Brock Talk: Lifehacks from Leslie Friend, Past Editor

Written by Leslie Friend, Past Brock Center Associate

“My problem is, I’ve done so many things,” I said to her, “I’ve spent my academic career bouncing around, being ‘good enough’ at a little of everything, but never great at one thing. How do you figure out what you’re meant to do when, up to this point, the goal was to be ‘well-rounded’?” I sat back in my chair at Sally Loo’s while my best friend gave me a pep talk that could rival Kid President. But deep down this source of anxiety still loomed, pressing me to question my soon-to-be Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Communications with a minor in Agri Business. It was October of my senior year at Cal Poly and it seemed as though everyone around me was falling into their dream job while I—miss “do all the things”—was still without a plan following June 12, 2012.


Lifehack #1: Statistically speaking, that “dream job” will likely not happen right after you graduate. New graduates will change jobs within the first 1-3 years of their employment and hold roughly 11.3 jobs in their lifetime. It may take a while, and that’s okay.

I went back to the drawing board and leaned what I knew about myself, eliminating things I knew were not an option: I am passionate about pizza. Not helpful. I am passionate about agriculture. “Great,” I thought, “That narrows it down to a global-scaled multi-billion dollar industry.” I want to make an impact in the industry that I love and I want to work alongside others who want to do the same. And then I remembered Tom.

During one of my extra-curricular bouts, I worked as a National Collegiate Agriculture Ambassador with the National FFA Organization. Here I was exposed to industry leaders, one of which is the company I work for today, BASF. Tom Holt was the Director of Biology at the time and acted as our facilitator during our week of training in North Carolina. He spoke about the imprint BASF as a global chemical company had on agriculture and how they would be a catalyst in feeding the world. I remember listening to he and his colleagues discuss, so passionately, the importance of supporting growers and helping them get the most out of every acre they produce. I was sold. Naturally, as I volleyed between thoughts of being an artisan pizza maker or doing something in agriculture, I reached out to Tom.

Lifehack #2: The people you meet along the way, no matter if they’re a CEO, industry mogul, or a low-level guy in regulatory, are critical to your career success. Keep a digital rolodex with every contact you make throughout college and beyond. I promise it will change your course for the better.

Tom accepted my resume for their Professional Development Program (PDP), a program that allowed 18 months of extensive marketing and field sales training in US Crops for BASF North America. When I was offered the position in late November of my senior year, I had no metrics for this type of work. Aside from the phone number for a relocation specialist and the promise of a job in Raleigh, North Carolina, my understanding for the following 18 months was limited. Even so, it was a job after graduation and 18 months of training that would allow me to exercise different roles within a company. Toting a U-Haul packed to the brim with belongings, my Cal Poly Alumni sweatshirt, a GPS and, my mom, I made the 2,300 mile trek from California to North Carolina to begin my journey as a PDP.

At BASF I spent nine months in a marketing rotation in the heart of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. While there, I worked alongside the Channel Strategy team creating grower and distributor programs for the field, setting prices for BASF’s herbicide and fungicide products, facilitating technical training modules to our sales team and analyzing a lot of data. I also made lasting professional relationships and learned that, although a great experience, analytical marketing and price setting was not something I particularly enjoyed.

Nine months later, I was in the heart of Washington state, working with Yakima Valley apple growers to decrease the apple scab problem in their orchards. This was the field sales rotation of my program and the moment I learned that I am not just passionate about agriculture but also its producers. I spent most of my time traveling the Pacific Northwest, selling chemistry to growers and finding a myriad of solutions for the problems on their farm. Throughout both rotations, BASF routinely scheduled additional agronomic and leadership training sessions for the PDP’s, trusting this exposure would warrant us a well-rounded approach in becoming a long-term BASF employee. As I neared the conclusion of my 18 months as a PDP, I was offered a position as the Eastern North Carolina Business Representative where I service roughly 50 retail locations and 100 growers locally, still providing solutions on the farm.

What they won’t tell you is that the work place is not like building 10 on campus. What they also fail to mention is that meeting people your age with a lot of commonalities between you does not happen as easily in the real world as it does in college. Making friends is difficult; adapting to a brand new culture is equally hard; starting a new job is terrifying, especially if you aren’t sure it will necessarily “fit” you. But I promise you it is worth it. My time at BASF has often been a confusing maze working to figure out what I like and what positions actually speak to the skill set I’ve attained over the past 24 years. Experiencing a little bit of everything here and there has been, ironically, the single most critical step to figuring out where I want to be long-term in the agriculture industry.

Lifehack #3: Embrace trial and error in your career. You’ll come out of it as a stronger and better-rounded human, not to mention the adventures that will find you.

Pro Tip: Still learn how to make artisan pizzas. They go over great at company pot-lucks.

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