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Published December 07, 2010, 09:29 AM

Sisters (in-law) in ag

MENTOR, Minn. — Sisters-in-law Stephanie Anderson and Julie Anderson share a last name. They also share a birth date, March 5. They have at least one more thing in common, too.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

MENTOR, Minn. — Sisters-in-law Stephanie Anderson and Julie Anderson share a last name. They also share a birth date, March 5. They have at least one more thing in common, too.

They’re both managers in their family’s Minnesota-based agricultural businesses.

“We have a business relationship and a professional relationship. We try very hard to keep them separate, and we’re usually good at it,” Stephanie says.

Stephanie is general manager of Anderson Seed Co. in Mentor, Minn.

Julie is operations manager for St. Hilaire (Minn.) Seed Co.

“It’s comforting to have two such talented people on my team pulling hard to be successful,” says Ron Anderson, chief executive officer of both companies. He’s Stephanie’s father and Julie’s father-in-law.

“They’re both dedicated to the job and open to new ideas,” says Ron, who oversees construction for both companies and serves as their “big-picture person” who studies agricultural trends.

Ron and his wife, Mona, own the two private companies. A single board of directors coordinates what the two companies are doing.

Craig Anderson — Ron’s son, Stephanie’s brother and Julie’s husband — is general manager of St. Hilaire Seed and played a key role in building both that company and Anderson Seed.

More recently, both Stephanie and Julie have been “drivers” in the two companies’ growth, Stephanie says.

Julie says she and Stephanie “bounce things off each other,” which benefits both of them.

Both women deal with many growers and customers, in the United States and overseas, and regularly travel out of the country.

“Agriculture is a business, an international business. You have to be very intelligent to be in agriculture,” Stephanie says.

Big career change

Stephanie, 42, and her brother, Craig, grew up on the site of Anderson Seed’s location in Mentor.

She had been director of operations for Hospitality Lodging, an international hotel company, before joining Anderson Seed 1½ years ago

“They asked me to come back. The management that was here (at Anderson Seeds) left, and they needed someone to step in. I was good at management,” she says.

“It’s different going from running an international hotel company to one property. I’ve had to go from big-picture management to an individual company,” she says.

As director of operations for Hospitality Lodging, she was based in both Houston and Montana — “I could work wherever I wanted” — and had about 1,000 people working under her.

Three of her hotels in Galveston, Texas, were hit by Hurricane Ike in early September 2008. Ike was one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States.

“So I ended up after that job becoming pretty good at crisis management. Unfortunately,” she says.

Stephanie says she sometimes misses her old career and lifestyle, but enjoys what she’s doing now.

In any case, the transition has gone well, Stephanie says.

Profits at Anderson Seed have increased 35 percent and the company has doubled in size since she returned, she says.

She’s optimistic about the outlook for her company and its products.

“Sunflowers are starting to become more known as a health food. People are searching them out because they’re healthy,” she says.

‘Whirlwind romance’

Julie, 35, has spent seven years with St. Hilaire Seed Co. after previously working in the trucking industry. Her strengths include computers and logistics.

After joining St. Hilaire Seed, she and Craig began what she describes as “a whirlwind romance” that culminated in their marriage about four months later.

“Everything just fit. We did everything the right way,” she says, adding that “he proposed to me three times before I took him seriously.”

Stephanie was the maid of honor at the wedding, and one of St. Hilaire’s growers gave her away.

Julie says company employees didn’t have issues with her marrying the boss.

“I’d been diligent with my work, and I’d earned their (employees) respect,” she says.She and Craig recently had their third child.

Julie has played a big role at St. Hilaire, Stephanie says.

“I credit Julie with keeping” St. Hilaire Seed “organized and focused. It never would have had the growth it had without her,” Stephanie says.

For her part, Julie says the company’s customer base has expanded greatly in the past few years, for which she thanks growers.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have the beans,” she says.

Dry beans increasingly are recognized as a good source of protein and fiber, and their relatively low price makes them particularly attractive to consumers in tough economic times, she says.

Ignore stereotypes

Stephanie heard a few comments about her gender when she started with Anderson Seed, but she says that didn’t last long.

Julie says she hasn’t any problems either.

“There are a few individuals who are little bit chauvinistic, but you still earn their respect,” she says.

Do Julie and Stephanie have any suggestions for young women interested in a career in agriculture?

“Agronomy. That would be my recommendation,” Julie says.

“I would say to anybody who wants to go into any field, just do it. Don’t listen to stereotypes,” Stephanie says.

She recalls one incident, when Anderson Seed was in the early stages of hiring mill operators for its new Redfield plant, that suggests gender stereotypes still exist.

“I had a woman call me and ask, ‘Am I qualified (to be a mill operator)?’ And I asked, ‘Why wouldn’t you be qualified?’ And she said, ‘Well, because I’m a woman. It seems like a man’s job.’ And I told her, ‘We don’t have man’s jobs around here,’” Stephanie says.

Several women have been hired as mill operators at Redfield, Stephanie says.