True leaders show a pattern of success over a lifetime, says Tom McKittrick, World Dairy Expo General Manager. “And their peers recognize them as having wisdom, business acumen and a vision that is uncommon. This year’s honorees have those skills. They have helped steer the world’s dairy organizations and businesses to success.”

The winners will be celebrated at an awards banquet on Oct. 4, as part of World Dairy Expo activities in Madison, Wis.

The four award winners are:

Industry person of the year, Gary Hanman

Gary Hanman worked his way through the ranks to become president and CEO of the nation’s largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America.

He started his career in 1956, working for the federal milk market administrator’s office in St. Louis. In 1964, he went to work for the Square Deal Milk Producer Association in Highland, Ill. Four years later, that organization became a part of Mid-America Dairymen. He served in various marketing positions at Mid-Am prior to becoming its executive vice president and CEO in 1975. Mid-Am was one of four cooperatives that merged together in 1998 to form Dairy Farmers of America. Hanman became DFA’s first CEO and held that position until his retirement in December 2005.

During Hanman’s tenure, DFA experienced rapid growth. By 2005, it marketed one-third of the nation’s milk supply, with 24,000 dairy-farmer members.

Hanman is known as a “straight-shooter” who lets you know exactly where he stands on a subject. 

In addition, Hanman says his management style included:

  • Managing by exception — paying attention to and fixing what’s broke or in need of re-direction.
  • Decentralization — allowing decisions to be made at the lowest levels of the organization possible. 
  • Always remembering what the organization is all about — and the fact that dairy farmers are the owners.  

Dairyman of the year, Louis “Red” Larson

By viewing challenges as opportunities, Louis “Red” Larson became one of the true movers-and-shakers of the dairy industry.

Starting from scratch in 1947, Larson used the proceeds from a house he built to purchase his first cows. He got a foothold in the Broward County, Fla., area, but encroachment from urban neighbors caused him to move to Dade County, then back to Broward County, then Palm Beach County — and, ultimately, Okeechobee County. Each move was both a challenge and an opportunity. Urbanization in southern Florida caused him to move, but it also contributed to higher land values, which raised his equity position and allowed him to grow even more. By the mid-1980s, his operation in the Okeechobee area reached 12,000 cows in the milking herd. (Today, Larson Dairy has about 6,000 cows in the milking herd.)      

In order to grow that large, Larson had to be both an opportunist and a shrewd businessman.

His underlying philosophy over the years was to control cost as a means of keeping the dairy profitable. Return on investment was more important than production per cow. “It’s not the production, it’s the profit and the margin,” he would say.

Besides the obvious success of growing his farm, Larson was involved in many organizations dedicated to advancing the dairy industry in the state of Florida and the nation as a whole. He served as president of the National Milk Producers Federation. And, during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations in the 1960s, he served on the Advisory Committee on Milk and Dairy Products appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. 

Recently, the dairy science building at the University of Florida was named in his honor.

Dairy woman of the year, Janet Shank Stiles

The testimonials for Janet Shank Stiles are glowing:

  •  “I’ve never known anyone with a stronger work ethic than Janet,” says Lois Remsburg Skeen, lifelong friend and editor of Southeastern Holstein News.
  • “Janet juggles her multitude of responsibilities as mother, dairy farmer, business woman, dairy promoter and educator on a daily basis… she’s either found the fountain of youth or has a superhero cape under her barn jacket,” says Jay Bryant, general manager of Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association. 

Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, Stiles and her husband, Tracy, were involved with Waverly Farm Jerseys, a nationally recognized dairy operation in Clearbrook, Va. In 1996, she and Tracy left Waverly to begin Shenandoah Jerseys on a 126-acre farm near Boonsboro, Md. The herd has since gained recognition for being one of the highest-producing Jersey herds in the county.

“I believe in working hard — and staying at it without a lot of bells and whistles and frills,” Stiles says. “Because we aren’t real labor-intensive and have a smaller herd (with 100 milk cows), I have relied a lot of times on TLC” and knowing the cows on an individual basis, she adds.

International person of the year, João Casagrande

João Casagrande has championed A.I. breeding programs in Brazil.

“Dr. Casagrande has become one of the most influential people in developing Brazil’s A.I. infrastructure, which, in turn, has made Brazil one of America’s biggest semen-export customers,” says Robert Walton, president emeritus of American Breeders Service.

The owner and general manager of the SEMBRA Technician, Production and ReproductionCenter in Barretos, São Paulo, Brazil, Dr. Casagrande has authored many papers on reproductive physiology and trained hundreds of A.I. technicians.