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0509 PD: Hank Wagner encourages fellow producers to hunt for opportunities

Karen Lee Published on 13 March 2009

Opportunities present themselves each day, just as the sun rises and sets.Many people don’t even notice them, let alone act on them.

“There are opportunities out there,” said Hank Wagner to attendees at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit last month. “But every single one of those things is going to require action.”



Wagner, a 550-cow dairy owner from Gillett, Wisconsin, shared his seven secrets for finding and recognizing opportunities.

1. Look for opportunities
First, you must become an opportunity hunter. “People don’t expect opportunities; therefore they don’t find them,” he said. “You’ve got to look for them. You’ve got to pursue those opportunities.”

One place he has come to find an opportunity is underneath a challenge. Of course, those are very difficult to see when you get too caught up in the difficulties of the situation.

After testing the audience to seek out opportunities by placing a $50 bill under a chair, Wagner said a person should never be ashamed or bashful about opportunities.

In some cases, risk may be involved and a comfort level will need to be established before the opportunity can be pursued.


2. Family is an opportunity
Some producers find that farming with family is a challenge. To Wagner, it is a tremendous opportunity. When once asked what is the greatest leadership position he’s ever held, he responded by saying, “It’s one I still hold, and that is being a dad.”

Wagner doesn’t view leadership as a position; to him it’s all about what you do.

“As parents we have an extremely important responsibility today,” he said, asking the audience to consider the lack of character witnessed in politics and large companies. “We need to bring up this generation like the one this country was built on.”

To do so, Wagner said, special people require special things. By recognizing his family is special, he’s learned to bring the atmosphere in his home to a new level.

“Husbands,” he said, “it’s important for your marriage and your children to love your wife and their mother.”

In doing so, your children will respect and honor you, and it sends a message of safety and security to them. It also teaches them what to be or look for in the future.


Wagner shows his affection and respect for his wife by opening the car door for her. “It’s not very efficient, but you’re going to send a message to her, your children and others who see that your wife is important and needs to be valued,” he said, noting it took some adjustment for the farm girl he married to wait for someone else to open the door for her.

Two more ways he mentioned to show devotion are to buy flowers for no reason at all and to tell her you love her in front of your children.

For your children, you don’t have to buy them expensive things to create love, he said. Wagner leaves notes of encouragement and congratulations on a job well done for his two children to make them feel special.

In addition, he and his wife make time for their children. The farm was growing and becoming a very busy place when his children reached their teenage years. Therefore, they designated a family night. On this night no one answered their phones, and farm employees were asked not to interrupt unless the barn was burning down. This sent a message to their children and the employees that family is important.

“A farm is a tremendous place to raise a family,” he said. “Yet this opportunity is sometimes ignored.”

3. Read
“You are largely who you are because of the relationships you keep and what you read,” he said.

Wagner, who expressed his dislike for reading, still said that it is really important because it gives you an opportunity to learn from people you will never meet, some that have been dead for thousands of years.

“If you want to lead you have to read,” he said. “Any subject you want opportunity in, you will find a book that will take you there, and it won’t cost you much.”

To further emphasize his point, Wagner handed out three books he’s read and learned from to opportunity hunters in the audience.

4. Begin, renew or end some relationships
As mentioned earlier, Wagner said the relationships you keep shape who you are.

“Every single one of us has people placed strategically around us to cover the things we miss, but we miss those opportunities,” he said.

Each day people touch your life, and in that there is an opportunity to change your life forever.

“We need to show respect and value to those people,” Wagner said, expressing that he learned this lesson decades too late.

5. Be thankful
“I decided a long time ago that I wanted to be surrounded by people who are thankful,” Wagner said.

He has traveled to other countries and witnessed people with a lot fewer things that were a lot more thankful.

“Thankfulness is not about things,” he said. “It’s a heart condition.”

“I do not want to work in a place where people are not positive and thankful. As an owner, I influence that,” Wagner said.

He said he acknowledges when his employees do a good job, and he is not ashamed to do so in front of others.

6. Step out of ‘normal mode’ and do something bigger than yourself
For Wagner, that step was his mission trip to Africa. “If you want to change your life … spend some time in a third-world country,” he said. “Africa has done more for me than I could have done for her.”

By doing something bigger than yourself, you are presented with an opportunity to give away the talents you are growing within yourself.

Wagner kept a diary while he was in Africa and upon his return he sent an e-mail each week to all those in his address book about the lessons he learned. Those lessons touched those he shared them with, and they have encouraged him to have them published. Each of those e-mails will soon be released in a book to be titled An Opportunity to Learn from People and a Place You’ve Never Been.

7. The most important person in your life is you
“You have an opportunity to leave a legacy or leave debt and negativity.

“Every time you look in the mirror know that you are your greatest asset or your greatest liability. Which one do you want to be?

“Every single person when we were created was given gifts, talents and abilities. Don’t be buried with them,” he said. “I’m going to give mine away.”

Before the crowd departed, he reminded them: “You are here for a reason and a purpose. I encourage you to be all you can be." PD

Karen Lee
Progressive Dairyman