Retired GEAPS Executive VP David Krejci Recounts Nearly 50-Year Career, Shares Vision for GEAPS

From the September/October GRAIN JOURNAL.

Aug. 2 was the last day for David Krejci as executive vice president of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) before his retirement. Just prior, Grain Journal interviewed Krejci about his 50 years of experience with the society.

What is your personal background?

The Twin Cities, specifically St. Paul, MN, has always been home for me. Academically, I have master’s degrees in architecture from the University of Minnesota and business administration from the University of St. Thomas.

Prior to being hired to join the GEAPS staff team in 1982, I practiced as an architect for several years, and prior to that, I spent eight years with Cargill at what was then the Grain Research Laboratory.

How and when did you become involved with GEAPS?

I have been involved with GEAPS in many ways for nearly 50 years. That began with a seemingly chance encounter with an extraordinarily passionate GEAPS member, Dr. Henry Kaufmann, whom most GEAPS members would know as the individual commemorated by the GEAPS Kaufmann Scholarship.

“Hank,” as most people knew him, established and headed the Cargill Grain Research Laboratory until he died in 1979. Hank hired me as an engineering intern; I was an aspiring electrical engineer at the time.

Up to that moment, I had absolutely no connection with the grain industry, much less GEAPS. That connection was made when Dr. Kaufmann suggested that if I was interested in pursuing a career with Cargill, I should become involved with GEAPS, and he invited me to be his guest at a Minneapolis Chapter meeting. The rest, as the saying goes, is history, including my first GEAPS International Technical Conference and Exposition in 1973 in Minneapolis, MN.

At the Grain Research Lab, I worked with many others actively engaged with GEAPS and with whom I have been proud to work with subsequently as a GEAPS staff team member, and I still consider them friends.

While I left Cargill in 1978 to pursue a career as an architect, my connection to the grain industry and GEAPS followed me through consulting work. In 1980, I was retained by GEAPS to work with the newly-formed Grain Industry Safety and Health Center to develop what turned out to be GEAPS’ initial venture into “distance learning.” There was no internet then, but we had “snail mail” for shipping audiovisual training packages. In 1982, I was hired as GEAPS director of technical services. I was named executive vice president and international secretary in 1987.

What was GEAPS like when you joined the staff compared with the organization as it is today?

GEAPS, at its core, remains the organization founded by a small group of grain operations professionals 90 years ago in Chicago. Fundamentally, GEAPS’ core purpose is to foster and facilitate the exchange of ideas and information to drive excellence and innovation in grain and processing industry operations, safety, efficiency, and environmental responsibility. What has and continues to change is the scope and reach of how GEAPS does that.

The “how” has always been providing forums for professional networking, beginning with the first meetings 90 years ago of members who became the Chicago Chapter to now comprising a network of 26 chapters across the United States and Canada.

The GEAPS International Technical Conference and Exposition was first held in 1930 as a multichapter event much like the Great Lakes and North Central regional conferences today. It evolved into what we know today as the Exchange, our industry’s largest technical conference and exposition dedicated to grain handling and processing operations.

GEAPS was entirely member-managed until it retained professional management services in 1972 and established its office in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. Until 1984, GEAPS staff provided management services for four other grain industry associations.

The GEAPS member directory and buyer’s guide, DirectaSource, was first published in the early ‘70s. The first GEAPS newsletter was published in 1981. GEAPS-member email communication started in 1995, and the website launched in 1997.

GEAPS distance learning courses were launched by the Facility Design Conference in 2002, with the first spinoff course debuting in 2005 in partnership with Purdue University and transitioning in 2008 to Kansas State University in partnership with its Department of Grain Science and Industry, International Grains Program Institute. The distance learning-based credentialing program was launched in 2011. Experiential learning was introduced into our portfolio in 2017 with the Hands-On Training program and expanded this year to include the advanced Grain Elevator Managers Course.

A popular saying to describe GEAPS’ evolution is “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” What has absolutely remained the same is that GEAPS is and has always been member driven and member led.

Who were the most important mentors for you as your career with GEAPS developed?

The answer is easy and simple: every GEAPS member I have ever worked for and with, including more than 70 GEAPS International and Associates board presidents.

GEAPS now describes itself as “the knowledge resource for the grain and processing industries.” How did this develop?

