Cornerstones: Alumni Share Lessons in Leadership That Have Shaped Their Style

Pat HookerPATRICK HOOKER ‘84

I can trace my career path back to a turning point one week in the summer after my freshman year of high school. The legendary ag teacher André Lepine tracked me down and insisted I go to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) summer leadership camp. There, it was fascinating to meet a new set of people who had never seen me before, react to them and see how you can define yourself in a new setting. After I was elected camper of the week—a minor leadership opportunity—it inspired me to run for office in my local FFA chapter, which set me on a new trajectory, eventually leading to being New York State FFA president. The experience of traveling around the state and meeting everyone in the industry showed me the importance of being well-informed and decisive, and the die was cast for me to move away from hands-on agriculture and into policy. As a leader in government agencies, two things have hit hard over the years. Being professional and not tolerating harassment or anything off-color allows people to relax and focus on their jobs. The second thing—and it amazes me to this day that it’s not a given—is to always be absolutely ethical and follow the law. Lastly, I try hard to keep a smile on my face and on those around me. Our work is fast paced, and it always feels easier if we are in a good mood!

Patrick Hooker ’84 is deputy secretary for food and agriculture for New York, where he oversees the Department of Agriculture and Markets and the State Liquor Authority. He has also served as New York Commissioner of Agriculture and director of agribusiness development for the Empire State Development Corporation.

 

Kristin AlongiKRISTIN ALONGI M.S '10

There are two lessons that have greatly shaped my leadership style: the importance of being an advocate for my team and transparency. When I first joined Rich’s in R&D as a product developer, I learned this advocacy piece. I went to my manager with news of a plant trial that was not as successful as planned. Concerned with how she would respond, I was taken aback by her support and time spent coaching me through potential solutions. It had a profound impact on my development, as I realized that true leaders build this trust and dedicate themselves to setting their teams up for success. This year, I moved into a new role, building a cross-functional pizza product development team. I took this first lesson and paired it with one from my current manager: using transparent communication to build this foundational layer of trust. With my team, I am not only an advocate for them but I clearly communicate expectations, share feedback on performance early and often, and hold them accountable through candid conversations. This transparency paired with advocacy helps drive engagement and performance, while the trust allows us to grow, achieve and learn together.

Kristin Alongi, M.S.’10, is a process manager with Rich Products Corporation in Buffalo, N.Y. She first came to Cornell as a Food Science Summer Scholar in 2007 and now serves on the Advisory Council for Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.

 

Alex RuizALEX RUIZ '90

At heart, I am an entrepreneur.  I organize and manage my agency with considerable initiative and risk.  As a leader, it’s important to value, understand and grow talent, because an agency is only as good as its people. As a manager, my main responsibility is to help staff members build their careers. I’ve learned to pay attention to the people who impacted me along the way, looking for the things that I admire in their leadership style and incorporating it into my own and who I am. One manager taught me the importance of fearlessness: that having courage was the first step to finding answers.  From another, I learned how powerful it can be to envision where you want to be in the future—to be able to say it out loud—to gain confidence and shape your direction. Vision questing has been an effective way for me to live my life and build my career. And I have seen the power of working extremely hard. A highly motivated leader can drive the success of the whole company, while developing respect and credibility.

Alex Ruiz ’90 is senior vice president of client services for Tenthwave LLC, a digital marketing agency in New York City, and currently serves on the Alumni Advisory Board of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

 

Geraldine McManusGERALDINE MCMANUS '78

You could say I have learned a lot from “adverse selection.” When I started out, at a firm I loved, some of my coworkers were not kind at all. I used to look at them and think, ‘Don’t let me end up like this—callous and abrasive.’ I already knew then that I wanted my style to be very different. My father used to say, “You can’t have two sets of morals; you can only have one,” and I have tried to live that way. I spend a lot of time interviewing people when we are hiring, because their core values are important in the workplace. There is no room for someone who is cutthroat or trying to get ahead at the expense of others, no matter how smart they are. I want the work environment to be stable, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves so they can focus on work and not office politics. When you see junior employees take up smoking cigars or wearing a particular brand of watch to emulate the boss, you know the same thing is happening with modeling the behavior of their supervisors. I want my example to be a good example and a kind example.

Gerrie McManus ’78 is a managing member of Granger Management and serves on the CALS Advisory Council.

 

John NobleJOHN NOBLE ‘76

As I hire people for leadership positions, I often talk about respect: respecting yourself and having a good life balance but also respecting the work life balance of those who work with you. It shows in the thousands of interactions we have with people every day—you can call this a leadership style or you can call it a culture. Another thing I try to emulate is playing well in the sandbox together. It’s so much easier to get things done in a group, and if you enjoy working with people, what you can achieve in a group is much greater than what you can as an individual. I also tell aspiring leaders to be engaged with all aspects of their broader industry. For me, one formative experience was LEAD NY; the program puts people from lots of different aspects of the food system together to learn and be challenged. I was very humbled by the knowledge and perspectives in my group, and staying humble is important. And because I’m in the seventh generation in a family business, I’m particularly aware of how important it is to have a plan for businesses to transition. It requires good strategic planning and thinking in the long term—five, 15 or 50 years ahead. Just look at the model that Ezra Cornell had, with a legacy that has lasted for 150 years.

John Noble ’76 is president of Noblehurst Farms and president and chief executive officer of Synergy Dairy in Linwood, N.Y. He is currently a Cornell Trustee and was a member of the first LEAD NY class.