Servant Leadership: Jim Tobin (Iowa State 76)
May 10, 2023
By definition, a servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. They inspire people to do noble work together and feel responsible for helping people learn and grow, feel purposeful, motivated, energized and contribute at their highest levels.
FarmHouse has had countless servant leaders who generously share their time, talent and treasure for the betterment of the organization and others. Jim Tobin (Iowa State 76) is a dedicated alumnus who exemplifies servant leadership.
Jim’s impact has been felt in FarmHouse for many decades through his volunteerism, leadership, generosity, personal outreach and mentoring to others. Serving as a Foundation Trustee from 2008-2016, including two years as Chairman, Jim helped to lead Live. Learn. Lead. – The Campaign for FarmHouse during its public phase in 2014-16 and was instrumental in creating the Chapter Housing Loan Program (CHLP).
As a Trustee Emeritus, he co-chairs the CHLP Committee, volunteers with the Board and has assisted with donor visits. He has been a sponsor of the Power of 7 Seminar since 2008 and has mentored 15 Seminar student participants.
Jim, articulate in speech and thought, has presented several times at the FH Leadership Institute and Conclave. Impressively, he has given the keynote at the Fraternity’s Emerging Talent Retreat since its inception in May 2009 sharing his unique experiences related to his mantra of “a prepared mind makes discoveries,” his leadership lessons and passion for FarmHouse.
Generosity is an integral part of Jim’s servant leadership. He and his wife, Gina Heagney, are members of the Order of the Crest, for accumulative giving of $250,000 to $499,999.
Jim earned his bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University in 1978 and M.B.A from Harvard in 1983. He is a member of the Farm Foundation Roundtable, serves on the board of Neogen and the board of governors for the Iowa State University Foundation. He served on the National 4-H Council and the Missouri 4-H Foundation. Jim and Gina are active members of their church and participate in a free tax preparation clinic for low income families.
Jim joined Monsanto’s agricultural unit in 1983 and served in many capacities before he retired in December 2014, after 31.5 years with the company. His last leadership role was vice president of industry affairs for the corporate engagement group. He represented Monsanto on the board of the American Seed Trade Association, which he chaired in 2005-06.
Jim and Gina live in St. Louis, Missouri, and have three children, Michael, Zach (Iowa State 08) and Maura. In addition, Jim’s father, Kelly (Iowa State 82), and three brothers, Bernie (Iowa State 81), Terry (Iowa State 76) and Kevin (Iowa State 79) are members of FarmHouse. At the Fraternity’s 100th Anniversary Celebration in 2005, their mother, Irene, was recognized with the “Friend of FarmHouse” Award.
For Jim’s devotion, philanthropy and leadership to FarmHouse, Jim was honored with the Philanthropy Laureate Award in 2018 and named a Master Builder in 2016. At the 2021 Power of 7 Seminar, he was presented the Robert L. Off Servant Leader Award, which recognizes individuals who have tirelessly contributed their time, leadership and resources in a meaningful way to advance the Foundation.
This is Jim’s story about what service and FarmHouse means to him.
What did service mean to you growing up in rural Iowa?
I grew up on a small farm in southwest Iowa with my parents, Kelly and Irene Tobin, and three brothers, Terry, Bernie and Kevin. We were born six years apart.
My parents met at 4-H camp and their families were very active in the organization. As we were growing up, dad farmed and was a 4-H leader for 25 years and mom was a home economics teacher at our high school. They were also involved in local politics and church, so helping others was a part of the way we lived. They always modeled the way of assisting, supporting and serving others.
My parents are retired and live in Ames, Iowa. Mom turned 90 years old this spring and it’s impressive to see the significant difference my parents have made in others’ lives. Terry and I are sharing special memories and stories by writing a book about our family’s history and legacy.
Why did you join FarmHouse?
I was attracted to FarmHouse because of the people I knew and respected. I wanted to be associated with them, and learn from them. The Fraternity was a learning laboratory where you were encouraged to lead, and live out experiences together. Unlike work, being a part of FarmHouse is 24/7, where you learn from really talented people what service and leadership are about. If something isn’t working, your brothers help you work it out and learn from it. And then you help others learn too.
