, that value outweighs any other calculation.
How do leaders effectively guide a team through times of uncertainty?
Our business has been through three acquisitions since 2016. But during that time frame, we have grown more than 60%. That type of growth during times of change and uncertainty is based on staying connected with the employees. Helping them feel comfortable that the right decisions are being made in those situations allows them to stay focused on the current demands and needs of the business. Also, helping them see the bigger picture allows everyone to feel more comfortable through changes that will happen or have happened.
Where are the opportunities for growth in your industry?
As we continue to innovate and develop new technologies, we will continue to grow in the markets we serve. Continually finding better ways to do something has helped us maintain our leadership in the landscape and recreation markets. Whether it be a better product color or a better application tool, we intend to continue improving, and to continue being a leader.
In the asphalt and roofing markets we serve, the growth opportunities are immense. We have fantastic new products for these markets that improve asphalt-shingle roofs, parking lots and highways. Our ability to beat the competitors in product performance while also being “100% USDA Biopreferred” positions Colorbiotics’ asphalt business perfectly for the future. And, when you pair unmatched product performance with a team of employees who continue to push that performance even further, our growth potential is exponential.
What is one lesson from your career that you would share with emerging leaders?
When you’re constantly pushing forward, mistakes will happen. Learn from those mistakes and use them to continue fueling the passion in your team. I know I have made mistakes in my career, but I believe I have learned from them – and I am better because of that. I am constantly thinking of new ways to drive or innovate our markets, and I know that rubs off on the employees we have, and then they do the same. I enjoy going to work every day because of the people I work with and the customers we serve. That passion and enjoyment is seen throughout our team and is what makes us effective.
I believe being true to your employees and customers is key to a leader’s success. I am only as good as the people around me. I am not capable of running the business and also making, shipping and supporting the products. My job is to lead by example, support my employees, be creative in my ideas and vision, and, most of all, listen to those around me. Doing these things will enable any leader to serve their employees and customers better.
Corteva Agriscience is a global pure-play agriculture company that combines industry-leading innovation, high-touch customer engagement and operational execution to profitably deliver solutions for the world’s most pressing agriculture challenges. Corteva generates advantaged market preference through its unique distribution strategy, together with its balanced and globally diverse mix of seed, crop protection, and digital products and services. With some of the most recognized brands in agriculture and a technology pipeline well positioned to drive growth, the company is committed to maximizing productivity for farmers, while working with stakeholders throughout the food system as it fulfills its promise to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come. More information can be found at www.corteva.com.