Thriving in the gray areas of supporting a global workforce

Published: Mar 13, 2023

Although she’s a self-described city girl at heart, Anne Folk's experiences with her family’s farms always remain at the back of her mind. She had fond memories of getting to visit the farms in Illinois – still run by relatives on both sides of her family to this day.

Anne attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts. During her undergraduate education, Anne served as the Head of Standards for her sorority, which led to the realization that she wanted to have a career in human resources.

While pursuing her master’s degree, Anne started an internship at Honeywell. After obtaining her Master of Human Resources in 2001, she officially started her world tour.

Throughout her 18 years at Honeywell, Anne lived in Mexico, the Czech Republic, India, Switzerland, as well as several states in the US.

“I had the chance to put myself in situations where I was the fish out of water. My parents encouraged me to travel because you learn so much and it helps you become more understanding and empathetic. You truly acknowledge how big the world is and how many different perspectives exist,” says Anne. “I encourage everyone to try to put themselves outside of their comfort zone – even if it’s just for a few hours, you don’t have to travel the globe to do this – so they can learn to trust themselves to navigate through different circumstances and see the value in different walks of life.”

"An industry with purpose...”

In 2019, Anne was ready for a change that matched her new chapter of life. She found Nutrien and became the Vice President of Human Resources for Nutrien Ag Solutions – a position she still holds today.

“When I started looking for a new job, I knew I was looking for an industry with purpose. I was a new mom and was about to become a mom again, so I wanted to feel like everything I was taking away from my family, I was giving to something that they would be proud of,” says Anne. “I enjoy the diversity in the HR space and love providing customer service to employees and leaders. That’s something that I feel brings value. In HR, we have to be growth- and productivity-focused while asking ourselves what’s getting left in the gray spaces. That’s where our niche really comes in.”

Anne's typical day is focused on supporting the growth and productivity agenda for Nutrien Ag Solutions. You can find her connecting with leaders or talent about development and needs, assessing the workflow to identify where work isn’t getting done the way it could be and finding solutions, as well as spending time on developing initiatives within the HR organization – such as processes, improving technology, and inclusion.

One of the areas of HR weighing heavily on Anne’s mind these days is working on succession planning to make sure there are always Nutrien employees around to support growers.

“I feel like we’re going to have a surge of new perspectives in our industry. We need to change the perception that agriculture is pitchforks and overalls. We need to get more people to want to serve our growers,” says Anne, “Cereal doesn’t come from a grocery store, it starts in the field with a grower. It’s a challenging profession and more of us should want to help.”

Gravitating toward challenges

With years of experience of guiding individuals through their career choices while navigating their own, Anne has picked up on some secrets to success. One thing she wishes she had learned earlier on in her career? How to conduct an audit on her skills and hone in on her strengths.

“The earlier that you can learn what you’re truly good at, what you’re not, and how to ask for feedback with the ability to accept that feedback, the further you will go. I received the great advice to focus on learning and delivering – and those have been my pillars to success,” says Anne. “I never really focused on the title of my job. If I never have another title, I will be as happy as can be and am proud to tell people what I do and who I work for. Making sure you love what you do is important in your career journey. If you don’t, you’re probably not doing the right thing.”

Another practice Anne has employed over the years is conducting a self-evaluation every 18 months to ask herself critical questions about her career to make sure she is still being challenged, learning, and making an impact in her role.

“My family would traditionally introduce me as the social one and my brother as the smart one, I never really had to be the smart one. Now, I would tell my younger self that just because someone labels you as something, doesn’t mean you weren’t something else,” says Anne. “I had a little bit of a competitive spirit in me that wanted to show my parents I could still win at something, so I tended to put myself in situations where I had to sink or swim and that’s how I’ve run my career. I’ve gravitated towards things I didn’t know how to do but wanted to learn how to do them.”

"Time is our only commodity...”

Outside of Nutrien, Anne divides her time between spending time with her family and serving on the board of directors for two nonprofit organizations – United Way and the Rivendell School of Northern Colorado.

“As a wife, mother, and HR executive, I’m proud to be a woman that’s not balancing everything because I don’t believe in balance. I do my best to keep the right priorities in front of me because I believe that time is our only commodity and we have to be thoughtful on how we spend it,” says Anne. “It’s a privilege to spend time serving the community – it’s a great way to be local and feel grounded by getting out of your normal routine at home and work.”