Expectations in FarmHouse drove us to do more than we would have likely done alone. It stretched our thinking and belief that if a FH brother can do it, then so can I. Traveling to the Soviet Union or going to Harvard for an MBA seemed tangible. Watching others achieve their goals encouraged me to want to succeed. Those experiences changed my life and gave me opportunities and experiences I would have never had otherwise.
What is your family’s FarmHouse story?
After high school, I enrolled at Iowa Western Community College, where I took classes in the morning and helped my dad farm in the afternoon. I then transferred to Iowa State University.
I am the oldest of the four boys and we all went to Iowa State, each of us joining FarmHouse. Terry started at Iowa State before I did and joined the chapter first. Then, later, Kevin and Bernie joined followed by dad when Bernie was in school.
Our dad always wished he had the opportunity to attend college and after three of us graduated, dad went to Iowa State, where he was invited to become an associate member of FarmHouse. Kevin ran the farm while dad was getting his degree. Dad took classes, lived on campus, had meals at the FH chapter house, and mentored several members. The farm crisis was going on at the time and he would give them advice, and they appreciated his perspective and insights.
FarmHouse has been a family experience for us. I have continued to stay involved as an alumnus as much as I could throughout my career then into retirement because I believe so strongly in the Fraternity.
It was even more rewarding when our son, Zach, joined the chapter. He had a wonderful experience, which helped him mature and improve academically, and he built relationships that carry on today. We value tremendously the growth we saw from Zach’s FarmHouse and college experience and hope other parents have a similar experience.
What FH undergraduate experiences inspired you to be involved as an alumnus?
As a new member, my pledge class took a trip to visit the Kansas State FH chapter. We spent time with Dr. Duane Acker (Iowa State 49), who was president of Kansas State University at the time. I was encouraged to see Dr. Acker’s leadership as a prominent university president and learn how FarmHouse impacted his life.
In the spring of 1976, my ‘pledge dad’ in the chapter, David Morford (Iowa State 73), organized a trip for us to visit D. Howard “Daddy” Doane (Missouri 05), who was 92 years old at the time, at the College of the Ozarks. It was so interesting to meet a FarmHouse founder in person, hear stories and learn from him.
Later when I was chapter president, our chapter had its 50th anniversary and I helped to organize the celebration with over 300 people in attendance. Seeing so many alumni there was a boost for why staying involved was important and how these relationships are lifelong.
At the time, our chapter had a tradition that if you had a ‘social progress’ announcement you would coordinate with the housemother and president for everyone at dinner to eat dessert on glass plates to celebrate. At the 50th anniversary, Darrell Godfrey (Iowa State 73) shared the news of his engagement to his fiance, Nelda, so it was fun to find 300 glass plates for that dessert and help coordinate their surprise. Darrell and Nelda remain dear friends and it’s a special memory I’ll never forget.
How has service been an integral part of your career?
My first job after college was as a county extension agent in Iowa. I worked closely with volunteer leaders where I saw community leadership making a difference across the state. It reinforced the importance of service early in my career.
While working for Monsanto, I served on the American Seed Trade Association and U.S. Grains Council industry boards. Working in the industry affairs group demonstrated the importance of service to others and advocating for the grain and seed trade industries for the betterment of agriculture, globally.
After I retired from Monsanto and served as a Foundation Trustee, I was asked to serve on the board of directors for Neogen Corporation, a publicly traded food and animal safety company. Their founder and CEO, Jim Herbert (Tennessee 61), and I served together on the Foundation Board, and that experience fostered a friendship and then corporate board service with his talented group.
What was your experience as a Foundation Trustee?
Through my eight year tenure, I learned so much about FarmHouse, including the International Fraternity and the Foundation, and about the importance of giving, service, and recruiting others to get involved. It was an exciting time for the Foundation and a joy to interact with the staff, boards and other donors. I got more out of the experience than I ever gave.
You have spoken at the Emerging Talent Retreat since it began in 2009. Why?
For several years, Monsanto sponsored the Fraternity’s Emerging Talent Retreat and I was honored to speak on their behalf. After their sponsorship ended, I continued to speak about leadership development and my involvement in FarmHouse.
