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A Conversation with Shawn Rana About Career Motivation and Focus

Shawn Rana is a seasoned Senior Executive and Consultant with 26 years of success in manufacturing, fertilizers, oil and gas, and agrichemicals. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Manitoba. Since then, he has had numerous roles ranging from plant manager and engineering/projects manager all the way to […]

Shawn Rana
Shawn Rana

Shawn Rana is a seasoned Senior Executive and Consultant with 26 years of success in manufacturing, fertilizers, oil and gas, and agrichemicals. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Manitoba. Since then, he has had numerous roles ranging from plant manager and engineering/projects manager all the way to President and CEO of different companies in the fertilizer industry. Leveraging extensive domestic and international experience in finance, operations, engineering, and building, he is a valuable asset and recognized expert in ammonia and nitrogen fertilizer projects and plant management. Throughout his executive career, Shawn has held leadership positions at Fortigen LLC; Iowa Fertilizer Company; Austin Powder Company; and Agrium. He has been responsible for founding and leading multi-billion-dollar companies from the ground up.

Shawn is talented in recruiting high achievers, running manufacturing operations, and driving on-time delivery of critical/high priority projects spanning functional areas. He has the ability to collaborate with Board of Directors to plan and refine corporate vision to protect a company’s future stake in competitive markets.

Some standouts in Shawn’s career include: piloting construction of the first world-scale, greenfield nitrogen fertilizer facility built in US in more than 25 years—recognized as one of the most innovative and efficient manufacturing plants in the nation; piloting construction and management of 2 other fertilizer related projects in the USA; Managing existing plant operations to lead a change in the operations of the plant and introduce processes and systems which enhance EHS and Plant efficiency and reliability.

In the last few years, what lifestyle, habit, or behavior change has had the biggest positive impact on your life?

Over the past few years, because my traveling has not been as extensive as in the past, I’ve been able to reconnect with my side of the family, my brothers and sisters, my mother, and my childhood friends.  That has been very, very enjoyable.  It has given me a fresh perspective.  It has given me even more energy and motivation.

When you feel unfocused, what do you do?

I always set goals for the day, the week, the month and for the year.  When I start to feel unfocused, I will review those goals again and get myself back on track.  I review my goals to make sure that I am working on the right priorities.  If anything has changed, I make a note of it.  Things do change and goals do change.  Priorities change and I want to make sure I am working on the right priorities. 

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

I always tell everybody that I mentor and those that work for me to picture yourself where you want to be in 5, 10, or 20 years, and never lose that picture in your mind.  You will subconsciously be doing things that you don’t even know or realize.  You will subconsciously do things to achieve that vision.  Make sure you have that picture in your mind.  For example, I always had a picture in my mind to be a manager and I became that manager.  Then I had a picture in my mind to be president, and I became president.  Subconsciously I didn’t even know that I was doing things to get myself there, but I was doing them, and people were noticing those things.  My managers and others in leadership were noticing those things, and that is what got me there.  Picture yourself where you want to be and somehow you will do things to get yourself there. 

In today’s society there does not seem to be loyalty.  Loyalty does not seem to be as important for the younger generation.  I think that is misleading.  I think loyalty plays an important role.  It builds trust.  If someone sees you are loyal, that goes with trust and with high morals, and high ethics, and so on.  Ignoring the importance of loyalty, I think, is a mistake. 

What is one lifestyle trend that excites you

I think artificial intelligence (AI) is creeping its way into everything we do, our smart phones, our internet, our work, our vehicles, even our home appliances.  Even a simple lightbulb now can be purchased with components of artificial intelligence in it.  We are starting to see the first waves of it coming into the fertilizer industry.  I had worked on artificial intelligence about 20 years in my career.  I had worked on some very early forms of artificial intelligence in our industry and now we are starting to see it come into the broad picture of all of our industry.  It’s pretty exciting because artificial intelligence improves the work experience for the workers and improves safety aspects.  It improves environmental aspects.  It improves quality of life because we are operating plants that run 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so the shift workers and their typical shift working lifestyle is very difficult and artificial intelligence tends to improve all of those things. 

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?