While the “the” term is aspirational, GEAPS has always been a knowledge resource. The vision to be “The knowledge resource” was formally adopted many years ago as a strategic planning work product of our annual Leadership Conference.

Over the years, what have you found to be the most important benefits for GEAPS members?

The benefits of GEAPS membership are rooted in three basic principles of volunteer engagement and the array of opportunities that GEAPS provides to fulfill them: to grow and succeed personally and professionally, opportunities to make a significantly positive difference for yourself and others, and to have an enjoyable and rewarding experience doing all of that.

More simply, GEAPS provides members with opportunities for significant competitive advantage over any other grain industry operations professional who is not.

What role has the society’s volunteers played in the organization’s development?

GEAPS members are GEAPS. From its inception 90 years ago, GEAPS has been member led and member driven. Its sustained success is achieved by the commitment to, focus on, and passion for the pursuit of the GEAPS vision.

While GEAPS’ staff is an amazingly talented team of uniquely qualified association management professionals dedicated to and focused on GEAPS’ success, GEAPS’ operations workforce is hundreds of volunteer leaders at the International and chapter levels serving on boards, committees, task forces, and advisory councils.

What would you say are your proudest accomplishments with the society?

That GEAPS members and stakeholders recognize that the GEAPS brand is well and positively respected as an industry resource, and its evolution is viewed as continual improvement. I have never encountered any GEAPS leaders who are not proud of their leadership service and optimistic about GEAPS’ future.

How do we go about recruiting new members into GEAPS and encourage them to volunteer?

The key is understanding who “we” are in that question. GEAPS members are both the message and the messengers. We need to find more and more effective ways for members to share their success stories with prospective members, as well as their employers.

How has GEAPS Exchange changed over the years, and how is it likely to look in the future?

Exchange has always been the premier technical conference and exposition for grain handling and processing operations, because it remains focused on excellence and innovation as a global forum for the exchange of ideas and information. Continual improvement is a top strategic priority. The growth of Exchange has been responsive to that priority. I expect that that priority will drive further and more integrated innovation in educational programming, experiential learning provided by the exposition, and the many formal and informal networking experiences of just being at Exchange.

Another driving force in the evolution of Exchange is its international scope and reach. While GEAPS has always been an international organization with its chapter network across Canada and the United States, a strategic priority in the pursuit of GEAPS’ vision to be the global grain industry operations knowledge resource is expanding the international scope and reach of Exchange attendees and trade show exhibitors. While that pursuit has been advanced naturally, I expect that trend will be accelerated as a strategic priority.

What current initiatives does GEAPS have under way, and how do you think these will develop?

There are currently five strategic priorities to enhance:

• The relevance and value of membership by increasing member engagement.

• The relevance and value of the chapter network as a critical core component of GEAPS’ brand by increasing and strengthening chapter leadership development and c support services for governance, general operations, program planning, development, production, and delivery.

• The scope and reach of professional development programs by integrating all professional development components at the international and chapter levels.

• The relevance and value of GEAPS as a knowledge resource for grain and oilseed milling and processing sectors by expanding the scope and reach of GEAPS’ professional development programs.

• The relevance and value of the Exchange exposition as a knowledge resource by expanding the scope and reach of the grain handling and processing operations equipment and services trade show.

How the pursuit of those are advanced and evolved has been and will be driven and led by members. Those five initiatives were identified and defined five years ago. The International Board will host a strategic thinking workshop next January to engage GEAPS International and chapter leaders and a cross section of members at large to review and determine if and how to reset priorities. I expect the report out of that workshop will answer the second part of the question.

What do you think GEAPS will look like in five or 10 years?

GEAPS will continue to innovate with professional development and networking and to meet the needs of the next generation of operations professionals in brand new ways. If I’d been asked that question 10 years ago, I’m pretty sure today’s reality far exceeds what would have been my expectations then. And I expect no different moving forward.

What are your plans for retirement?

I look forward to new opportunities to grow and succeed personally and professionally, to make a significantly positive difference, and have fun doing both of those things. My immediate plan is to take full advantage of my newly available and unfamiliar free time with my wife, Jeananne, and our growing family of in-laws and, new for us this year, grandchildren.

While not a “plan,” one thing I am absolutely sure of is that I will miss the daily opportunities of engaging with GEAPS members, leaders, and staff to advance the pursuit of GEAPS’ vision – to have fun doing good things with great people.