Eric Spell on his background and plans for Charles Aris’s Agricultural Practice
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by Joe Opaleski
Eric Spell joined Charles Aris Executive Search – the InterSearch member in the USA – as a practice leader last December, bringing along decades of experience in the recruiting and agricultural space.
Our marketing writer, Joe Opaleski, met with Spell this month to discuss how the firm’s newest practice leader plans on using his experience to make Charles Aris the go-to place for A-level agricultural talent.
Joe: Tell me about your upbringing and how you became involved in the agricultural space.
Eric: I grew up in southeastern North Carolina, in Sampson County. We had a 500-acre farm with beef cattle, pigs and row crops. The farm was a supplemental means of income. My mother was in the banking industry, and my father was in the agriculture retail space.
I went to NC State University and got a business degree, because my lifelong dream was to be a commodities trader. When I graduated from State, I ended up accepting a job in the pig industry with a company called Murphy Farms. The pig industry was changing rapidly at the time, meaning there was a lot of growth at the corporate level, so I caught the wave of that.
I worked in operations for a couple of years and quickly got introduced to recruiting. I traveled to all the land grant colleges and universities across the U.S. and recruited animal science graduates to come work in a trainee capacity. Then, I took on some training responsibilities to build out a Manager Leadership Development Program. I was Director of Recruiting and Training when I left the organization.
I started a consulting firm as the online career portals were growing [in popularity]. I had the idea for an online job board, sort of like an Indeed-type model but specifically for agriculture. I started what’s now AgCareers.com. After 17 years there I had the opportunity to sell my interest in that business, and here I am now with Charles Aris.
Joe: I know you said your childhood farm was more of a supplementary form of income, but how did growing up in that environment help you learn to recruit in this space and understand the kinds of companies you’re working with?
Eric: Understanding the seasonality of various crops and being around livestock [was very important]. I was also in FFA, which stands for Future Farmers of America, a massive organization. I served on the National Foundation Sponsors’ Board for seven years. Growing up on the farm and being around my dad’s business off the farm absolutely sparked a love for the industry and an appreciation for where our food comes from.
Joe: What kinds of things did you do while serving on the FFA board?
Eric: Most rural and even some urban schools have agricultural or horticultural classes. That agricultural education piece comes from the National FFA Foundation. There’s an annual convention where agricultural teachers and students get to come together and interact with brands that we’re familiar with: John Deere, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Wrangler Jeans, Tractor Supply, McDonald’s, etc. It’s an opportunity for these kids to [meet companies] and compete in national competitions. But to your question, at the Foundation Sponsors’ Board the purpose was to recruit companies that are remotely connected to agriculture and help raise money for agricultural education.
Joe: Could you explain your plans to build out the Charles Aris Agricultural Practice?
Eric: There are several sectors within agriculture that I’m initially focused on: [Crop protection, commodity trading, animal production, smart or indoor farming and renewable fuels.]
There’s also a lot of tech going on. Just like with most automobiles, farming machinery like tractors, combines, etc. have a tremendous amount of high tech these days. Private equity [is also a major focus]. In fact, there was $8 billion last year alone in private equity investments in agricultural tech, so there’s an awful lot of activity going on as it relates to private equity.
So those are a few sectors that I’m focused on right now. I’m also spending a lot of my time doing business development and rekindling some contacts that I have within the industry to let them know that I’m back in the talent space.
Joe: What other long-term goals do you have for your practice?
Eric: One of the things that’s always been a challenge is that people don’t understand the connection between food on the shelf and agriculture, and there’s a whole lot in between. I would like to help broaden people’s perspective of agriculture. I would also like for Charles Aris to be seen as the go-to place for senior, A-level talent within the agricultural space.