11 Nov Elizabeth Burns-Thompson
A Career in Corporate Affairs
Being proactive, planning ahead, building strong relationships, learning as much as she can, and continuing to chase her dreams; Elizabeth Burns-Thompson is a young woman on a mission for agriculture, added value to agriculture, and sustainability! Getting her start growing up in FFA, she originally thought she would be an agricultural education teacher. That all changed when she met the right mentor and now finds herself not only in her eighth month in corporate affairs and policy with the Renewable Energy Group, Inc., but she’s also running for her city council!
Knowing Your Future Career
“I joke with people that I have long since quit answering the ‘where I want to be in five years?’ question because I seem to get the answer wrong each time,” says Elizabeth.
Originally, Elizabeth left high school thinking that she wanted to be an agricultural education teacher as she was under the assumption that women in agriculture only had two job options; agricultural education teacher or farmer’s wife. Mentors at her school directed her towards the business area.
In the agricultural business sector, she realized that she didn’t want to sell an input implement or seeds, and through an advisor suggestion she took an internship at a number of congress offices. While working for a senator one summer she discovered her love of policy. She enjoyed not only the policy work but the constituent interaction, working for the people and analyzing policy.
Out of college she was in the mindset that she would be on Capitol Hill working on policy but, again, got that answer wrong and Elizabeth is more than okay with what the real answer actually became! Working with trade associations with the Iowa Farm Bureau as she went through law school, Elizabeth was incredibly fortunate to find her passion and be able to dedicate her time and energy into what she wanted to be successful in.
Tips for Success
- Trust your advisors and mentors.
Your advisors have instincts that they have honed that they can know a lot more about than you do. By listening to her mentors, Elizabeth didn’t go the agriculture education teacher route and was therefore able to find her true passion in policy work.
- “Surround yourself with very smart people and listen to them as much as you can.”
Absorb, absorb, absorb! Make connections, invest in those networks, and continue to learn as much as you can from the relationships you build.
- Figure out your learning style and then learn as much as possible.
Elizabeth understood that audio was the way that she learned best, so she created opportunities to listen to presentations, lectures, and speeches by those in the field she was interested in. This set her up to continue learning so that she could become a trustworthy source.
Renewable Energy Group
While Elizabeth has been in agriculture for her entire career, she joined the Renewable Energy Group as the manager of Corporate Affairs. As the nation’s largest biodiesel producer, it could have been a daunting career shift from her work in the corn and ethanol world, but Elizabeth felt there was a lot of synergies within her background. The main difference being that she is now working on a larger, more national scale.
The Biodiesel Supply Chain
Soybeans were traditionally grown for meal. The oil was a by-product that was then turned into a value added sector. Soybean oil is predominantly what the biodiesel industry was built on. While it is still one of the predominant feedstocks for the supply chain, in the last five to ten years the feedstock has begun to diversify.
Significant amounts of corn oil out of ethanol plants, a lot of animal fats such as beef tallow or anything coming out of the rendering industry, and also the restaurant industry have all found ways to add value to their oil by-products.
Role as Manager of Corporate Affairs
“I find that the ‘other duties as assigned’ part of the job description gets broader and broader by the day,” Elizabeth says with a good-natured laugh. Her daily focus is on state level government outreach as she works with state level lawmakers and many other facets of legislature such as agency officials, executive branch, etc.
Elizabeth is looking for opportunities for the incorporation of biodiesel for incentive structures. Since most of the feedstock has some sort of agricultural tie, she’s also aware of opportunities to add value back into the farmers in the state.
Focusing Attention With a Multifaceted Job
Until someone has figured out a way to be in two to four places at once, Elizabeth has to prioritize her time and energy. Looking at legislative or executive branches that have aligned or begun to align policies with their mission and how they sync with that are the first priorities.
A lot of what Elizabeth focuses on is the safeguarding of some of the incentive policies that are already in place; whether that is production based incentive or infrastructure based programs. As policies approach sunset dates, they also advocate for those based on marketing rates.
Arranging Meetings with VIP Individuals
Much of Elizabeth’s job relies on her connections with top political candidates and legislative, executive and judicial branches. In many cases, they hire someone on the ground that can help facilitate those introductions and then, from there, it is on Elizabeth and her team to build up that reputation.
One such example is coalition efforts to reach out to political campaigns for presidential hopefuls. They hope to create connections and tours of their facilities to answer any renewable energy and biodiesel questions that the potential candidates may have. However, it isn’t always that easy and they find themselves cold calling or emailing off of list to start those connections.
You can follow Elizabeth on most major platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She enjoys mentoring students so don’t hesitate to reach out with questions you may have about policy and thoughts.
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