Rob Kiss makes no bones about it. He’s got an attitude.
“It’s a family mantra: ‘Attitudes are important, pick a good one.’ It’s true, our kids were raised with that,” he says. “The other one we used to tell them: ‘It’s not about you.’ And the truth of the matter is, it never was.”
Tough love? Perhaps, if it were all talk. But with Rob Kiss, it’s backed by action. He’s not focused on himself, and he doesn’t want his children or anyone else to focus on themselves either. It’s all about service, something he has exemplified since he became a California Pest Control Advisor (PCA) in 1972, the very first year the state began issuing certificates.
In 1980 after a 10-year stint in ranch management and PCA work, he became a Field Supervisor for Blue Diamond Growers, and was there for nearly 35 years. At the age of 65, he took a stab at retiring. It was right then that his longtime Blue Diamond colleague Mel Machado realized the impact Kiss had made on the industry.
“When he announced he was retiring, I saw growers in tears,” says Machado, now Blue Diamond’s Director of Membership Relations. “I’m dead serious. I saw grown men in tears at the prospect of him leaving.”
ONWARD AND UPWARD
Kiss couldn’t stay gone for long, becoming a Customer Business Advisor for Bayer CropScience in 2014. He’s continuing to influence countless growers with that service attitude.
“Rob is one of the most respected people I know in this industry,” says Machado. “His prime consideration is his growers — so many strong, personal relationships.”
Kiss said his theory on being a good crop advisor was influenced by an influential mentor and a genuine pioneer in almonds in Merced County, Ray Harcksen.
“He once gave me these two pieces of advice: ‘1. Never forget who you work for: The California almond farmer; and 2. Never forget the job you are there to do: Advance and promote the California almond industry.’”
It was only fitting then that at the closing of the Almond Board of California State of the Industry address this past December, Kiss was recognized as the 2019 Almond Achievement Award winner.
As the award was being announced, Machado and others noted Kiss is so humble, he had no idea he was about to receive it.
“Before the award, in typical Rob fashion, he was looking around the room wondering who they were going to name — typical Rob,” Machado says, chuckling. “One of the sweetest, kindest guys you’d ever want to meet. If someone brought up something he did, he would always say, ‘Nobody cares.’ Now that he has this award, he can’t say that.”
SERVICE WITH ATTITUDE
Kiss also has served on various Almond Board committees over the past 30-plus years, but his industry work started much earlier while at Blue Diamond when he helped launch the company’s leadership program. Industry folks like Susan Brauner and Dan Cummings brought the idea of such a program to stimulate the next generation of leaders back from Land O’ Lakes, and it was soon implemented, Machado says.
“Rob, I, and Dave Baker help to get it off the ground,” he says. “Rob was really instrumental in getting the whole program put together.”
More recently, Machado notes Kiss has been active on the Almond Board of California’s (ABC) environmental and production research committees.
“He has been involved for as long as they’ve been around. Guiding such research is very critical to the grower,” he says. “Rob always has had that in the front of his mind: ‘How’s this going to benefit the grower?’ That is what this whole thing is all about.”
Kiss also was part of the task force the ABC created that produced the Almond Leadership Program. Kiss emphasizes that any small part he played in launching the vital resource was worthwhile.
“It’s important to have what really is kind of a feeder program for potential future leaders to learn everything about the industry from production to marketing to sales,” he says.
Because of that, it’s fitting his current employer (Bayer) is now sponsoring the program. Jeff Baxter, Bayer’s Horticulture Crop Product Manager, says everyone affiliated with the industry should have an interest in getting involved with recruiting the next generation of leaders. He notes that besides the 71-year-old Kiss, other Bayer reps in the San Joaquin Valley are longtime veterans.
Not that Kiss is slowing down much. He likes to work, and so does seemingly everyone around him. His wife Debra still works full-time. She works two jobs, in fact, one as a property manager and the other helping her 84-year-old father out with his store, Delhart’s Home Furnishing in tiny downtown Ceres. Jim Delhart works at the store a full six days a week, and he’s not just window dressing.
“He can still lift the end of a sofa and deliver it,” says his proud son-in-law, who vows to retain that same attitude.
Attitude is critical, after all. Kiss says he’s seen too many other men his age lose that positive attitude.
“If you get to the point you lack the drive or enthusiasm for a job, it shows. I’ve told colleagues, ‘If you ever see that from me, just tell me to take out the golf clubs or whatever,” he says. “I love getting up in the morning and going to work. My job is service-oriented, but we’re all in this to help.”
Sound Advice For Growers
Growers are always seeking out Rob Kiss for advice, even as his friend Mel Machado of Blue Diamond Growers jokes, he’s no longer employed by them. Kiss is happy to provide it, though with a bit of a twist of late. Kiss has recovered from open heart surgery in October and prefers to divide them into the personal and professional. Here in his own words are “Farmer Tips” and “Life Points.”
- Timing is key; “better late than never” never works.
- Common sense solutions always make sense. Ensure you know the reasons WHY you are making an application or implementing a program.
- Farming is expensive, and it’s important to manage costs. But if you are short necessary inputs, it may take a long time to catch up. Apply what your crop needs; it’s a good investment.
- If you don’t know the answer, don’t make one up! Research it.
- Get good advice from successful ag partners.
- Trust your gut. No one knows your field or crop like you do.
- It’s not about me.
- Team first
- Be respectful to all; you never know what battles someone may be facing.
- Integrity and sincerity are key.
- Never stop learning, never stop growing – intellectually, professionally, and personally.
- Never, never, never quit.