The Business of Leadership at Cazenovia College
Dr Mark Tierno, President of Cazenovia College has a vision for what a college can be, and it’s all about improving the region.
“Colleges and universities across the state have a big economic impact” he says. “If we use the federal government’s formula for economic impact, Cazenovia’s impact is close to sixty million dollars a year.”
That’s significant, but Tierno wants more. To get it, he’s working with faculty, entrepreneurs, and politicians to organize people connected by a love for horses into a statewide business coalition.
Cazenovia College is uniquely positioned to be a leader in equine business growth in the region. The college has a successful equine business management program with a renowned faculty and Tierno is clear about it’s focus. “Our curriculum is focused on the equine business—all the elements of a successful business. That’s what we do. That’s what we are about.”
Jennifer Krist, an alumnus of the program, talks wistfully about the four years she spent at the college. “Sure, you learn how to run a business, but I also spent the night in the barn foaling one of the college’s mares. It was one of the most beautiful nights of my four years at Cazenovia.”
That kind of hands-on work is unique. The program integrates coursework in equine nutrition and health with traditional business courses (think spreadsheets and accounting). It’s one of the few places in the world where riding and jumping are equal to financial management. The goal is to turn out students who have business savvy, but who have also cared—passionately—for the animals.
“It’s not unusual for people to think of colleges and universities as being remote from the real world—an ivory tower and such” says Tierno. “But we have our boots on the ground.”
The most difficult part of building an equine business coalition is the sheer number of different specialties. The old saying is ‘a horse is a horse, of course’ but the reality is actually quite different.
“The equine industry is very specialized,” says Tierno “and people in different segments of the industry don’t really talk to each other very much.”
Ask the average person what comes to mind when you say ‘horses,’ and chances are it’s Thoroughbred racing like the Kentucky Derby. Most people don’t realize that’s a tiny part of the equine world.
The specialties and categories (with their many sub-categories) can be breathtaking. Tierno’s favorite example is the American Quarter Horse Association. This is the largest single-breed association in the world, yet it doesn’t account for or serve everyone who rides Quarter Horses.
“You also have the national reining horse association and the national chuck wagon association—that isn’t actually racing Chuck Wagons—another group that further segments people who are interested in western style pleasure riding on Quarter Horses,” he says.
Despite the myriad differences, when it comes to running a business all the people in the different segments of the equine industry actually share common challenges. But until now, there hasn’t been a way to get people from different segments of the industry to communicate, identify and address the challenges they have in common. Tierno and the faculty of the Equine Business Department want to lead that dialogue.
Part of that dialogue will have to be with State regulators. Before equine businesses can realize their full potential, our laws have to be refined so that agriculture, long dominated by the dairy industry, grows to include new business types. Tierno has one particularly instructive story:
“We worked with a well regarded trainer in Canastota who had built a sizable indoor arena. She wanted to train year-round. To do that in our climate, you need an indoor arena, but the code enforcement people were applying dairy regulations to the operation of her building, effectively shutting her business down. So in frustration she came to the Center and asked if we could help with this misunderstanding. She said ‘I don’t understand, they won’t let me use my arena, it’s not for cows!’ The only regulations the inspector knew of were dairy related agricultural codes, he had no background in equine business, so that’s an example of where we need leadership and education to get better codes. ”
Education is something Tierno, along with Barbara Lindberg, the Director of the Center for Equine Business Development know about. They, along with other leaders in business and politics will begin the process of strengthening the business community at their upcoming Summit to be held at the NYState Fairgrounds this week.
The NYS Center for Equine Business Development was founded because Cazenovia College saw these challenges and realized that facilitating communication, and getting people from different segments of the industry to work together to improve the environment for the entire equine industry, would be good for the state of New York.
It certainly would be good for Central New York. The region is blessed with land that is, or could be, equine land. Beautiful land, rolling properties that are not excessively expensive compared with other parts if the country. Tierno is adamant about the potential. “This is a tremendous opportunity for a tremendous place, let’s do something with it!”