At Monsanto, retired LTC Vincent Shorter directs U.S. business apps
His management responsibilities at the agricultural giant are broad, and his motto is "It can be done!" A career in the army gave him a broad exposure to technology.
Vincent Shorter, director of U.S. IT business applications service delivery and support at agricultural company Monsanto (St. Louis, MO), has the "Thirteen Rules of Leadership" of four-star general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell hanging on his office wall. "It can be done" is Shorter's personal favorite.
Shorter moved into his current role at the end of November 2011. Before his latest promotion he was director of a team in global infrastructure organizational management. "I led the global organizational management team that is primarily responsible for our service management function: our IT services and the measurement and process control of them. In some other places, this might be called operations."
He also worked with financial management, responsible for the global infrastructure's operational and capital budget process. Strategic relationships with vendors and organizational change management were also part of his job. "Whether it's transformational change from a technology perspective or organizational change from a 'people' perspective, my team owned the management of those changes."
The final two pieces, he says, were "managing the life cycles of our assets, both software and hardware, and process improvement: identifying areas where we can improve the way we do business, take out tasks that don't add value and become more efficient operationally as an organization."
"One of my friends described it as having five plates spinning on poles, and our job is to keep them all spinning," Shorter says with a smile. His days involved lots of meetings but not many telephone calls. "Most of my interactions were face-to-face," he says. "I had three direct-report managers working for me.
"It wasn't the support team," he explains, "but the team owns the processes for some aspects of support."
It started in the army
Shorter has been with Monsanto for three and a half years, after spending two years at Affiliated Computer Services (ACS, Atlanta, GA), a software development company, and before that, twenty-two years in the U.S. Army. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.
"When I left the military my concern was, "What am I going to do now, stay within DOD or go to a civilian company?" Shorter remembers. "As a military officer, you are involved in a variety of technologies and initiatives but you're master of none."
When he started at ACS, doing software implementation in compensation and performance, "That was the first time in twenty-five years that I was not leading anyone. I was completely on my own."
Shorter's wife encouraged him to look at job opportunities in St. Louis because that was where her family lived. "She had followed me all around in the military and when I retired, we were in Florida and then moved to Atlanta. It was definitely her turn, but I kept thinking, 'Man, it's really cold up there!'"
On to Monsanto
"But I knew someone who worked at Monsanto so I figured I'd send them a resume, thinking, 'I can tell my wife I gave it a shot.'"
The shot was a bullseye. "I got a call from Monsanto's HR guy saying they'd like to talk to me. I visited Monsanto in January 2008, and it turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year. It must have been twelve degrees."
He was called back for a second round of interviews in even-colder February, and by April Shorter was employed at Monsanto. What appealed to him was that so many of the people he met were so loyal to the company. "After my time in the army, longevity, loyalty and service are all very important to me.
"At Monsanto there was a real sense of pride at working here. A lot of people had been here ten-plus years. There was a sense of ownership in terms of helping the company grow and achieve its goals, and I found it very similar to the kind of commitment people make when they join the military. That's why it was really kind of easy to come here."
Growing up in Atlanta
Shorter's own family lives in the Atlanta area. He was born in Cuthbert, GA, "a little town with one stoplight that doesn't work," he says. "In my family there was only one uncle who had gone to college so, for me, it was all about getting to college. College was not an option, it was a necessity!"
Shorter started at Georgia Southern University (GSU) but family finances were challenging. During Christmas break his freshman year he was approached in a mall by an army recruiter. "I will never forget his words," says Shorter, "because they are what got me into the army. He said, 'How would you like some money for college?'"
Into the army
Shorter joined under the Army Reserve split option program, where you're a student, but spend one summer in basic training and the next summer in advanced individual training. When Shorter returned to Georgia Southern for his sophomore year he enrolled in ROTC, intent on becoming an officer. But when he asked about the money for college promised by the recruiter, he learned that the offer was void if you go into ROTC. "I'm still thinking about writing to the President about that money," Shorter says wryly.
At the end of his sophomore year, still in the Reserves, he left GSU and moved to California where he went to California State University-Dominguez Hills. He earned a degree in business in 1986, then went on active duty for the next twenty years.
IT in the army
"In the military I went into the Adjutant General's Corps, which is similar to HR in the civilian world. The difference is that in the army you're making sure that people have the right skill sets for different types of units that are in different aspects of combat and combat support. This was at the time when PCs were just starting to appear on people's desks and it got me intrigued about IT. The key for me was solving a business problem with technology."
Value of longevity
While in the army Shorter earned a 1995 MS in information and business management from Webster University (St. Louis, MO). He's now a member of African Americans in Monsanto (AAIM) and Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA, Largo, MD).
"There's definitely a value to longevity here at Monsanto," Shorter says. "When I left the army I made a conscious decision to move out of the government and into for-profit work because I wanted to grow differently. I loved being a part of the military and wouldn't change that at all, but I wanted to challenge myself in a for-profit environment.
"I've learned a lot here at Monsanto in a short time and I'd like to expand my growth, learning and understanding how a for-profit company works and, more specifically, how IT in a for-profit company works."
Empowering his people
At Monsanto as in the army, Shorter likes to empower the people who work for him. "To me, respect goes both ways. I can be demanding in terms of high expectations but I'm respectful of the fact that they are IT professionals," he says.
"I have a pretty good sense of humor," Shorter adds. "Working for me may not be as easy as a vacation, but it's easy in the sense that I set out clear expectations and goals, and I'm open and receptive if you run into some tough spots.
"I'm a very optimistic person. I really believe in Colin Powell's rules. 'It can be done,' I believe that. You just have to figure out how."
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