Customer: Wilbur-Ellis

Firstly, I’ve gained an understanding of what my suppliers are doing. Secondly, I've uncovered some knowledge of what my competitors are doing. And then thirdly, I have had a heads up very early in the process of a new chemistry or new procedure coming on board.

-John Frieden, National R&D Director

Founded in 1921, Wilbur-Ellis is a leading international marketer and distributor of agricultural products, animal feed and specialty chemicals and ingredients. By developing strong relationships, making strategic market investments and capitalizing on new opportunities, Wilbur-Ellis has continued to grow its business with sales over $3 billion.

John Frieden shares his experiences of 40 years working in argiculture, and what he’s learnt along the way.

What does your role invole?

“I’ve been in the business 40 years. I’m a biologist by training, but I’ve spent most of my career in marketing roles, which has allowed me to leverage my understanding of technology and science.

“However, my current role, which I’ve been in for the past 10 years, is the R &D Director for one of the largest distribution companies in the US. I helped Wilbur Ellis build a branded business in addition to distributing fertilizers, chemicals and equipment. We now also sell adjutants and other proprietary products that are used in agriculture and on the farm.

“I have a couple of scientists that are also chemists that work for me in addition to the other development staff and they have some good biological & chemistry knowledge. Together we’ve put a plan together of how we need to improve on the current product line that Wilbur Ellis manufacturers and sells.”

What challenges have you noticed or come up against in your industry?

“Agriculture is a business and I acknowledge that. I’ve worked for companies that made many hundreds of millions of dollars, but the challenge of agriculture is that it is tough to manipulate biological systems. The idea of manipulating a plant in a way that we can efficiently grow food is complicated, and biological systems are hard to study. That’s the real trick in this business.

“The agriculture business is very much like the human ethical drug business. It’s certainly gotten better in my life and certainly in the last 15 or 20 years, because of the great advancement in the understanding of genetics based on our computing capabilities.

“It’s been a pretty good life for biologists if they were smart enough to get into this kind of business. I just tried to hold onto the edges of the industry as it flies, learn what I can and make a dollar on the way.”

How does PatSnap fit into your work?

“In the last year that I’ve been using this, we have discovered three things.

“Firstly, I’ve gained an understanding of what my suppliers are doing because we buy basic chemistry from the big chemistry companies. Secondly, I’ve uncovered some knowledge of what my competitors are doing. And then thirdly, I have had a heads up very early in the process of a new chemistry or new procedure coming on board. I’ve been able to get my own lab to check it out and see what we can learn, not to break the patent per say, but to understand the chemistry.

“So, in my case we’re on the verge of commercializing my first success from this approach, and I expect over time, the next innovation we come up with will have been found based on PatSnap’s patent reports- It has improved my success rate.

“I know there’s a little bit of a time lag between when somebody creates an idea and when it shows up as a patent application, but it’s still real time as far as I’m concerned because those patents aren’t applied for until people have a pretty good understanding of the efficacy and efficiency of what they’re doing.

“So, it has saved me an incredible amount of time and I think, keeps my company in the lead of the industry on this issue and I expect to stay there.”

Are there personal drivers behind what you’re doing? Why this is so important to you?

“I grew up on a farm, my father was a farmer and raised me as a farmer and my grandfather was a farmer too. Then came the time when I had to decide what I wanted to do, so I decided something in science but it had to be agriculturally related.

“I had an undergraduate degree in biology in the 70s and it happened to be a time that agriculture was exploding globally. I just took a job that led me into an effective use of my interest in science and my knowledge, and I continued to try and educate myself and you know, 45 years later, here I am. I’ve achieved some knowledge.

“I have always stayed close to my love which is agriculture. I’ve made a decent living and I’ve been able to spend my entire life working in biology.”

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