The North Dakota Trade Office is excited to introduce its newest team member, Simon Wilson, as executive director. Simon comes from a strong team management background and has a history of accomplishment in executive roles, including Director of Operations at Titan Machinery and Case New Holland Industrial. Wilson has hit the ground running since joining NDTO, but took some time to answer questions on his background, why he loves North Dakota and his vision for the NDTO.
You joined as the new executive director in late March. How has the first month on the job been?
It’s been fantastic. There are definitely many challenges, but the best part has been meeting our members. The Global Business Connections Conference [on April 4 and 5] was a great opportunity to present before a larger audience, but the value was in the one-on-one conversations. Discussing the current state of trade as well as what services our members and partners need was, for me, a great way to start in this role. I will continue these conversations as I visit members and work with new companies that are entering the international trade sector. Another item that has been great is working with the NDTO team and their enthusiasm to identify both what we need to do differently and what we already do well as we move the NDTO forward.
What do you hope to achieve this year as executive director of the NDTO?
The biggest item is developing and executing a new strategic plan that will provide value to NDTO members and grow the organization. Global needs are constantly changing and international trade is at the forefront of the new world. The NDTO is no different than our members’ business models. We have to continuously change and adapt so that we remain relevant and in the case of the NDTO, we are the facilitators of international business for North Dakota companies.
Our strategic plan will lay out the key areas and initiatives that are necessary to support and help grow a business conducting international trade in North Dakota. Much of this plan is also to focus on solid partnerships with our business resources, including the U.S. Commercial Service, SBA, local and state government groups such as EDCs and universities, as well as our International Business Resource members that facilitate trade. As I mentioned at the conference, business is a team sport and we need to continue to build that team and communicate with the team. The strategy will not be a one-time introduction but rather include periodic adjustments and changes as we build the resources and tools that the team and members need to succeed.
You have an extensive background in the equipment industry. Can you talk about how that has prepared you to lead an organization such as the NDTO?
I’ve been in the equipment business for more than 21 years, but I’ve been a student of business for much longer. From a young age, I sought to learn how business works. My parents gave me the opportunity to manage the sale of cattle on the family farm and I had to balance the sales with the cost of inputs to ensure we made money. This is why I pursued a business degree – to continue learning and sharpen my skills in all aspects of business. It’s been a privilege over the past 21 years to hold many different roles in sales, marketing, training, management and executive management. These roles provided me a broad array of business acumen as well as the opportunity to grow my leadership skills.
I am a firm believer that none of us were born with a certain skill-set. We learn how various industries and jobs function from the experiences we have and the people we meet. In my past roles, I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to be exposed to businesses around the world and worked with many different organizations in various foreign markets. I have an extensive knowledge of the equipment business, a vital sector in North Dakota, and I also look forward to continuing to learn about other industries and businesses that I may not be as familiar with.
Let’s go further back and talk about your roots. Where did you grow up and what brought you here?
I grew up on a small farm in Eastern Ontario near the border of New York. My mother was the farmer and my father was a high school teacher. Both taught me the value of working hard and always learning. I’ve worked for CNHi (in the Case IH and New Holland brands), a small, private family manufacturing company and finally here in North Dakota with Titan Machinery. Through all of my roles, I‘ve had the opportunity to learn and grow professionally as well as individually. I met my wife more than 12 years ago and we have been happily married with three beautiful children. Next to becoming a husband and father, it was the greatest honor to become a U.S. Citizen in April of 2011. To have the ability to say I am a citizen of this great country was a moment that I will cherish forever.
I understand at one point, you had to make a choice about staying in North Dakota. What made your family stay?
When I left Titan Machinery in late 2017, I was looking at a couple of roles that were out of the state. We had been in North Dakota for five years and our family truly loves what this great state has to offer. My wife and I had lots of conversations on relocating, but we knew we wanted to stay and our kids definitely didn’t want to leave. I will tell anyone who asks – from someone who has lived in a number of other places, North Dakota has so much to offer and is a great place to live and raise a family. A lot of people take it for granted, but the laid-back lifestyle, low crime, education system and amenities are second to none. The business opportunities are endless and the work ethic and entrepreneurism are off the charts.
What makes you excited about marketing North Dakota?
North Dakota has what the world needs: food products, energy and emerging technology. It’s easy to market something when you truly believe in it. North Dakota produces much more than we can ever use, and there are people out there who need the North Dakota brand. We also have an accessible administration in our state with whom we’ve worked closely, and will continue to work closely, to break down as many barriers and create as many opportunities for North Dakota businesses as we can.
What’s your vision for NDTO in five years? What kind of potential do you see for NDTO in terms of impact on trade?
The vision we have at NDTO now and in the future is that we are an important part of international business plans for the companies we serve. This is done by providing value in whatever way we can, so that companies succeed in international trade. I can’t say today exactly what will change or which services will be added. That’ll be the result of the process we are currently going through. It’ll depend on members’ needs, on what North Dakota needs, now and in the future. Exports are vital to the economic well-being of the people of this state. We’re building on that and strategizing on how to provide the best trade experience and support in the country.
International trade isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would do it. But I can see the passion and excitement that North Dakota businesses and exporters have for their product. For being able to support their families and employees by selling into an international market. And for reaching customers abroad that really need North Dakota partners and products in order to improve their lives. The potential for NDTO is far-reaching and we’re here to make your business successful. To make people successful. We’re listening and we’re determined to open up more doors for you.