Meet the Manager

Enrique Wehlen, Monsanto

“To get to where I am in my career, I’ve focused on two main things,” said Monsanto Plant Manager Enrique Wehlen. “One is that I’ve always taken ownership of my development in my career. Asking myself, ‘Where do I want to go?’ You must have a clear understanding of that — even as it changes and morphs over the years.” The work philosophy Wehlen developed to foster his own career now translates into his approach to management; overseeing 700 employees and 300 contractors at Monsanto’s Luling facility.

Earning a Mechanical and Electrical engineering degree and an MBA, he began working for ExxonMobil prior to his current 14-year tenure with Monsanto, the global agricultural company headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

“The second thing,” Wehlen said, “I’ve always tried to play on my strengths while watching my weaknesses, but really focusing on my strengths. So when I looked at my career and my strengths, I figured that probably one of my biggest strengths was working with people. I think what managers need to understand early in their careers that it’s not about what you can do, but what your people can do. What you can do on your own is almost worthless. Also, you have to be humble, adjust and continue to evolve, recognizing that each person is different when trying to motivate them.”

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Wehlen worked on the chemical side of Monsanto’s business when first hired but was soon exposed to the seed side of the company’s operations. He describes the seeds and traits division of Monsanto as its largest. “I found the whole production of seeds and seed planting as interesting, so I followed that,” he remembered. Later, when moving on to the vegetables division “Learning how to produce vegetable seed was a huge learning curve for me, but that’s what I wanted. I like to experience new things, to learn about new things.”

Wehlen worked in Mexico, where Monsanto’s Latin American North seeds and traits division is based and then in California working in the vegetables division, before returning for his second stint in Louisiana (first working at the Luling plant in another role in 2007-08). “It’s wonderful living here,” he said about New Orleans after relocation from California. “The plant has a family atmosphere. The culture in this area is very warm and has a lot of character and personality. I love the food, of course. I have a wife and three children, and we’re all very happy living here.”

First used by Lion Oil Company (a division under the Rockefeller umbrella), the plant was constructed in 1951 on the 1,500-acre site of a former plantation; the production of agricultural goods started in 1956-57. Today, the facility manufactures 80 percent to 85 percent of Monsanto’s global production of glyphosate (Roundup active ingredient), the number one used herbicide in the world, primarily shipping containers to Europe and South America. Soon, a $1 billion expansion will begin production of Dicamba (similar to glyphosate, which will provide farmers with new technology to better control weeds in their fields.

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Wehlen describes an organizational structure of nine people directly reporting to him with close to 50 managers below them. “It varies” he answered when asked if there’s a typical day at the office for him. “I usually work with my direct team on strategy, medium- and long-term planning, projects and initiatives within the plant, and working on the day-to-day type of issues. I try to take every opportunity to visit every unit, talking to people, understanding their different issues. I have meetings that go from human resources, environmental, capital investment, safety to corporate manners. A lot of work is directed towards streamlining the internal operations of the plant” he said, ”but I also work with the corporate offices on strategy and global initiatives that later I have to bring to the operation.”

To achieve all this, Wehlen plays to his strengths: people. “We are currently working to ensure that our way of operations doesn’t operate from a top-down, but rather a bottoms-up approach,” he said. “This means employees have a more active role in decision-making and in identifying opportunities.”

“I like the people side of things,” Wehlen added. “I enjoy helping people be successful, developing themselves and developing their career. That’s the aspect of my work I enjoy the most.”

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By Frank Etheridge

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