Rick Rhody (Class 45)

Rick Rhody (45) is the president and CEO of Farmers’ Rice Cooperative (FRC), the largest and longest-running rice milling, marketing, drying and storage operation in California. The grower-owned cooperative – consisting of more than 500 farm families – ships medium grain sushi rice to over 65 countries. Rick also serves as California Rice Commission chair, USA Rice Federation executive committee and board member, Rice Millers’ Association vice chair, Ag Council board member and Sutter Yuba Foundation board member. Rick graduated from Chico State University and holds an MBA from Saint Mary’s College. A Sacramento Valley native, he commenced from the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 2016 and continues to support California agriculture.


How did Ag Leadership enable you to make a greater impact in agriculture, your business or organization, community and/or family?
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Ag Leadership provided a pathway to be the person I envisioned, but was not totally sure how to become. I often joke that I received the Ag Leadership 101 experience and then when I subsequently accepted the president and CEO job at Farmers’ Rice Cooperative, it became the Ag Leadership 201 experience! Taking on new responsibilities in the form of a new role, job or committee assignment can often be daunting and stressful, and while most of us don’t like to admit it, can cause feelings of vulnerability. The Ag Leadership experience provided me with the fundamental awareness to break personal barriers and self-doubt and it helped build my interpersonal leadership skills needed for success.

Increased self-awareness is a hallmark of the Ag Leadership Program. What did you learn about yourself and your interactions with those around you?
For me, a greater awareness of self commenced prior to being accepted into the program; in fact, it began during the application process. Such a highly coveted program results in many applicants not being accepted the first time they apply – myself included. That tremendous disappointment forced me into an initial evaluation of my life, my goals and more importantly, my priorities. Once accepted, the program format and cohort structure provides endless opportunities to not only self-reflect, but get valued feedback from a group of people you have come to trust like your own family.

How did the program help you develop your leadership skills and abilities?
The Ag Leadership Program is an incredible journey that begins on day one. The sessions are well planned and incredibly intense, enabling fellows to immerse themselves through myriad academic and lived experiences. Everything from prepping and working through each session to the constant feedback and reflection is what I found to be the building blocks honing leadership skills. Moreover, sharing this experience with a cohort provided a safe environment to take risks I may never have taken otherwise.

What impact did the personal coaching make on your leadership capacity?
Only months after completing the Ag Leadership Program, I threw my hat in the ring for president and CEO of Farmers’ Rice Cooperative. The application and interview process was very intense, starting with an executive search firm and multiple interviews with the board of directors. With Ag Leadership, the skills I learned – particularly the personal coaching – were integral to being selected to my current position. Everything from the peer 360 review and mock interviews to in-depth discussions with my coach Dr. Peggy Perry helped prepare me for the moment. I’ve been able to leverage those skills into numerous industry and community leadership roles.

How has your understanding of your specific role as a leader changed?
A few years prior to my Ag Leadership experience, I went back to school to obtain an MBA. I thought my opportunities in life and career were directly tied to knowledge and business acumen. Today, my No. 1 priority is an intense focus on culture. Using the skills and lessons learned with Ag Leadership, I strive for a collaborative work environment where people are valued and open communication is prioritized. A healthy culture is essential – and in my experience, a culture where people truly feel a shared purpose can lead to synergistic achievements.

How has your view of the world around you changed and impacted your development as a leader?
Right after completing the Ag Leadership Program, I was asked what I thought of the program. Believe it or not my answer was: “I see the world and my place in it differently.” At the time I did not know exactly what that meant. Over time, I have come to realize so much of leadership is taking the step forward when every part of your being wants to take a step back. The good news…pressing forward gets a bit easier the more one does it.

How will you continue to develop as a lifelong learner?
I think so much of being a lifelong learner stems from personal journeys and experiences into places that may not always feel comfortable. We get one life and I find the lived experience to be so much more powerful than the learned experience.

Why would you recommend Ag Leadership to others in agriculture?
I have and will continue to recommend Ag Leadership to others in agriculture. However, I often caution people that it needs to be the right time in their life. I don’t mean that in the normal busy family and career-building way. I mean it in the sense that one must be willing to go all in mentally and spiritually. There are many leadership programs out there that focus on the purpose of business and industry. Ag Leadership focuses on the purpose of YOU and developing you as a leader.