My father has been my biggest influence.  He gave up everything for his family.  Eventually he rebuilt everything for his family.  He did whatever he needed to do.  When he did things, he was very successful, but he changed his career, he changed his lifestyle, he changed his country because it was in the best interest of his family.  He gave up a lot and then worked extremely hard to get everything back.  He always treated us with the utmost respect.  He cared for us and loved us no matter what we did or didn’t do.  He always was supportive of us.  He was a gentle man.  He put us through a very good education system.  He retrained himself to be successful in Canada.  He was very good at what he did, and he was even better at being a father.  He would do whatever was needed for his family and he never ever complained and never questioned.  He just did it. 

What’s one of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned?

Treat others how they want to be treated.  Good always gets rewarded with good.  Those are two lessons I’ve learned.

After I graduated in Engineering and started working in the fertilizer industry, in my very first paycheck I was overpaid by one week.  There were three new engineers hired and I was one of the three.  I went to my manager and I said, “I have been overpaid.  I’ve only been here for one week, but I got two weeks of pay.”  He said, “Oh, okay.  Thank you for letting me know.”  He went to HR and later on that day they came to see me, and they said, “Out of the three engineers, all three were overpaid.  You were the only one who came to us and said you were overpaid.  Because of that, you can keep the extra money.”  That was a very nice thing and always do the right thing. 

When I first moved to the U.S., my father actually needed surgery.  He was having heart bypass surgery, and I had just started a new job in the U.S., and I didn’t have any vacation time yet.  I went to my manager and I said, “My father is having surgery.  It’s a very risky surgery.  Do you mind if I take a day off on a Friday and a Monday and I will travel to Canada and be with him?”  He said, “No.”  He said, “You’re going to take the whole week off.  You’re going to go be with your dad and make sure he’s doing good.”  His theory way, because later on I asked him, I said, “Why did you let me do that?”  He could have just given me a day off.  He said, “First of all, it would not have been human not to let you take the time off, but second, if I didn’t give you that time off, you would have held it, not just against me, but you would have held it against the company.  Every day of working at this company, you would have always remembered that.” 

I worked for that company for a long, long time and I gave them 150%.  I was very successful, but I will never forget that lesson.  He was exactly right.  Because of what he did, I worked 10 times harder to be thankful to them.  Later on, I had 200 people reporting directly and indirectly to me at one point, and I used those lessons when I dealt with people.  When I resigned from one of my positions, when we made the announcement to the workforce, there were people crying that I was leaving and that touched me greatly.  Those lessons contributed to my development and my leadership style, and I’ll never forget that. 

What do you think it is that makes you/someone successful?

Several things make someone successful.  You have to know what you want.  Have a picture in you mind of where you want to be in 5, 10, or 15 years.  You have to have that vision.  It needs to be a clear vision.  If you want to be a plant manager, you have to have that vision in your mind.  You have to know the steps you need to take.  You will start taking those steps and you may not even know it. 

The other thing is just being there.  You have to be there in the good times and the bad times.  When things aren’t going well, you have to be present.  You have to be there.  You have to available and present in the situation.  When things are going great, same thing.  You have to be present in the situation and not take anything for granted.  If it means there is something that is going on at 9:30 at night on a Saturday night, you may not have to be there, but if it’s an important thing you should be there even though no one asked you to be there.  There might be something going on at the plant.  It might be some contractors coming in and doing some major work, etc., but just being present is important. 

How do you stay motivated?

I get a lot of enjoyment out of a sense of accomplishment.  When we work on something together and it’s been completed and it’s been successful, there is a bit of comradery and teamwork and a sense of pride.  Most people like that feeling and I am one of them.  I like that sense of accomplishment that we solved a problem.  We created something new that wasn’t there, or we reached a goal or a milestone.  That is an important event and we should all be celebrating and pleased with that. 

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

The first is for my children and my family.  I want to be the Father to them that mine was to me.  That is a given.  From a professional standpoint, that that I was involved with the growth and success of businesses and companies and I helped create business and an enterprise that was very successful, that was very enjoyable to work at for the employees, was very profitable for the owners and investors, was safe and environmentally friendly, and that I was a good citizen in the community.  It means a lot to me that I was part of that and creating that and people were very pleased that we were able to create jobs for people and  could then put food on the table for dozens and dozens of families.  

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