Class of 2013
West Point graduate Brad Pieper uses lessons he learned as a field artillery officer to lead sales and marketing efforts at Microbiologics, where his enemies now include food- and water-borne illnesses.
What are you doing now?
Two years since becoming part of the 5 Under 40 alumni, I continue to serve on the senior management team at Microbiologics as its vice president of sales and marketing.
How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?
As someone who recently moved to Central Minnesota, the 5 Under 40 award has been a great way to connect with great leaders in the St. Cloud community. I have gained many great personal relationships as a result of this honor, which will continue long into the future.
Other big changes since you received the award?
Not a lot has changed for me in two short years. That said, my family's move from the Twin Cities to Central Minnesota occurred just over two years ago so, for us, it has been acclimating to our new "smaller-town" community, which we feel so blessed to be a part of.
What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?
A continued focus on raising up young leaders. The millennial generation (of which I am not one) contains some of the smartest and most dedicated professionals I have ever met. Innovation and future progress will be catalyzed by these young leaders and they should be empowered to make their unique mark here in St. Cloud.
Originally ran: January 19, 2014
Ten years ago, Brad Pieper was leading combat and rebuilding missions in Iraq as a second lieutenant and field artillery officer in the U.S. Army.
He earned the Bronze Star and later was second in command of a 700-member unit where he was charged with training soldiers to go into battle zones. He also was responsible for receiving casualties and notifying next of kin.
Compared with that, most challenges he'll face in his business career will be easy — even if he's the face of a company that specializes in microorganisms but hasn't had a biology class since he was a sophomore at Hopkins High School.
Back then, his primary focus was hockey. The chance to play at the Division I level led him to the U.S. Military Academy.
After serving five years in the Army, he's put that training to good use. And the discipline he learned at West Point has helped him assimilate as a vice president with St. Cloud-based Microbiologics.
Since you weren't educated in microbiology before coming to Microbiologics, how did you get up to speed about what you needed to know?
"I have a process by which I come to understand the business. The first thing I did was to look at how the business creates value for customers. Where the science was required to understand how to do that, that's where I started to learn. Since that time, by being immersed in it, I think it's like learning a language. You learn some of the high-level blocking and tackling of the construct and then you go out and apply it and you fumble it over and over and over again. But eventually you start to find yourself able to talk a little bit of the science. I should caveat that by saying I don't pretend to be an expert in our science. I know enough to be dangerous at this point. ...
"So even when I'm talking to my distributors today who have been microbiologists for decades, they understand. I'll tell them what I know or what I think I know and I'll be very honest about what I don't. ...
"The professionals in this building know what they're doing. They're very generous with their time. So as I've sought their help, they've been very eager to provide it. We were just part of the first group to use the microbiology lab in the ISELF (St. Cloud State University's Integrated Science Engineering Laboratory Facility) building and just spending the morning looking at various products and strains, you pick things up."
How is your role defined?
"I oversee our marketing functions, which includes our communications and our public relations work. I oversee our global sales force and all of our third-party distributors. We have about 45 of those we work with in 135 countries.
"And then I oversee our customer service group, which oversees order fulfillment. This is completely different than my old life, which was professional service, serving clients and being in charge of small teams where we'd sort of parachute in and help answer questions for chief executives of larger organizations. What I do now is lead teams to get the work done.
"What attracted me to this role was to finally take everything I've done in my past careers and bring it all together — devising the strategy, selling the strategy, working on communications to influence and then taking a team and leading it through implementation of what you decide is best for this organization. Being able to do all that has been a unique opportunity for someone like me."
What do you continue to draw on from your military experience?
"When I think about what we need to do to move the ball forward, I think about the skills I learned in the Army — motivating, trying to be clear in communications, clear in expectations, trying to measure what it is we're doing and trying to look back and celebrate the wins and look at the things that haven't gone so well and figure out how we make them better in the future. That was West Point, U.S. Army training. A lot of the context is different, but it's much the same conversations.
"My hockey experience attracted me to West Point, a place that was going to give me a chance to play Division I when few others were going to allow someone of my size to play. And hockey is the ultimate team sport. You cannot do it yourself, even if you're the best player on the team.
"That's what I love about a business like this one. My contributions pale in comparison to my ability to get others to compete and contribute at the highest level. And that, at the end of the day, is my job here at Microbiologics."
Having been in combat, what context does your business career take?
"A lot of soldiers struggle when they come back from those types of experiences and try to make a life outside of the military. That rush, that high, that you've been preparing for forever is now over. What's your next meaning? For me, a lot of it has been leaning on my faith. I think that guides a lot of what I do. I like to think that I'm here for a bigger purpose than even going to war for my country, or scoring the winning goal for my hockey team.
"Whatever gets placed in front of me next is the thing that I try to optimize myself for. Would I have ever thought I was going to be a person leading a sales force selling freeze-dried germs to create a safer, healthier world? No. Certainly not. But I'm tickled to be here and I'm going to give every ounce I have to make this place as great as it can be.
"This is a very special organization and, as I thought about the next career I wanted for myself, the thing that rose to the top as I took an inventory was this idea of mission and doing something greater than myself. When this was introduced to me and we talked about providing the highest-quality biomaterials for a safer world, that ensure that our fellow humans don't get sick all around the globe, that felt very good. It wasn't all a commercial endeavor."
How can Microbiologics change the future of business in Central Minnesota, and how can you be involved in that?
"The fact that we do business in countries all over the world is pretty unique here or many other places, too, for that matter. I don't know of many businesses even in large markets that are of our size and international scope.
"We can bring to the St. Cloud area some best practices about how to take our ability to create value for customers and export that all over the world. As we collaborate with our other Granite (Equity) companies (owners of Microbiologics), we are often looked at as a company that can help others do that, too. There's a lot of expertise that resides in these walls on how to do business in the Middle East or Africa and how to put physical locations in place in Europe ...
"It's a unique opportunity for me to interact with so many different types of people. As I learn how to do this better, I hope to port some of those best practices off to other people doing business here in the community."
Family: Wife, Abbey; they have two sons.
Education: Bachelor of science, economics, U. S. Military Academy; master of business administration, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
FYI: Pieper was a field artillery officer and second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served in Iraq in 2003-04 at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He led combat and rebuilding missions and supported two deployments — the second from Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colo., where he was second in command of a 700-member unit. He earned multiple awards, including the Bronze Star. After earning his MBA, he was a consultant for McKinsey & Company. He joined Microbiologics 14 months ago. Find more at www.microbiologics.com.