Wired In: Lena Head

Wired In: Lena Head

Each week, staff writer Paul Wood talks with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet LENA HEAD, site director at the AGCO Acceleration Center in the University of Illinois Research Park. The center is a newly established satellite office to team with the UI for high-tech ag research.

What brought you here, Lena?

I grew up in central Illinois on my own family farm and attended the UI for my bachelor's and MBA.

And why are you loyal to the area?

I ended up marrying my college sweetheart, who happens to be a farmer, so that is what kept me in the area.

Tell us about the center, and your role in it.

At the Acceleration Center, we are developing new technologies to increase our capabilities as an agriculture equipment manufacturer, but also exploring ways to incorporate technology into our products to help growers be more efficient in their farming operations. My role as site director is to identify key business needs to bring to the Acceleration Center to solve, guide and manage students who are helping to solve these needs and stay engaged with the University and start-up community on innovations and research in the pipeline.

What's the very latest thing with AGCO?

AGCO recently hosted their own iVenture Summit in Berlin, where they engage with agri-tech startups to explore innovative and disruptive solutions that have the potential to move global agriculture forward.

AGCO has grain, seed processing, swine and poultry production equipment brands, which include GSI, Cimbria, AP and Cumberland. Does the company have branches all over the country?

The simple answer is yes, AGCO has branches all over the country and the world. AGCO is a global leader in the design, manufacture and distribution of agriculture equipment. Their products are sold under five core brands: Challenger, Fendt, GSI, Massey Ferguson and Valtra. Despite the fact that our Research Park Site is branded AGCO — it is actually dedicated to only one of those five brands — GSI. GSI’s global headquarters are in Assumption, Ill., where our main office and manufacturing plant is located. In total, there are five manufacturing facilities in Illinois, and additional sites in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska and Canada. We also have additional offices and manufacturing in China, Malaysia, Hungary and Brazil, to name a few.

University of Illinois undergraduate and graduate students will be employed year-round to further the company’s capabilities in areas such as data science, web and mobile development, and machine learning. How many will there be, and will they work out of your site? Have you finished recruiting them?

We currently have seven student interns working part-time out of our Research Park office this semester and we are actively recruiting for a few more interns for this summer. In total we have enough room for about 20 people to work from this site.

Who else is on the team?

Aside from me, we have recently hired one other full-time employee to join the team here, Paul Thornhill. Paul is responsible for leading our web development efforts that support our technology products and he will likely be looking to add a few more full-time staff to support his efforts.

How long have you been with AGCO?

I have been with the GSI division of AGCO for five years. Prior to my current position as Site Director of the AGCO Acceleration Center, I was able to gain a holistic perspective of our business through various roles in marketing, new product development, and product management. I However, I was specifically drawn to GSI because of its local roots but global impact. It is rewarding to work for a large, corporate agribusiness whose impact can also be seen all around us right here in Central Illinois.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

Find a business partner who offsets your weaknesses. Oftentimes, I see young entrepreneurs with brilliant technical skills and innovative ideas, but they don’t have the business experience to bring a product to market. Someone once told me that, “A good idea is not a good business.” So find someone who can help you shape your idea into a product or business that can be successfully commercialized.

Did you ever make any mistakes that you learned from in your early years?

Nothing too major, but if there is ever a time to make mistakes, its early in your career. Mistakes made early on tend to have a lower magnitude of impact, so learn from them while you’re young, because they could be much more costly later in your career. From the mistakes I’ve made I’ve learned to talk less and listen more, sit at the table and participate regardless of your age, experience level or job title, and know your worth and accept nothing less.

TECH TIDBITS ... from LENA HEAD

Favorite app: Headspace — it’s an app that leads you through daily guided meditation. I have found it to be a useful tool to clear my mind and start my day.

On Facebook I follow ... family, friends and small businesses and boutiques.

Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? I am in the final months of finishing my MBA, so the only readings I’ve had time for in the last two years are Harvard Business Review Case Studies. But overall, I’m definitely a book person, and “The Originals” by Adam Grant is first on my reading list for the summer.

Do you have any wearable electronics? I have a Fitbit. I like the reminders to get up from my desk every once in a while.

Do you have an entrepreneur hero? Nike Founder Phil Knight. I enjoy a good story succeeding despite all odds stacked in his favor, and I also admire his ability to create such a strong brand image. I highly recommend his memoir, “Shoe Dog”; it shares the inspiring story of starting out selling imported Japanese shoes out of the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant, to what is now one of the world’s most iconic brands.