Oregon FFA has a new leader.
Shawn Dooley, a native Oregonian and former FFA state officer, will become the organization’s first CEO, returning home after spending the last six years as a national and international business consultant working in countries such as Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
The move comes after the Oregon FFA Association, Foundation and Alumni voted in 2018 to come together under a single management structure, governed by a 10-person joint policy board. As CEO, Dooley, 59, will oversee staff, finances and fundraising for all three groups.
“I’m looking forward to reconnecting with people in my roots, and bringing to this new position the business experience that I have had,” Dooley said in an interview with the Capital Press. “Hopefully we will bring some synergy and efficiency to the organization.”
The timing of the hire is also fitting, with Dooley set to begin March 18, just four days before the annual Oregon FFA State Convention kicks off March 22-25 at the Deschutes Fair & Expo Center in Redmond. An estimated 1,700 students from 102 local FFA chapters are expected to attend this year’s convention.
Dooley is a former Oregon FFA officer, serving as state sentinel during 1978-79. A graduate of Dayton High School, Dooley joined FFA in eighth grade, raising Holstein bottle calves, sheep and hogs, while also farming spring wheat and working at a local dairy.
Dooley remembers receiving his first Holstein bull calf as a birthday present when he was in seventh grade. The family had just moved from the Portland metro area to rural Dayton, and Dooley was excited to raise animals like his dad did back in high school.
Being a part of FFA, Dooley said, was very influential in his personal development and setting him on a career path in agriculture. Dooley graduated from Oregon State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degrees in agricultural education, and agricultural and resource management.
While in school, Dooley worked at at a local feed store, Valley Feed and Supply, in McMinnville — what is now Buchanan Cellars. It was there he met a district manager for Purina Mills, which offered him a job. Dooley spent eight years with Purina, bouncing from the Willamette Valley to Southern Oregon to Phoenix to Seattle.
From there, Dooley joined a small startup company, Absorption Corp., which manufactured and sold pet supplies. Under Dooley’s leadership, the company expanded sales to large retailers like Petco, PetSmart and Walmart, and branching out into 17 countries.
Absorption Corp sold in 2013 and became Healthy Pet LP. Dooley went on to start his own consulting company, SMD Group, based in Bellingham, Wash., that specializing in the sale, marketing and distribution of both pet supplies and value-added food products.
Ultimately, Dooley said he felt the pull to come back to Oregon, and back to FFA.
“At this stage in life, I am interested in supporting young people in developing into good human beings, productive citizens, and helping prepare them to be the type of employees that I looked for when we had Absorption Corp,” he said. “People who are team players, who can advocate for themselves, who can ask questions and have a work ethic.”
Kirk Maag, with the Oregon FFA Foundation, chaired the search committee for a new CEO. The committee selected Dooley from a field of 17 applicants and three finalists, Maag said.
“Oregon FFA is thrilled to welcome Shawn back to Oregon,” Maag said in a statement. “His business acumen, proven leadership, and deep roots in Oregon agriculture align with our goals for the CEO position. Oregon FFA will be stronger with Shawn at the helm.”
The Oregon FFA Association, Foundation and Alumni previously operated as independent groups, but with similar goals. The Association works directly with teachers and students to organize FFA activities, while the Foundation is the main fundraising arm, drawing support from members and corporate sponsors. Finally, the Alumni are an all-volunteer faction that provides support for local chapters.
The groups voted on a new management structure after Kevin White stepped down as executive director of the Oregon FFA Foundation last year. Rather than hire individual executives for each branch, Maag said they felt it would be more efficient have a single CEO in charge.
“What you have now is a CEO who will understand both the fundraising side, and the needs on the association side of where that money is going,” Maag said in a previous interview in December 2018.
Oregon FFA serves 7,007 students and 109 chapters statewide. Dooley said as soon as he is up to speed on the organization and its sponsors, he will conduct a roadshow to meet with supporters, spread their message and further strengthen their relationships.
“We will crisscross the state and look for opportunities to meet with stakeholders and share the Oregon FFA story in front of as many groups and microphones as we can,” he said.