Arizona Agricultural Education/FFA Foundation
You can help make a difference in the lives of Arizona’s future leaders by supporting Agricultural Education and the Arizona FFA. As a non-profit organization, the Arizona Agricultural Education/FFA Foundation is dedicated to raising funds to cultivate Arizona’s most valuable commodity- our youth.
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Arizona FFA Alumni Spotlight
Richard Condit retired from Sundt Construction on September 30, 2014 as the Chief Administrative Officer after 21 years of service to the company. His position with one of America’s largest construction companies included responsibility for Human Resources, Strategic Management, and for several years Marketing and Business Development Administration. He is leaving a huge legacy and breadth of work behind him, not that he especially cares to brag about the numerous board and committees to which he has served. He counts his family as his greatest accomplishment and credits countless others with helping him achieve a successful business career. Amongst those is the Arizona FFA.
Mr. Condit was born in Portland, Oregon but his father’s health led the family to relocate to Tucson when he was a young boy. His mother bought a small chicken operation on the outskirts of town and they worked it as a family, teaching him the value of sweat equity. Upon entering Amphitheater High School, Richard ended up in Agricultural Education mostly by chance but took to it very quickly. Through Ag Ed and the FFA Richard found a peer group that was warm, accepting, and shared the same principles. It was a place that he fit in and had fun. Without realizing it, that is where his leadership and speaking training really began.
Mentored and encouraged by advisor Bob Julian, Richard held two chapter offices. He believes that is what put him on the path of leadership and the lessons he learned in those positions gave him the ability to communicate effectively, something he believes is a key differentiator in career success. Being forced to do presentations, run meetings, speak at banquets, and manage a project taught countless valuable lessons that he didn’t even realize he was learning.
Mr. Condit graduated from Amphitheater High School in the dead middle of his graduating class. He was not an exceptional student by any means; he hadn’t given much thought to college as no other member of his family had attended before him. His Supervised Agricultural Experience through a local nursery taught him one valuable lesson: he did not want to spend the next 30 years digging holes in the Arizona sun for $1.25 an hour.
So, largely to not disappoint his mother he enrolled that summer right after graduating from high school at the University of Arizona declaring a major in Agricultural Education. Three-fourths of the way through his freshman year, Mr. Condit had still not found a direction and was floundering academically. Then one day he was called in by the Department Head of the Agricultural Education program, Dr. Floyd McCormick and received a somewhat unbearable verbal lashing about his general lack of focus and effort. Mr. Condit left the meeting incensed and hit the books immediately to prove Dr. McCormick wrong. It would be many years later that Richard realized the favor Dr. McCormick had done for him. He saw his potential and he found the motivation necessary to light a fire beneath him. Richard ended up graduating at the top of his class with a degree in ag ed.
Condit enlisted in the Army Reserve; His brief stint in ROTC qualified him to lead 42 men in his unit. He served seven years on reserve as a tank crewman and in an engineering support group. During that time Condit began his teaching career at Washington High School where he stayed for three years as the ag teacher and FFA advisor along with Mr. Dick Mader. He then moved to a relatively new program at Greenway High School that grew into a three teacher department with 16 sections of classes. Finally he went to Independence High where he was excited to be in a single teacher program again. During his first year at Independence he served as the President of the Arizona Agricultural Teachers Association. Early in his second year at Independence he received a call from Gordon Hall.
At the time Mr. Hall was the State Supervisor for Agricultural Education and State FFA Advisor, he was leaving the position for a promotion. Richard was aware of the job vacancy but had no desire to leave the classroom. Then Hall called again and informed him that if he didn’t apply for the position it would be going to an out-of-state applicant. That ignited his wildcat fire and pride and so he applied for the position. His interview was scheduled after school, after a long day in the shop. Condit arrived early to change his clothes and realized he had forgotten his pants. So he walked in, head high with a jacket and tie and filthy jeans which he explained was an ag teacher’s way of life. The ice was broken and the job was his.
