KEWAUNEE, Wis. – Kristy Pagel says she’s a “cow” girl at heart.

“But people are the No. 1 asset,” she said of dairy farms and – for that matter – all agricultural businesses.

Pagel has focused on the people part of business in her work as owner of Leading Edge Consulting and as director of business development for GPS Dairy Consulting.

“I help farmers recruit and retain employees,” she said. “I also help them to grow and inspire as leaders. I explain what human-resource management means, where it affects business and where it provides return on investment.”

She earned in 1997 a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Her degree included an emphasis on human resources and marketing. She also pursued a minor in psychology.

She used her education and dairy-farm life experience in positions as an area market manager for Monsanto. Then she worked for 12 years for Diamond V where she was regional sales manager. Diamond V is one of the original sponsors of Dairy Girl Network, where Pagel serves on the board of directors.

“I was a member since its inception in 2013,” she said of Dairy Girl Network. “I believe in helping other women and supporting them in their efforts to reach their goals.”

Helping others is central to her current job as a human-resources consultant for GPS Consulting Group. Her clients are primarily dairy farms. SwissLane Farms near Alto, Michigan, hired Pagel in spring.

“She mentors me and works with our partners and managers to evaluate our organizational structure and role clarification,” said Anna Link, who manages the family-owned SwissLane Farms human-resources department. “She provides training and coaching. And she’s helping our team understand and practice processes for fostering culture.”

Pagel has weekly phone calls with farm personnel. She also visits SwissLane Farms on a monthly basis.

“Kristy is really good at encouragement, empathy and focus,” Link said. “Changes to a family-business organizational structure and culture is tough because it’s often emotional. She understands that but remains focused on achieving goals. She’s so good at living in the moment and giving clients her undivided attention.”

Deb Reinhart of Gold Star Dairy Farms near New Holstein, Wisconsin, has known Pagel for several years through various dairy-industry activities.

“But I really began to appreciate her gifts and talents when she came to us through her work with GPS Consulting,” Reinhart said. “We asked her to work with us at a time when the dairy market was deteriorating. We wanted to focus on things we could control in our business. Kristy has the experience we need at management meetings to help build a framework to grow people, identify strengths and hold us accountable for our work. As we transition to the next generation we’re learning how to best apply everyone’s gifts and talents. Kristy is well-versed in helping us achieve our goals."

Pagel brings to the table experience. She once was a dairy farmer; the farm was sold in 2001.

“I know what it’s like to load the cows and close the doors,” she said. “But when one door closes another opens.”

Reinhart said, “She strives to help us be our best selves even in a terrible dairy climate. She cares deeply for our industry and we’re blessed to have dairy leaders like her.”

Gathering the courage to address challenges for oneself as well as for others is one of the key elements of leadership. The ability to inspire and connect with others also is important, Pagel said.

She shares a piece of advice with young people beginning a career in the dairy industry or any other sector.

“Surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you and help open doors in your career,” she said.

Visit gpsdairy.com or dairygirlnetwork.com for more information.

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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.