Learning from Leaders: Governor Jim Pillen’s Story

Pig production is a long-standing tradition, and there’s much to be learned from the people who built the industry into what it is today. Governor Jim Pillen, a veterinarian turned farmer turned Nebraska’s current governor, offers insight into his development within the pork industry and the vision he has for the future.

A Past in Production

Pillen has been involved in the pork industry, particularly the Nebraskan pork industry, all his life. In fact, one of his earliest memories is of his father teaching him how to pull a pig. That foundation is what gave him the motivation to earn his doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, and Pillen ran a vet practice for several years. He describes this time in the mid-80s as an incredible experience during which he was on the edge of veterinary tech. Specifically, he’s grateful that he “got to be on the ground floor of the pig production revolution” by implementing multi-site production before the majority of the industry.

Part of the draw to swine production for Pillen has always been that, in his opinion, pigs need humans more than any other species of livestock. Pig barns need countless quick, effective decisions made throughout the day about the animals’ health and handling, and Pillen’s interest in their care led him to his next career venture.

In 1993, Pillen founded Pillen Family Farms® in order to bridge his background in husbandry with his veterinary knowledge. His business grew rapidly, and when reflecting on key decisions he made during that time, he credits the people working for him. In Pillen’s eyes, pigs’ dependence on humans makes culture within a team and within entire barns dramatically more important. “It’s all about the people, and that’s been our focus since day one,” Pillen affirms. He further emphasizes the importance of a cohesive workforce by pointing out that there are few jobs for individuals on a farm, so having positive workers that care about pigs and people is vital to the success of a team and, subsequently, a facility.

This process of expansion continued into the 2000s, and Pillen took it upon himself to spread awareness of the “tremendous” careers and opportunities available in pork production during this period. He admits that the industry at the time had grown since he was a boy and that they were improving elements of production from ventilation in pens to entire systems of operation within barns. To continue that growth for his business and the industry as a whole, Pillen saw a need to attract people with passion, who love creating the best environment possible for the growing animals they work with.

“The more we love our work, the better we take care of our pigs, the better they feed, clothe, educate, help us raise our families…It all goes together, and every team member plays a vital role in that.” His bottom line is that “Every pig, every day, matters.”

Agriculture in Office

After years of work in agriculture, Pillen is now stepping up to take on the role of Nebraska’s governor. He does, after all, credit the state and its people for the person he’s become: “Nebraska is who I am…Everything our family has is because of Nebraska and [its] great people.”

Pillen was inspired to run for governor after practicing his leadership skills via his business and his position on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. More personally, he says he wants to be a giver, not a taker. Particularly after the widespread challenges the pork industry has faced in the past several years, Pillen feels that “Now more than ever, having a strong voice in the governor’s office in the state of Nebraska is essential for agriculture…I would tell you that the metropolitan communities, counties, are recognizing as well that if agriculture goes well in Nebraska, the state of Nebraska is going to flourish. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be a big struggle.”

As far as his priorities and plans of action during his time as governor, he names three principal interests. Firstly, he’s interested in transformative change in tax policy, spearheaded by experts with experience in business and agriculture. He’d like to be more competitive with neighboring states—and to give the people of Nebraska a break. His next priority is, naturally, expanding agriculture. By making smart choices about exports and using the corn and soybeans produced in the U.S. locally, he intends to create new outlets for growth for fellow farmers. Finally, he’s firm in his conviction to be a leader first and a politician second to be true to himself and his intentions for his state.

When times get tough, pork is fortunate enough to have the same leaders that built the modern industry to consult now. Governor Pillen is taking the extent of that leadership to new heights, and pork has exciting opportunities to come as a result.

For more information on this topic, listen to Governor Jim Pillen’s full statement on Popular Pig®: The Founding Story of Pillen Family Farms and What Comes Next.

 By Isabella Rivera

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