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
Twenty years after serving as an Arizona FFA state officer, Chadd Garcia can look back and see the huge impact his love of agriculture and the FFA has had on his life. It all started with his father, Mitchell, who after working in the produce packing houses of Yuma and them for area farmers was able to buy his own farm, growing lemons and alfalfa. Inspired by his father’s passion for agriculture and his drive for success, the younger Garcia took these lessons into his FFA activities.
As a member of the Cibola FFA chapter Garcia was able to explore numerous projects and activities with the guidance of his advisors Paula Wright and Dean Wolfe as his advisors. In addition to showing farm animals, he attended Peoria Mini-Camp, State Leadership Conference, FFA Camp, and National FFA Convention and served in a variety of leadership roles including as a chapter officer. His junior year his Entomology Career Development Event team won the state contest.
His love of the FFA and desire to increase his leadership skills drove him to run for state office. At the time he saw state office as an opportunity not only to serve his fellow FFA members, but also to hone his leadership skills. At the time Garcia thought that meant increasing his public speaking skills and learning to motivate members. Now, some 20 years later he recognizes that his most valuable lesson in leadership came from being a part of a team.
Being a member of a 10-person team of ‘Type A’ personalities was initially challenging. Each a leader in his or her own right, all were highly motivated and had a unique vision, Garcia recalls. Finding compromise, listening, working together and getting the work done is the life lessons he holds most dear from his FFA career.
Since his tenure as a state officer he finds that ability to work as a team member that translates the best to real life. Working with his fellow officers to accomplish their goals has prepared him for real life and the workforce.
His year as a state officer also was his first year attending the University of Arizona pursuing a degree in Agricultural Economics with a minor in Finance. Dr. Merle Jensen, one of Garcia’s mentors, told him “If you want to make a big impact work for a grain company. They feed the world.” Shortly after Cargill grain company came to the UofA for a job fair. After a great interview Garcia was hired as part of a management-training program.
It was an exciting and challenging time that held various culture shocks and challenges as his first job was in Montgomery, Alabama. After that it was on to Albany, New York where the Yuma boy saw snow and worked in the dairy business and was part of Cargill’s most profitable animal nutrition businesses.
His next position however proved to be one of the greatest challenges of his early professional career. With his success he was given a management position in a struggling company operation in Memphis, Tennessee. And that’s where all his FFA leadership skills really paid off.
Garcia was able to lead the company into becoming a profitable enterprise through his leadership and humility. A young man in his mid-20s heading a business with employees with more work experience than his age was a daunting task.
But soon he was enjoying the experience and felt this was what he was called to do. Garcia felt a great responsibility because so many people depended on the business for their livelihoods. This time his success or failure had bigger ramifications than his career progression. It also was at this time that he realized that if there were such opportunities inside such a great company as Cargill, that there would be similar opportunities elsewhere. He decided to use the skills he had acquired to help other companies become profitable again. Garcia decided he wanted to save other businesses and thus the livelihoods of those businesses he supported.
To do that he felt he needed a graduate degree. He applied and was accepted at Harvard Business School where he spent two exciting years. Garcia’s graduate program was filled with smart and ambitious peers. The professors were exciting and on the cutting edge of business. His classes were based on case discussions where classmates were put in the shoes of business leaders and had to analyze and debate business, economics or world problems from real world situations. Often the actual business leader or politician would sit in and share how they had addressed the problem being discussed in class. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Throughout this long journey Garcia found himself thinking of the FFA motto – Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve. He was most struck by the line Earning to Live and Living to Serve, as his journey through Harvard was in the pursuit of earning to live and that was an important part of the equation of having the ability to live to serve. The line in the FFA opening ceremonies that ‘George Washington was better able to serve his country because he was financially independent’ also spurred him on.
It struck Garcia that being able to serve and help others become financially independent was something he wanted to do. At Harvard he had become friends with Martin Curiel, a man with similar backgrounds. A son of a migrant worker, Curiel spent much of his childhood in the fields working as well.
The two discussed the shockingly low number of Latinos in top business schools and how business has the ability to life families and communities out of poverty. At the same time Garcia was approached to become a mentor to a young man with a similar background and great potential. With Garcia’s help the young man ultimately was accepted at Harvard.
With this experience and discussions with Curiel and other students to use the power and tools of business to help migrant farm workers, the Rising Farm Workers Dream Fund was born. A nonprofit, over time they raised funds and provided scholarships, but first they provided mentorship’s. The fund works to help children of migrant farmworkers apply to business school with the hope that these social-minded students will, over time, start to bring capital and resources back to their respective communities.
Since leaving Harvard Business School, Garcia’s career has continued to take him on an impressive journey, with two years spent on Wall Street advising companies and executing mergers and acquisitions. He fulfilled his dream of working in a private equity firm that allowed him the opportunity to rebuild wayward companies.
Currently Garcia is in public market investing with the Ave Maria Mutual Fund. He lives in Naples, Florida with his beautiful wife Karen, also in finance and from a family farm, and their 16-month old daughter.
Garcia is truly enjoying this chapter in his life. He finds his current position incredibly rewarding, investing in public markets and working to help his funds reach their maximum potential. He considers investing fun and finds tremendous rewards in identifying sound investments and advocating morally responsible investing.
Although he has been in 12 different zip codes since his time as a state officer, he remains close to his fellow officer Dick Cardew, counting him as one of his closest friends and advisors. Together they had the rare opportunity to attend President George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2000. Of all the things that the FFA has given him, he counts Cardew’s friendship and support as one of the greatest gifts.
Today, Garcia continues his mission of service as he sees the first group of the Rising Farm Workers Dream Fund’s graduate and now giving back. The Fund’s ultimate plan is coming to fruition as more children of migrant farmworker graduates are venturing into business. One of the Funds first success stories went to West Point and Harvard Business School and now has a significant role at a substantial energy company and spends his days traveling the world.
Another success from the Fund spent his youth working fields throughout Texas as a migrant worker. After Garcia worked with him as an undergraduate, he landed a fabulous job earning six figures and is on a management track at a major company.
Though Garcia’s journey has taken him far from the farm fields of Yuma, he still calls upon the lessons learned there and from his father to guide him. His father was known for producing some of the highest quality alfalfa in Yuma due to being a perfectionist about timing the baling of his hay with the correct moisture. Neighboring farmers would watch and harvest at the same time, not doing their own legwork and realizing every field is different.
Investing is much he same way, Garcia believes. Every day a news source, analyst or talking head produces a new forecast for the market. He believes his success comes form doing his own research, legwork and trusting in his own analysis rather than following the pundits.
Another life lesson learned from his father is in making it work. Garcia recalls having a baler broken down in the middle of the field. With timing of baling being so important his father and he had to fix it right then to get the baling done.
Many years later Garcia is in his first week of investment banking in New York. He was tasked with putting together an analysis on a company that was due to his boss the next morning. Around two a.m. he encountered a question he couldn’t answer. Realizing there was no one he could call at that time of day he briefly panicked. Then he recalled the day he and his father fixed the baler and got on with the business at hand. Calmed, he went back to his research and solved the problem – arguably in a more comfortable environment than a Yuma alfalfa field. Another lesson learned from his father, agriculture and the FFA, perseverance.
Click here to view past Arizona FFA Alumni Spotlights
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