Some leaders manage through fear; others through the power of their personality. It is the uncommon executive, however, who inspires simply through the strength of his character. Such a man is Allen James, the widely respected president of RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), a national trade association representing the interests of the specialty chemicals industry.
Since being hired as executive director in 1991, James has transformed $40,000 in seed money into a powerful advocacy group with a $3 million annual budget and an enviable track record of success against anti-pesticide special interest groups.
At the time James began his career at RISE the organization had 12 members. Today, RISE boasts more than 200 members accounting for more than 90 percent of the total specialty pesticide production in the U.S. “Allen is an incredibly gifted leader who has done a great amount for RISE as an organization and for the industry as whole,” observed Bill Culpepper, president and CEO of SePRO Corporation. “He has exceeded all expectations with the things he has accomplished since joining RISE.”
“RISE is now a nationally recognized voice of the specialty chemicals industry because of Allen’s talent and commitment,” added Josh Weeks, vice president, Professional Products North America, for the Environmental Science business of Bayer CropScience. “He is always looking for opportunities to be an advocate for our industry and is tireless in his efforts. He’s widely respected for his inclusive leadership style and ability to build consensus,” a sentiment shared by James’ longtime friend and colleague Keelan Pulliam, president of Conrad Fafard. “Allen is very focused and has great passion for the specialty pesticide industry,” Pulliam said. “He is a consensus builder and over the years built up trust in RISE membership but more importantly ‘on the hill’ where he was listened to and respected. Our opponents didn’t always agree, but Allen gave the industry a seat at the table to be heard. He is a true professional.”
When James joined RISE nearly two decades ago there was no guarantee the organization would be successful, much less have the wide-ranging influence it has garnered over time. “I came into work the first week to an office, a phone and a desk but no chair,” James recalls of those early days. “I investigated the financial situation and learned we had $40,000 in the bank.”
Jay Vroom, president and CEO of RISE’s sister organization CropLife America, told James, “Well, you’ve got some seed money, but if you want to keep working you need to go out and attract members.” It proved to be sound advice. “I began an intense membership program,” James recalls, traveling across the country to conduct face-to-face meetings with potential members. It’s a strategy that produced immediate results, in large part because of James’ low-key and non-threatening, yet highly evolved powers of persuasion.
“Allen is adept at forging alliances and coalitions,” observes Rosenberg, who has worked side-by-side with James on a range of industry issues over the years. “His strong interpersonal skills command respect and make him, as well as RISE, a very effective organization. I can’t say enough good things about Allen.”
“Over the years, we’ve worked closely with a lot of different associations to build strong coalitions to meet our mutual objectives, which is something I’m very proud of,” James said. “We’ve also tried to deal with our adversaries in an aggressive, yet respectful manner. There is a time to take a stand, but to do it in a way that is not offensive. I think such an approach has served me well throughout my career.”
“None of the people who conceived the idea of RISE were sure it actually could be done,” Vroom told PCT magazine, Lawn & Landscape’s sister publication, when James was named to its Crown Leadership Class of 2003. However, it has been successful, in large part, because of James’ passion for his work and his innate leadership abilities. “He is capable of charismatically building consensus across industries,” Vroom observed. “His most significant strength is his ability to get people of differing interests to quietly let down their guard and relate to each other. He has strong communication skills and is able to consistently deliver clear messages. And most important of all, Allen is a good listener.”
A Remarkable Career
Given James’ longtime association with Vroom, it seems appropriate that the culmination of his career would occur at a joint meeting of RISE and CropLife America in Orlando, Fla., in September 2009. It was there that Josh Weeks, chairman of the RISE Governing Board, announced the creation of the E. Allen James Award, which will be given annually to an individual who makes outstanding contributions to the specialty pesticide and fertilizer industry.
“This award is a lasting tribute to Allen and will be given for years to come to recognize others who build upon his legacy,” Weeks said. “Allen has contributed an incredible amount to the advancement of the industry and this award is an accolade to his accomplishments. He will always be associated with the founding of RISE and building the organization into an effective advocate for the industry.”
One might think given the fact he only has six months left in his tenure as RISE president, James might take some time to sit back and smell the roses, visiting friends and colleagues as he travels the country on behalf of the association. If so, you’d be wrong.
James’ keynote address at the RISE Annual Meeting proved once again the longtime association executive isn’t about to give any ground to the opposition and remains a passionate advocate for the specialty chemicals industry.
“We have reached the tipping point with respect to activism targeting our industry, emboldened by Presidential and Congressional leadership favorable to their views,” he warned. “They call our scientific basis into question,” In fact, supported by the consumer media, he said the specialty chemicals industry finds itself under siege. “There is a tremendous divide between the beliefs of the majority of our nation and the voice of the few well-funded activist/detractors of our industry and critics of our standard of living. The activists opposing our industry are one-and-the-same as those opposing the progress of our great nation. That point we need to understand clearly. And, if we do not stand firmly against these groups, we will surely be torn apart by them.
“We must find a new way to get our message through the haze of misinformation,” James added. “We must find our voice in the communities of our nation. We must remind our neighbors it is our innovative products that allow them to enjoy life in this wonderful country.”
Too often, he said, it’s a message that fails to reach the public amid the din of anti-industry activists. The specialty chemicals industry is driven by 21st century technology and innovation, James observed, “while our detractors are rooted in 20th century rhetoric, devoid of meaningful value to the society we cherish.
“We are not in a time of business-as-usual,” he warned. “We must create positive images about our products in our communities. Together, we will reframe the debate. We will reclaim the high ground.”
It’s a battle Allen James, despite sometimes overwhelming odds, has embraced for nearly two decades because he believes that his is a just cause. Nowhere was this more evident than in his closing remarks during his final keynote address to RISE members: “It has been my honor to serve you all these years and I promise my strongest effort … to assure the light of the future shines bright for our industry.”
The author is publisher of PCT magazine.