Fifteen years later, I continue to stay involved as a speaker and donor because I believe the Retreat is an important FarmHouse educational opportunity for students. I enjoy sharing stories, interacting with young men at this stage of their college career and hearing about their aspirations for the future. They always ask good questions and I learn from them as much as they do from me.
The more we can help students early on in their college career with leadership development, with an understanding FarmHouse is bigger than their chapter, the better. It’s gratifying to see some of these students attend the Power of 7 Seminar a few years later.
The Retreat is partially sponsored by the C.J. (Iowa State 37) & Dorothy Gauger Endowment Fund, and I take personal responsibility and pleasure to help continue C.J.’s legacy. A Master Builder, C.J. was a long-time volunteer and mentor through 4-H and FarmHouse and someone I deeply admired.
What sustains you as a volunteer? Why do you continue to serve FarmHouse?
I want to make a difference and help the organizations I am involved with accomplish their goals and achieve their mission. Making a difference keeps me going.
Being a part of the Power of 7 Seminar re-energizes me and I always enjoy talking with the students. I learn so much from them and other alumni who attend.
Additionally, I have facilitated a learning lab at the last two Leadership Institutes in St. Louis. This has been a great chance to interact with other FH alumni and meet students in new leadership positions; it’s gratifying to see them take on opportunities with the Fraternity.
What impresses you most about FarmHouse men (alumni and students)?
They can be trusted. They care beyond themselves, continually striving to improve, demonstrating their leadership skills and exhibiting a willingness to try new things. They pursue excellence and want to do things really well, and right. These traits aren’t extremely common in the rest of the world.
How is service and philanthropy a family decision?
My wife, Gina, is very service-oriented with her legal work as an attorney and is involved in many organizations. We enjoy doing the Power of 7 Seminar as a couple, and it’s fun to volunteer together. Being a part of the tax preparation clinic Gina coordinates to serve those in our community who don’t have help otherwise, is rewarding. Our site completed over 340 tax returns this year.
Our philanthropy is a decision we make together as a couple. The organizations where we contribute our time, talent and financial resources to are those we believe will make a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve.
Why do you coach and mentor others?
There comes a point in your life where you can and want to make a difference. If you see a person in a situation where you know you can help make a difference, then it’s important to get involved. It takes two people for mentoring to work and when it does, it’s very rewarding for both people.
I have personally benefited from coaches and mentors and they can see things you don’t often see in yourself. You never know when that piece of advice will make a difference.
What advice would you give to others about volunteering?
You can learn a lot by serving others. Learning from people who have experience beyond my personal exposure has been incredibly fulfilling.
I absolutely believe anything you do to help FarmHouse today will help make a difference into the future. As you get involved you benefit personally with new skills and life experiences along the way.
What does “tell your FarmHouse story” mean to you?
I give credit to Darrell Godfrey, who served as a Foundation Trustee for six years. He set an incredible example of philanthropy and would tell us, as fellow Trustees, to start by asking someone to tell their FarmHouse story. He then encouraged us to listen and learn what a difference FarmHouse has made in that person’s life. It is inspiring to hear these stories, what others have done, the impact the Fraternity has made on them and how they’ve shared their time and treasure with FarmHouse. In keeping with Darrell’s motto, I encourage others to reflect on and share their FarmHouse story. Know that when you’re involved with FarmHouse it truly makes a difference.
Why is getting involved in FarmHouse important?
Finding time to make a difference in FarmHouse is important and great volunteers are needed in many ways. I encourage people to find a place where you can make a difference. I don’t regret any of the time I’ve spent volunteering— it’s been very fulfilling.
Furthermore, I believe when you give financially to FarmHouse you are making an investment. Gina and I are investors in the Foundation because we believe in the Fraternity. It’s a great place to invest our time and treasure because we can see the Fraternity’s impact directly in the students we meet and the stories we hear.
How has volunteerism impacted you?
All of the experiences as a volunteer make life more interesting, enriching and rewarding. It exposes you to a lot more people and opportunities than you’d ever imagine. Sometimes you don’t know when you’ve made a difference until many years later.