Survey: Best Mentors: Millers Credit Those Who Helped Develop Their Careers

Alex Unruh | Technical Milling Director | General Mills | Carlisle, IA | In Industry Since 2011

“Steve Curran is the retired plant manager at the General Mills flour mill in Kansas City, MO who hired me. Steve supported my learning and helped me bridge the gap between theoretical and practical flour milling operations. From Steve, I also learned a lot about leadership and the transfer of knowledge to subordinates or team members.

“Lexie Psannenstiel was the operations manager for General Mills’ Kansas City flour mill, and I worked for her when I started there out of school. Lexie taught me how to get work done with my team through delegating, engaging, and inspiring others. She also taught me how to craft a career path/career plan and apply applicable objectives to reach it.

“Warren Vala was also a great mentor who was an engineering initiative leader. Warren taught me a lot about continuous improvement and project startup. He also helped me develop my capabilities to influence people across my peer network.”

Mary Gleason | Plant Manager | Siemer Milling Co. | Hopkinsville, KY | In Industry Since 2007

“My first mentor was my grandpa, Eugene Wendling. He was a farmer who grew wheat, corn, and soybeans and raised cattle. He instilled in me a work ethic and the importance of being passionate for whatever you do.

"I remember stopping by to see him once when he was in his 90s, and he was still in the fields at 9 p.m. The next day I told him, ‘Grandpa, you shouldn’t work so late.’ He said, ‘It’s not work if you love what you do,’ and those are words that I aspire to live by. In his last days he said, ‘I love God, I love my family, and my country.’ He gave back in everything he did to make this country a better place.

“Another mentor was Jule Taylor, former vice president of corporate plant operations for Cargill, including their flour milling business. I met Jule when she was in that role, and it was very influential for me to see a woman in that high-level role.

"She showed me there was no ceiling for me, and with hard work and determination anything could be possible. I hadn’t seen any women in milling operations at that high of a level before or since. She was kind of a sponsor and an advocate for other women and helped us succeed. As a person, she was really high energy and an authentic leader, someone to model your career after.”

Keith Horton | Vice President of Milling | Grain Millers, Inc. | Eugene, OR | In Industry Since 1983

“Leslie Collins was the owner of a welding shop in Texas where I worked while I was in school. He instilled confidence in me, taught me to not be afraid to make a mistake at the expense of progress, and let me make small mistakes in order to learn. He always focused on helping others, regardless of our area of responsibility. He set me on a good path.

“Chris Kongsor, Sr. was a founding partner at Grain Millers in Eugene, OR. He hired me and relocated me from Texas to Oregon. What impressed me was his genuine care for his employees. We weren’t just employees; he treated us like family. As we walked through the mill, he knew everyone’s name and always asked about their families. He taught me that if we genuinely care about our people, our people will genuinely care about us. Chris was always confident in my ability to succeed. I always think of him as a second father to me.

“My father, Donald Horton, was a great mentor. He got me started in milling and helped develop my faith, morals and values. He taught me to be humble, that I was no better than anyone else, and that we should never ask someone to do something we wouldn’t be willing to do ourselves. He also taught me to lead by example.

"To this day, if I see something that needs to be swept or a pile that needs to be shoveled, I’ll grab a broom or shovel. When employees see the vice president grab a scoop or shovel, they don’t hesitate to pitch in either. My father and Chris were similar in their beliefs and principles, and I aspire to be like them.

Ron Galle | Director of Quality and Food Safety | Miller Milling Company | Minneapolis, MN | In Industry Since 1990

“Scott Montgomery was a regional operations manager and eventually the vice president of operations for Cargill Global Dry Milling.

"Scott hired me out of Kansas State University Milling Science 31 years ago and continued to develop and challenge me with various plant management roles early in my career. Scott recognized my skills for environmental health and safety (EHS) and food safety.

"He transitioned me out of the plant manager role and into a corporate staff role for Cargill’s worldwide milling business. At that time, there were no dedicated EHS or food safety personnel in our mills and a lot of new regulations were being implemented.

"Scott firmly believed these areas were not only important, but EHS/food safety compliance needed to be practical and easily implemented at the plant level. I’ve always kept those objectives in mind as my career path has further expanded into food safety, quality, and regulatory compliance.

“Loren Urquhart was the vice president of sales and commercial at ADM Milling. Loren was instrumental in my integration and growth at ADM. Although my role reported to operations, Loren helped me further understand the commercial and customer side of the milling business. He always was willing to answer my questions and provided advice as needed.

"I appreciated his work ethic as well as the need to have fun. A lot of his advice about work came while we were golfing together in our Thursday night league. He may have even helped my golf game a bit.”

Vince Kintzle | Director of Technical Milling | Ardent Mills | Denver, CO | In Industry Since 1989

“My father, Al Kintzle, was plant manager for Bay State Milling in Winona, MN when I started. He set my foundation at the beginning of my career to follow in milling.

“Hugo Gerbholz was technical director of milling for ConAgra Foods who took me by his side, and the deep diving began. I always looked forward to him challenging me on something within my mill. I learned many things from Hugo, especially making sure you understood your flow sheet. He always had my best interests in mind for development.

“Brad Allen, retired vice president of operations for Ardent Mills, was the plant manager in our Alton, IL facility, and I became the head miller shortly after he arrived there. Brad empowered people with training and understanding and held us accountable.

"The milling part of the business was not beneath him, and occasionally I would find him trying to set up the grind on our very large vintage roll floor. That willingness to be a part of things going on at the cooperational level really stuck with me. To this day, I believe in building a team and doing things together to earn respect, trust, and ultimately the commitment to go after the things that drive value.

“Finally, Ted Korolchuk and Scott Martin, senior technical directors for Ardent Mills, supported me in many ways over the years and still continue to do so at a high level. It’s easy to call out both of these individuals as technical experts in the field of milling. It’s even more of a pleasure to call them friends.”

Aaron Black | Plant Manager | Ardent Mills | Martins Creek, PA | In Industry Since 1996

“David Tallent, former milling superintendent with ADM Milling in Charlotte, NC, was instrumental in helping me hone my milling skills right out of Kansas State University. I had a great education, but

"David forced me to apply what I had learned by digging in deep to manage milling operations. He was adamant about milling with all your senses, and you had to be out in the plant and know the jobs to do that properly.

"David was instrumental in helping me understand that you aren’t managing processes, but people, and you have to know what they know and understand the processes to get tasks done. Understanding each task, how it’s performed, and the complexity of certain tasks will better help you manage not just the process, but the person doing the task.

“Another mentor was Jim Koehnlein, general manager of Wilkins Rogers Mills. Jim was instrumental in helping me understand the bigger picture in the milling industry and from a business standpoint. He also was instrumental in making sure that someone in my position as director of operations (formerly with Wilkins Rogers) doesn’t get caught in the weeds of all the management and business aspects of running the business. This helped me maintain perspective in the many facets of the business I was involved in and am still involved in today.”

From Second Quarter 2021 MILLING JOURNAL