main news story
Graduate Sees BVU Growth Through Multiple Perspectives

August 30, 2021 7:50pm

Kevin Willey participated in a Zoom session long before there were Zoom sessions as we know them today.

Willey was a senior at Buena Vista University in 1999 when he conducted market research for Growmark FS for his capstone project.

“I remember standing in front of a camera in a classroom at BVU and presenting my research to Growmark’s Board of Directors in Illinois,” Willey says.

Willey graduated a few weeks later. He earned a position as Sales Support Specialist with Pioneer Hi-Bred in Johnston. Twenty-two years later, Willey remains with the company, now serving as Global Sales Effectiveness Leader with Corteva Agriscience, a creation from a merger of Dow Chemical, and DuPont and Pioneer.

Between then and now, Willey has served the corporation as Finance Analyst, Key Account Manager, District Sales Manager, and Director of U.S. Territory Planning, among other roles. He currently coordinates sales effectiveness efforts such as route-to-market optimization, sales training and development, and sales services across six regions: U.S., Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Africa/Middle East.

“I couldn’t tell you if the grass is greener on the other side,” Willey says while referencing the saying about testing employment winds. “I’ve been with one company for 22 years, and I love our purpose: ‘to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume for generations to come.’”

Willey grew up on a farm between tiny Yale and Panora in Guthrie County, working with his parents who raised corn, soybeans, and a cow-calf herd. He came to BVU in the fall of 1995 intent on playing football for the Beavers when not studying marketing, or ag business. He injured his knee for the second time (the first was in high school) as a BVU freshman, which ended his playing career.

As a student, Willey served with the Buena Vista Marketing Association (BVMA). He worked under Dr. Scott Anderson, Professor of Marketing, and took trips with fellow students to Phoenix and Puerto Rico. He served a marketing internship under David Dvergsten, Chairman and CEO of Security Trust & Savings Bank in Storm Lake.

The experiences built a foundation for a student whose interest in agriculture, like many in his generation, was moving one step from the farm. His parents, he remarks, got out of cattle shortly after he left for BVU. Corteva was created following a merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont, each of which spun off their ag-business sides to create the new enterprise.

“Corteva is a two-year-old company with 200 years of experience,” Willey says. “The culture and the purpose of the company are all new and it’s energizing that we get to build it from the ground up.”

Willey introduced his company during a “15 Minutes with a Leader” Zoom session during the Spring Semester, one of 29 such sessions organized across BVU’s four schools by Rich Crow, Director of the Institute of Agriculture, nearly half of which featured BVU alumni.

Willey shared tips with students that ranged from excelling at one’s current job, to remaining intentional about networking, and to a point he called, “take the trip.”

“My point in saying ‘take the trip’ was for students to practice experiential learning you find in trips,” he says. “Dr. James Hampton and Dr. Charles Slagle (BVU Professors Emeritus) took us to Puerto Rico, and we stayed at a coral research station. We counted coral and measured its circumference, experiences I’ll never forget.”

Willey stressed the importance of giving back, something he and his wife, Mandy, have done for BVU. Willey notes his stay at BVU was underwritten in part by benefactors, people like David and Barbara Dvergsten, in fact, whose annual contributions help fund scholarships and grants that consistently make BVU one of the “Best Buys” among Midwest Universities, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“It doesn’t have to be money,” Willey says. “You can give of your time, through something like the ‘15 Minutes’ program, by just sharing your advice and experiences with students, allowing them to hear how networking works, or how an extra internship might really be a good idea.

“The students attending the Zoom I did were very prepared,” he says. “They asked amazing questions.”

One student on the call knew he had inside knowledge of the guest’s backstory. Tyler Willey is a BVU junior ag business major. The younger Willey, Secretary of the BVU Ag Club, has recently completed work to become a certified commercial drone operator. He’s playing a key role and completing an internship in BVU’s emerging student-run business, Beaver Drone Services, which specializes in serving grain growers in Buena Vista County and beyond through mapping crops, studying water flow, tracking pest infestation, and more.

“Tyler was set to attend college somewhere else, and then I had him join Mandy and me in the spring of 2019 as we drove to BVU to visit about the Institute for Agriculture getting started,” Kevin says. “Tyler sat in on a couple of classes while we were there, and by the time we returned home, he said, ‘I’m going to BVU.’”

It has given Kevin Willey yet another vantage point, that of a legacy parent. And leads to this humorous observation: “I’ve been on the lake more as a parent than I was a student,” he says. “We have a lakeside campus for crying out loud.”