Farm to Data: Grad Student Bridges Agriculture and Marketing Analytics
By Samantha Beavers
Born in Mexico to a family of farmers, Vicente Jimenez learned the value of hard work and the importance of agriculture at a young age. Growing up, he watched his father and grandfather labor long hours to produce food and provide for his family. And while other kids around the world spent their vacations playing in the sand, Jimenez spent his working in the fields – fertilizing corn and planting wheat on his grandfather’s farm just north of his hometown of Mexico City.
That upbringing left a mark – so even after studying industrial and systems engineering and starting his career in manufacturing, Jimenez decided to go back to his roots and dive into the seed industry. Today, he serves as global audit manager for BASF, a multinational chemical company offering agricultural solutions supporting farmers around the globe.
“Agriculture is a really exciting and interesting industry to work in. Like healthcare, it plays a key role in our well-being and benefits every single one of us,” Jimenez says. “And with a growing population, scarce natural resources, political conflicts and several environmental changes, it’s also a constant challenge to produce the volume of agricultural products needed at affordable prices and on time.”
That challenge, Jimenez explains, has pushed the industry to explore new technologies and analytics tools in order to predict crop yield, test products and improve farmers’ productivity in the field – and it’s also what convinced him to apply to Poole College of Management’s new Master of Management, Marketing Analytics concentration (MMA).
Throughout his career, Jimenez has leveraged data to decrease costs, increase reliability and improve the customer experience. As data has become bigger and more complex, however, he was eager to develop more sophisticated analytics skills in order to translate big data into strategic insights.
“I really wanted to learn analytics techniques like machine learning that are transforming the industry today. This was a gap for me,” Jimenez explains. “And because my background is mostly in supply chain, I also wanted to build a foundation in marketing in order to move into roles with a stronger customer focus and impact the company at the strategic level.”
Working in agriculture, Jimenez’s eyes have been opened not only to the power of data – but also to the power of diversity. During his career, he has moved throughout Mexico and the United States and has traveled around the world – including South America, Europe and Asia – to see different crops and farming practices.
“Those opportunities to meet different people and see different cultures made me very open to understanding and learning from other perspectives. Because of that, diversity is a key ingredient for me. I believe that the more we share ideas and learn to communicate with diverse people, the more we can expand our knowledge,” he says.
And those experiences, Jimenez explains, have fueled his passion to create value for customers and support farmers in better decision-making.
“I’ve realized that while we have many differences, we also have a lot of things in common – and this has taught me a lot about the customer. In every context, farmers have a customer with expectations, and it’s critical to their success that they meet those expectations both now and in the future,” he says.
Since joining the MMA program, Jimenez has appreciated the opportunity to dig deeper into consumer behavior and build foundations in data ethics and analytics – as well as the opportunity to build connections with peers and professors along the way.
“To be honest, it hasn’t felt like a virtual experience. I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with other students and there is very good support from the professors. They’re really open to answering questions and consistent about following up,” he says.
Looking ahead, Jimenez is eager to make more progress in the program and to put his knowledge into practice. And, as he continues to advance in his career, he realizes that what got him started in agriculture is the same thing that carries him forward.
“It’s always been about family,” he says. “My wife and I have a 28-year-old son who works for an IT company, a 23-year-old daughter studying biology at NC State and a 10-year-old daughter – and everything I’ve done and every move I’ve made in my career has been to support them. Now, I get to continue supporting them by doing something that I really enjoy.”