Letter to the editor | Michael Pedreiro

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My name is Michael Pedreiro and I am the Executive VP and COO of Dairy Production Systems.  I am in charge of 5 dairy farms milking 12,000 cows and employing about 190 people with a vast majority of them being of Hispanic descent.

I must say that I am appalled by the article you wrote about managing and understanding our Hispanic labor force and totally disagree.  I was born (to Portuguese immigrants) on a dairy farm in California 32 years ago and have lived/worked on a dairy farm all the years of my life and have interacted with many different types of people and “cultures”.  I spent my first 20 years in California and then moved to upstate New York for 2 years while attending Cornell University.  I then moved to Colorado and lived there for two years, then on to Mississippi for 1 year and then to Florida where I currently reside and have been here for 6 ½ years.  I have traveled to the upper Midwest, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest parts of the US and have traveled internationally to Canada, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Sicily and Ecuador.  Needless to say I have seen many dairy farms and many different types of people working on these dairy farms and I think you have grossly misinterpreted what the real problem is with Dairy owners/managers frustrations with their Hispanic workforce.

In your article you make the comment of “Americans are capitalists: we’re competitive, always measuring… We even socialize over competitive events, such as football games.”  This is a true statement for the most part but have you not seen video footage of football (soccer) games in Hispanic countries where they are so competitive that they get in fights and throw objects at players on the field?  Is that not a competitive culture also?

Further along you quote Gumaro Gonzalez that “Hispanics are socialistic – everyone is equal and generally satisfied with where we are” and you compare that to the capitalistic, results-orientated manner of the American culture.  I don’t find this statement to be true.  There are many Hispanics that come to work for us that are very motivated and have worked themselves up the corporate ladder and have gone from a milker all the way up to the dairy manager of a 2,500 cow dairy managing 36 employees! On the other hand we have "Anglos" that have been milking cows for us for 15 years and are totally uninterested in moving up the corporate ladder and have actually told us that if we were to promote them that they would quit because they are very satisfied with where they are at.

Another remark you make is that “Hispanics have grown up in a world where they receive basically the same pay no matter how hard they work.  As a result, there is no sense of urgency; everything can wait until tomorrow or manana”.  I am very offended by this statement and when I had a few of my Hispanic employees read the article they were offended most by this statement.  I have employees that have no sense of urgency and others who are on top of everything and work as if there is no tomorrow.  But being Hispanic has nothing to do with having a sense of urgency or not. 

Further along you say that Hispanics value family more than Anglos using the example that an American may miss his or her child’s ball game because of a work commitment and the Hispanic would do the opposite.  In my experience I have found the very opposite to be true.  Most Americans will miss work to go watch a son or daughter’s ball game while the Hispanics stay on the job and work. 

“Hispanics believe that ‘if you don’t cheat you don’t get ahead attitude is seen as normal’… Isn’t that true for anyone that has had their trust broken by someone?  Don’t you think the investors that entrusted Bernie Maddoff to manage their money have a very hard time trusting anyone now?  That doesn’t have anything to do with what spot on the planet you are from that has to do with what events and experiences have impacted you most in this life.

A prophetic statement by Tom Fuhrmann, “Our downfall is we say it once, move on and assume they get it”.  Is that a condemnation on Hispanics or is that a condemnation on the person giving instructions?  The real problem is that in order to manage, supervise and lead people to greatness managers/leaders must invest an inordinate amount of time and effort and most owners/managers don’t want to put that much effort into it and so when things aren’t going well they blame it on someone’s culture.  When the truth of the matter is that no matter what race, creed, nationality, color and religion anyone may be they must be trained properly and be given certain things to empower them to do their job well.  To train them properly you must cover three basics: 1) tell them what you want them to do, 2) tell them how to do it and 3) tell them why it is important. You may have to do this more than once for certain people but their culture doesn't have anything to do with that. 

“Be sure to use simple words and don’t expect them to understand at once”… I don’t know who came up with this line but you might as well have said talk slowly and don’t use big words because these people are not very smart. 

“But the Hispanic may not understand the connection between dirty teats and SCC.”  Here is another statement that just blows me away.  Nobody innately knows the connection between dirty teats and SCC until someone has explained it to them… it doesn’t matter if they are Hispanics are an Anglo.  That statement makes it sound like “Anglos” are born right out of their mother’s womb knowing the connection between the bacterial load on the surface of the teat end and the impact it has on milk quality and SCC’s in the udder.  Someone told them just like someone needs to tell Hispanics otherwise they won’t know either.

“Money is not the same motivator for Hispanics as it is for Americans.”  What are you talking about??? These people are so driven by their dissatisfaction of where they are that they risk their lives to come to this country to work hard, make money and use that money to help improve their lives as well as their children’s lives.  I’d say that they are pretty darn motivated by money.

“More than anything, Hispanic employees want recognition”.  Really???  Americans never want you to tell them that they are doing a good job?  Every human being wants their boss to recognize the work they are doing and make them feel like they are important to the success of the company.  I think all people have an innate desire to feel like they are appreciated.

You also mention that “Education isn’t a high priority.”  I don’t agree with this statement either.  Many of our employees are from Mexico and Central American countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) and most aren’t able to attend school because they must start working at an early age to provide for their family but they do put a high priority on education they just aren’t able to pay for it while they are in their home countries.  So they come to the US to provide for their families and give their children the opportunity to go to school to get even more opportunities than they had as a child.

Our society loves to sensationalize this story of the “chasm” between Hispanic labor and their gringo bosses but I think all it does is give us (owners/mangers) an excuse as to why we can’t get things done on our farms as best as we would like. When in reality, the real core issue as to why we are unable to train, lead, manage, supervise and coach groups of people to accomplish great goals in our industry is easily fixable yet many times is not “sexy” enough for people to want to do.  About 20-25 years ago nearly every single dairy farm was own, managed and all tasks operated by the owner and his immediate family.  The management was focused on the cows and “managing” them and the employees were your wife, son, daughter, cousin, nephew, niece and any other extended family so if things didn’t go right you, as the employee, would get a “butt-chewing” from mom/dad and maybe even a “butt whooping” and that was the extent of the “management”.  Now farms are run as businesses with employees and it just so happened to be that most people who work on farms are from Hispanic descent.  So most farms are ill-equipped to manage people (regardless of what culture they are from) because they have always focused on managing cows and not people.  That is where the problem lies… Most managers/owners are not very good at managing people and they have never been properly trained to do so.  But because most of those people are Hispanic then you assume that the core root of the problems stem from the fact that they are Hispanic when in fact it is not.  Don’t misunderstand me, I understand that people who speak only Spanish will have a hard time understanding folks that speak only English but that is a language barrier not a communication problem and those are two very different things.

I was very fortunate 9 years ago to meet and begin a working relationship with a man by the name of David Sumrall.  It is his life's passion to study human communication and interaction and has spent the last 20 years in teaching people how to communicate, teach, lead, manage, motivate and supervise employees.  I have learned a lot from him but one of the most important things I have learned from him is that in order to manage people to get great results you must treat them with respect, give them the tools they need to do the job and most important of all focus on the things you have in common and not the things that divide us.

I would love to see this magazine write an article talking about the similarities that Hispanics have with Black, Anglo, Asian, Portuguese, Dutch or any other group of people that we employ on our farms and how at the end of the day people, no matter where they come from, all want the same things.

Sincerely,

Michael Pedreiro
Executive Vice President & COO
Dairy Production Systems


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