Agricultural Education alumni Doug and Emily Kueker shared their experience of creating and sustaining their learning solutions business with CAFNR students.
The Kuekers visited campus last fall to serve as Professors-for-a-Day as a part of CAFNR’s Reich Executive-in-Residence Program. They spoke in four classes in the Departments of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Agricultural Education and Leadership, and Science and Agricultural Journalism, and met with many faculty and staff over the course of their day-and-a-half visit to campus Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
Doug earned his B.S. in Agricultural Education and a minor in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri in 2003. He holds an M.S. Ed from Purdue University in Educational Psychology with an emphasis on achievement motivation. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Information Sciences and Learning Technologies from the University of Missouri. Emily, whose maiden name is Wood, earned her B.S. in Agricultural Education, Leadership and Communications and a minor in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri in 2002. She also holds a Master’s in Business Administration from Columbia College.
The pair co-owns Vivayic, which was founded in 2006 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Since then it has grown to more than 25 full-and-part time staff. Vivayic designs learning solutions – training programs and educational initiatives – in support of business and organizational goals. Clients include Fortune 100 companies with a global presence and non-for-profits that serve communities across the nation. One thing that makes Vivayic unique is that it is completely virtual. All employees work out of home-offices in states including California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Virginia and Wisconsin.
This allows Vivayic to hire the employees who are the best fit for their organization, no matter their location. According to Emily that is crucial to their success.
“The key is to surround yourself with peers and other colleagues who are supportive and willing to help you and share ideas,” she says.
Students in Sharon Wood-Turley’s Introduction to Science and Agricultural Journalism Class were particularly interested in this notion and were eager to get advice on the importance of specific writing, designing and editing skillsets essential in today’s job market.
“I try to present a variety of career options to the students in my introductory class, and the way Emily and Doug have used their degrees to make their own path is inspiring,” Wood-Turley said. “I could see during the presentation that the students were engaged and intrigued by all the Kuekers have accomplished.”
The Kuekers’ remarks to the Agricultural Economics 3283, (Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship), class were especially meaningful. The students were inspired by how the Kuekers made their dream of owning their own successful business into a reality.
“Doug and Emily Kueker led a rousing session of Agricultural Economics 3283, Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship, during their Professor-for-a-Day experience,” says Randall Westgren, the McQuinn Chair in Entrepreneurial Leadership in the Division of Applied Social Sciences, who teaches the course. “The students were enthralled by the Kuekers’ experiences in building and managing a unique entrepreneurial consulting business – Vivayic – with networked partners across the United States and with strong relationships between their firm and a wide variety of organizations in the agri-food sector. The biggest takeaway was Vivayic’s commitment to designing a client relationship that delivers real value.”
Their message drove home the fact that starting your own business – to be entrepreneurial – is a risk and takes a lot of hard work and persistence. Doug and Emily both agree that they use what they learned in their degree program every day and that their extracurricular experiences have gone a long way in teaching them how to lead teams and that communication and listening skills are essential for success.
“No matter what field you’re in, leadership, communication and listening, most importantly, are key factors in being successful,” says Doug. “What I’ve learned is that I can be super skilled, but more important than skills is follow-through. Showing up and doing what I say I’m going to do is the most essential thing I do each day.”
Doug and Emily think their success also stems from basing their business on a set of core values that their entire team uses as a guiding star for interactions with each other and their clients, creating a fun place to work. In a nutshell, the focus is putting people ahead of profits. That’s not to say profit isn’t important, too, but if you nurture relationships and make sure you are giving your clients the best possible product, the rest will fall into place, they say. In 2016 Vivayic made Inc Magazine’s Inc. 5000 list.
They also strongly believe in a culture of giving back, so they established the Vivayic Cares initiative that each year provides a match contribution to their team members’ local communities. Several members of their team serve on foundation boards and volunteer their time with different organizations. Emily gives of her time to the Mizzou Ag Alumni Board (currently 2nd Vice President) and Doug sits on the Missouri 4-H Foundation Board.
Vivayic employees also work on a project as a team with Field of Hope, a non-government organization in Uganda that develops agriculture curriculum for orphanages. They recently had two team members travel to Uganda to witness firsthand the learning environment and better understand how Vivayic can develop training solutions to help students understand agriculture and food systems.
“We feel community is extremely important and I’m happy to continue to cultivate both local and agriculture communities through Vivayic Cares,” Emily says.
CAFNR is very thankful for alums who are willing to give back by sharing their experiences – what works and what doesn’t – in the classroom setting as Doug and Emily have done. See more information about CAFNR’s Reich Professor-for-a-Day Program.