5 Highly Effective Habits of This Iowa Farmer Turned Billionaire

Harry Stine, founder and CEO of Stine Seeds, is one of the most well respected names in science and agriculture for his work with plant genetics.

Aug 23, 2014 at 1:00PM

Think back to your high school science days, and you may remember Gregor Mendel. Credited as the father of genetics, Mendel studied heredity by cross-breeding pea plants in the mid-1800s.

One hundred years later, Harry Stine would begin building his Iowa empire on the very same principles. Today, Stine's privately owned company, Stine Seed, develops and patents germplasm -- or the genetic material in plant seeds that creates new plants. By cross-breeding or genetically modifying seeds, Stine can create some of the highest-yielding soybean and corn plants in the world.

Harry Stine Stine Seed Website

Source: Stine Seeds website.

Despite his humble roots growing up on his family's farm in Iowa, Stine has amassed a $3 billion fortune, making him the richest man in Iowa, and one of the most powerful names in science and agriculture. Here are five of the most important habits and qualities that made Harry Stine an ultra-successful entrepreneur.

5. Early riser
"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." 

– Benjamin Franklin.

While there are myriad suggested benefits from waking up before 6 a.m. -- as Stine and hordes of other billionaires do -- research is less clear about why this is the case. In my opinion, getting to bed early and avoiding hitting the snooze button takes discipline -- something that was instilled in Stine from a young age while working 12-hour days on his family's farm.

Key takeaway: On its own, waking up earlier won't necessarily make you more successful; however, developing habits that bring more structure and discipline into your life can. 

4. Ask why
When asked about Harry Stine, David Thompson, Stine Seed national marketing director, said "He has an insatiable curiosity." It's because of that curiosity, in fact, that Stine Seed was founded.

Stine Seed Website Soybean

Source: Stine Seed website.

After graduating from college, Stine moved back home to work on the family farm, and it was there he noticed some unusual soybean plants. The typical soybean will have two to four seeds per pod; however, the plant Stine noticed had five. This was important because the more seeds per pod, the greater the potential yield of new plants. 

Key takeaway: Some of the most successful people on the planet have a genuine sense of curiosity. Make a habit out of asking why things are the way they are. 

3. Ask for help
Unfortunately, curiosity alone isn't going to get the job done. The second step is actively searching for answers.

When Stine found the "unusual plant" in the 1960s, he did what anyone motivated to find answers would do in the pre-Internet age -- he went to Iowa State University and asked for help. This is where Stine got his first real education on plant genetics.

Key takeaway: Today, almost nothing is further than a click away. Dig in and find answers to your questions. You never know what might be the next billion-dollar idea. 

2. Broaden your knowledge
Despite being an expert in agriculture, Stine took a broad range of courses in college, including a class on business law. It was Stine's understanding of contract and patent law that helped him recognize the necessity for licensing agreements that disallowed farmers from using Stine seeds to breed their own. In 1994, Stine Seed became the first U.S. company to receive a patent on a variety of soybean.

Key takeaway: Being an expert is essential to succeed in today's economy. However, it was Stine's broader knowledge base that gave him the first-mover advantage over competitors. Stick to what you know, but make a habit out of expanding your horizons.  

1. Be cost effective
When asked about what it takes to run a successful business, Stine suggested: "Always think cost effective... whether it's scientists or business people, most of the great progress has been made because they were doing something more cost effective than their competitors."

Stine Seed Website Technology

Source: Stine Seed website.

Whether it's compensating employees fairly because they'll be happier and work harder, or utilizing the best technology to stay ahead of the curve, Stine focuses on putting his money to work to receive the greatest return.

Key takeaway: Whether you're building a business or saving for retirement, avoid thinking in terms of cheap or expensive, and ask yourself, "What is the most effective use of my money?"

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