There’s a new leader but familiar face at the helm of Dairy Management Inc., the research and promotion program supported in part by dairy checkoff dollars. This fall, Barbara O’Brien was selected to serve as the next CEO and president of Dairy Management Inc. and as well as president and CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
“It is such an honor to be asked to serve as the CEO,” she said of her new role during a media press conference.
O’Brien does not have a dairy farm background, but for the past 20 years, she has worked at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), overseeing various aspects of the organization. “I was so compelled by the business,” she said of her early experiences at DMI, “that I never left.”
She said she can relate to the farmers’ work ethic and humility, and the work done by DMI is all about the farmers and what they do every day to feed people.
“This last couple of years, seeing the resurgence in hunger, feeding people has become so much more critical,” she said.
As a DMI staff, she said they consider themselves to be stewards, of both the investment dairy farmers make in this program and of what has been done previously.
“The building blocks are in place. It’s an amazing set of companies to drive trusted sales around the world on behalf of dairy farmers,” she explained. “The challenge is to take that to the next level, to ensure we are doing everything we can for dairy farmers.”
In the near term, O’Brien has set a few priorities. One is to look at the various enterprises that make up DMI and foster stronger integration. While each enterprise has its own mission, “Our real power is working together on those priorities that benefit farmers and the category,” O’Brien said.
She is also looking to improve transparency and communication with farmer funders, to help them see and understand the work of DMI and to give feedback. O’Brien also believes there are efficiencies that can be captured by working more closely together to maximize the return on every dollar that farmers put into the program.
Long term, the organization will be guided by domestic and global customer and consumer needs. “It’s about winning the next generation of consumers,” O’Brien said, plus driving demand and sales domestically and abroad and putting U.S. dairy’s leadership in the spotlight for the rest of the world to see.
O’Brien reminded the audience that 85% of DMI programs, staff time, and checkoff dollars are devoted to generating impact and results in the current year. About 10% goes into near term (next one to three years) research and partnerships that help evolve the organization’s plan. A small portion of staff time and checkoff dollars, 5%, is dedicated to long term planning and future work.
“Ultimately, it’s about working together to accomplish what we know we can accomplish for U.S. dairy,” O’Brien said of DMI’s role in the dairy industry. “We are going to continue to drive results for farmers. It is what they expect, and it is what they deserve.”