The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) announced the roster of its inaugural NextGen leadership class, a group of 13 up-and-coming professionals in the dairy industry who have been identified by their companies as tomorrow’s industry leaders.

“The future of the dairy industry is only as strong as the people who work for the industry today,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., IDFA’s president and CEO. “That’s why I’m so proud of this inaugural NextGen leadership class — they represent some of the best and brightest young leaders making a difference for dairy today, and IDFA’s NextGen program will prepare them to lead our industry into a new era.”

The NextGen program was designed to support, guide and prepare mid-senior-level dairy industry professionals who are ready to take the next step in their leadership journey. The year-long program will equip participants with the next level of skills required to conquer business demands today and in the future, Washington, D.C.-based IDFA said.

The program will focus on three core areas: advocacy, education and networking. Participants will build and expand relationships with their peers, hone leadership skills and acquire advanced advocacy skills for the dairy industry.

To grow in the years to come, the dairy industry is going to require leadership development and succession planning for exiting baby boomers occupying top leadership roles. So the goals of the program, Dykes told Dairy Foods magazine, are not only to help provide promising dairy industry professionals with the skills, tools and networking opportunities critical to leadership development, but also to spur leadership-development thinking on companies’ part.

To select the inaugural NextGen class, IDFA solicited nominations from the leadership of companies within the dairy industry. It then reviewed those applications, Dykes said. Final selection also considered each candidate’s commitment to attending the program’s meetings and each company’s commitment to providing program-related financial support to the nominated candidate.

The 2019 class includes:

  • Ebru Basaran-Shull, director, compliance and government affairs, Sargento Foods Inc., Plymouth, Wis.
  • Mark Benson, vice president supply chain, Leprino Foods Co., Denver, Colo.
  • Brian Fletcher, vice president, commercial/institutional service and sales, Rice Dairy, Chicago.
  • Lucas Fuess, director of dairy market intelligence, HigherGround Dairy, Chicago.
  • David Hakes, regulatory product compliance manager, company affairs, Schreiber Foods Inc., Green Bay, Wis.
  • Jeff Larson, general manager, dairy operation, H-E-B, San Antonio.
  • Megan Lesch, food safety and compliance manager, Shamrock Foods Co., Phoenix.
  • Erin Massey, product development manager, Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., Kirkwood, Mo.
  • Matt McClelland, director of operations, Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., Earth City, Mo.
  • Caleb Robinson, strategy manager, Saputo Dairy Foods USA, Dallas.
  • Michael Sachau, market development director, TC Transcontinental, Ada, Mich.
  • Patrick Schallberger, CEO, Hollandia Dairy, San Marco, Calif.
  • Matt Wilkinson, general manager, IT (CIO), strategic projects and contract management, Great Lakes Cheese, Hiram, Ohio.

To prepare for the future and retain top talent, organizations need to provide learning and professional development programs for their next generation of leadership. IDFA said it is dedicated to providing resources to its members to ensure positive growth within their companies.

IDFA’s chief of staff, Heather Soubra, will be the “point person” on the program, along with Colin Newman, director of political affairs and strategic programs, Dykes noted. But the association’s communications team, legislative team and regulatory team will also be involved.

“We see this as a collaborative team effort here on the part of IDFA to work with participants,” he said.

The inaugural class will meet several times over the course of the next year, with the first meeting to be held near Washington, D.C., at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Dykes said. The group will meet again during IDFA’s Dairy Forum in January, as well at IDFA’s spring board meeting in May. Participants will enhance their leadership skills during these sessions via role playing, scenario planning, group discussions and more, Dykes said.

“We’ll also take them to Capitol Hill — we’ll expose them to advocacy,” he added.

In addition, the program will include webinars and presentations from outside leadership development speakers.

A huge positive for the NextGen program is IDFA’s diverse membership, a reality the association plans to leverage, Dykes said. Members run the gamut from multinational corporations and major food retailers that process their own dairy products to farmer-owned cooperatives and small sole proprietors. And diversity also can be found in the various roles employees play within those companies.

That diversity is reflected in the makeup of the inaugural NextGen class.

“We think that the diversity of positions, as well as the diversity of business model, will also add strength to our program,” Dykes told Dairy Foods magazine. “When they are sitting around talking about what they do, they can appreciate that it takes all of these other things to run an organization.”