During her college years at Cal Poly, Janice Odell fell in love with San Luis Obispo. She grew up in Livermore, a town east of San Francisco where agriculture and the scientific community coexisted, and she was attracted to the similar combination of rural and academic characteristics here. After graduation in 1987, Odell’s hope was to one day return to share her experiences in the business world.
Her wish came true when she and her husband, John B. Goodrich, a retired attorney who serves on the boards of several technology companies, left the San Francisco Bay Area and bought Tonini Farm & Cattle Ranch in 2010.
In addition to owning and operating the more than 600-acre farm and ranch off Turri Road, Odell, 50, is chief financial officer of Chemlogics, a Paso Robles chemical manufacturer, which was recently sold to European-based Solvay. When she’s not working as CFO, she mentors Cal Poly business students and serves on the advisory board of the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Odell recently talked to The Tribune about her work on and off the ranch, and how she manages to balance both endeavors.
Q: On your path to becoming a chief financial officer, what challenges did you face or obstacles did you overcome? How did that help to shape you?
A: Much of my career has been in the software/hardware industry. The companies I worked for in Silicon Valley were often either in the early development stage, a rapidly growing phase or a downsizing phase.
In all cases, it was my responsibility to manage the finances in both of these growing and shrinking environments. Cash planning is crucial to success, and forecasting new business models is difficult but essential.
Downsizing and layoffs, or more euphemistically, “restructuring,” are steps meant to enable the company to continue during business cycle downturns, missed investor milestones, or a necessary tweaking of a business plan.
While these were necessary business decisions, I always tried to let those who had to be terminated know that they were, in fact, valued, but that the business couldn’t financially accommodate their position. On the other hand, stock options and the chance to work at a growing company with career growth potential, for many people, offset the possibility of business restructurings or failure. These incentives are what made Silicon Valley dynamic and successful.
Q: What do you like most about your work, and what are some things that you find most difficult? In what ways do you tackle the toughest challenges?
A: My job requires a multitude of skills on any given day and uses everything I have learned over my lifetime. No CFO can survive without a deep familiarity with all operations, and my broad experience makes it much easier to cope with the fundamental changes in the companies I’ve worked for.
The challenge to ensure that my company operates at maximum efficiency, protecting its assets without stifling creativity or its ability to respond quickly to market demand, is often a tough balancing act. The most challenging part is to keep a large staff motivated and engaged in their projects, especially when it doesn’t involve creativity. Since accounting can be very structured, financial analysis is not. So I try to keep my staff motivated through balancing tasks and ongoing coaching and mentoring.
Q: Can you discuss some of the work that went into Chemlogics being sold to Solvay? What role did you play in the sale?
A: I joined Chemlogics in January 2012 as the company’s first corporate CFO. The company had grown very quickly through smart business decisions and a recent, large acquisition that proved very successful. The CEO has a proven track record for success, specifically in making sound business decisions while ensuring his customers, suppliers and employees were well taken care of.
In preparation for the sale, my role was to provide business-related forecasting as well as ensure the presentations met all financial regulations and requirements. I also provided ongoing market analyses and process implementation strategies for integrating the accounting department and functions from a privately held company to a publicly held company once the sale was completed. Prior to the sale, my function provided a great deal of support during the due diligence phase.
Q: How did you and John come to own Tonini Farm and Cattle Company? What must you do to maintain the ranch on a daily basis?
A: John and I were both interested in leaving the Bay Area, as it was becoming a bit crowded and less entrepreneurial. When the opportunity to do so finally presented itself, we both agreed that it would be the perfect place for us to live, work, farm and ultimately, retire.
It took us two years of searching for the right piece of property before we finally found Tonini Farm. One of the most important criteria for us was living on the west side of the ridge and having adequate water for farming; meeting those needs took us a little longer than we had expected. However, it was more than worth the wait.
We have planted extensive vegetable gardens and have plans to expand them when we build a new home further back on the property. We have chickens; for both of us, it’s an exciting exposure to rural living. We’re looking at tree crops to add value to the ranch. We also have plans to install a reservoir to store water pumped via solar energy, using irrigation done primarily by gravity.
We would like to finish our cattle on the property, using our hay resources for our own cattle, keeping the manure on the land and having it naturally worked into the soil, having the cattle avoid feedlots, keeping them antibiotic and hormone-free. Our plan is to have J&R Natural Meats out of Paso Robles and Templeton slaughter the beef on the property, and then process it for distribution, so that you could have locally raised beef that has never been to a feedlot.
If we’re successful, we hope you’ll be able to buy Tonini Farm beef at an outlet near you!
Q: I am sure that this work brings its own surprises. How do you juggle work at Chemlogics with Tonini? Has this been a dream fulfilled?
A: I don’t personally do a lot of the work on the farm, as we share management tasks with a fabulous rancher who has been working on the property since he was a kid. The bigger juggling act is with my job, mentoring Cal Poly business students and my work with the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where I’m an advisory board member for two incubator companies.
My dream is to see young companies grow and thrive here along with successful agricultural companies. Small farms in California have some unique challenges: very expensive land, unreliable rainfall and incredibly extensive federal, state and local regulations that create serious barriers to small operations.
The work at Chemlogics and the farm isn’t always a fair balance, as one will always have more demanding needs than the other at any given time. But work on the farm is always gratifying because at the end of the day (literally), I can see the fruits of my labor, while at Chemlogics, the results aren’t always immediate.
Q: What skills learned as a top manager have you been able to bring to your work at Tonini Farm?
A: My organizational skills serve me best in both my corporate as well as my farm life. In any given season, there are a multitude of activities that need to occur on the farm to maximize its operating efficiency, and staying on top of them is no easy task. As a CFO, one of my responsibilities is to ensure that my department is high functioning and aligned with the company goals and operating at maximum efficiency. Operating a farm requires much of the same, whether it be planting, raising livestock or simply maintaining the land.
Q: Who have been the most influential people in your life and why?
A: There have been many influential people who have made an impact over the years, but the most prominent and meaningful, and who set me on my current path, was my father. He taught me that I could do whatever I set my mind to doing so long as I applied myself. Sadly, he passed away when I was a freshman at Cal Poly, which forced me to take care of myself financially. But his lessons stayed on with me in everything. As a result, I learned the value of hard work, financial independence and, as they say, the true meaning of a dollar earned through a hard day’s work.
Q: What advice would you give to young people (women in particular) who may want to follow a similar career/life path?
A: There are more opportunities available to all students, including women, now than when I was a student and starting out in my career. As has always been the case, hard work, commitment and deep involvement in one’s career pays off. There are no “eight-hour days” for those who want to win.
Q: Do you and John plan to remain in SLO County for the foreseeable future? What other plans do you have on the horizon professionally and personally?
A: John and I love living in SLO. The sense of community, the history as well as the agricultural landscape make this the ideal place for us on all levels. Our near-future plans involve us expanding agriculture on the farm, working with local government to enable successful small agriculture endeavors, contributing to the university and business community and building our new home (on the ranch).