He fondly recalls his time at the Department of Education. He served as the State Supervisor for Agricultural Education and State FFA Advisor, Deputy Associate Superintendent and finally as Associate Superintendent with responsibility for all vocational education programs in Arizona. Mr. Condit is proud of his tenure there and the impact he was able to make. He realized upon leaving the classroom that his true gift was not necessarily teaching, but helping others to develop their abilities and giving leadership to the development of vocational education in the state. For a period of time the State Board of Education included business people on the State Board of Vocational Education. One of those business people was Al Shafano from Sundt. Mr. Shafano, unknown to Richard was contemplating retiring soon and thought Condit would be the ideal candidate to take his position. It took some convincing but the rest is history.
Twenty-one years later, Mr. Condit feels fortunate to be part of an executive team at Sundt that saw in an eleven year period a nearly one thousand percent growth in the value of Sundt stock. Because Sundt is an employee owned company the employee owners of Sundt saw their retirement wealth grow dramatically. He oversaw the implementation of an industry leading training and development program, improved benefits for employee owners of the company while reducing benefit costs to the company and the employee owners; he worked with others to double company revenues and implemented strategic and tactical planning practices. He was part of a team which developed a certification program for strategic planning professionals as an initiative of the Strategic Management Association.
He and the company CEO and Chairman Doug Pruitt wrote about the company turnaround in a book entitled “Level Headed.” The book was written to help future generations avoid the problems that had gotten the company into a serious financial situation and for leaders of other companies who might be facing similar challenges. Sundt’s triumph is considered one of the most successful business turn-around stories in the 21st century.
Though Condit will be retiring from Sundt, it’s far from the end of his professional journey. Sundt is heavily involved in educational reform efforts, in no small part because of Mr. Condit’s background. Sundt will continue to support Richard’s efforts in that regard through a consulting agreement when he retires. Much of Mr. Condit’s work in this area over the last several years has been focused around a research report entitled “Pathways to Prosperity” done at Harvard, which Richard says validates his experience in and around education for the last 40 plus years. While Mr. Condit serves on many Boards and Committees dealing with educational issues the findings of this report are driving his current efforts to improve the chances of more young people obtaining economic independence, escaping poverty and therefore increasing the likelihood of them living one of our Constitutional principles, the pursuit of happiness. The key findings of the report included:
We need other pathways to economic independence for America’s young people. Only one-third of the jobs require a baccalaureate degree or higher, but our K-12 system is primarily focused on preparing students for higher education.
America needs to redefine how business and education collaborate together to improve the educational experience of students at all levels which in turn improves the quality of the workforce, the most important ingredient in a successful company.
We can’t accept our current rate of high school graduation. The negative implications of students not completing high school are significant often resulting in poverty or criminal activity. Over seventy percent of inmates in Arizona correction facilities do not have a high school diploma.
Mr. Condit says his unique path and experiences have brought him full circle. His experiences in education and with Sundt have led him to one conclusion, “Sundt is dependent upon our education system at all levels to produce the talent that is the most important element determining our success. Arizona’s commitment to improving education is good for all of our students, Sundt, and the state’s economy.”
He believes now more than ever in the importance of career and technical education in our schools and the importance of our local communities supporting these programs, like Vocational Agriculture and the FFA. “I am an advocate for learning by doing. Teaching kids to use critical thinking skills is great; teaching them to apply those skills in a real-life situation requires a different kind of education. Learning to communicate effectively to a group, learning to be a leader, and learning the value of serving our community is what sets me apart in my career. Those lessons for me began taking shape in an agricultural education classroom.”
He also believes we all need to do better about providing support for our teachers. “Teaching was a fantastic career that I enjoyed. I still run into students and there is no greater compliment than being told you made a difference in someone’s life. But teachers today are facing countless challenges. They are being crushed by bureaucracy, funding is being cut, parents don’t have the same role as partners in education, and the kids you can’t help, will keep you awake at night. No one goes into teaching for the money, but many leave because they aren’t making enough to support their families. It is especially challenging for ag ed teachers who work long extended hours year-round. We all need to do our part to ensure we are doing right by our child and their education. Supporting our teachers is a great place to start.”
As Mr. Condit transitions into a new role he intends to continue creating initiatives that support education. He truly believes the foundation of a strong economy and country begins in our classrooms. He hopes to use the next chapter of his career to build bridges between education and business across the state, sharing what knowledge he has acquired throughout his lifetime of experience.
Click here to view past Arizona FFA Alumni Spotlights
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