Making a Difference By Tim Hodson

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care — Cavett Robert.

That’s how Dr. Charlie Hall signs off on all of his email correspondence and that’s how he lives his life. He cares!

He cares about his family, he cares about his students, he cares about growers and he really cares about the horticulture industry.

Hall is a professor of horticulture and holds the Ellison Endowed Chair in international floriculture at Texas A&M University. He is also GPN‘s 2012 Hort Hero!

Invested in the Industry

Charlie Hall is a green industry economist who has invested some sweat equity in a greenhouse. He can take the most complex economic concepts and data and turn them into real world tools that can help growers be successful.

Hall’s expertise is in the production and marketing of green industry crops. His major research, teaching and extension areas of specialization include strategic management, market forecasting, cost accounting and financial analysis for green industry firms.

In his nomination for 2012 GPN Hort Hero, Lloyd Traven, owner of Peace Tree Farm, Kintnersville, Pa., said, “Charlie is, perhaps, the single most important person in the industry right now. He NEVER allows emotion and legend and ‘conventional wisdom’ to cloud his vision, but rather relies on truth and data and reason. He manages to distill a vast array of statistics down into the real pearls, the essence of what actually is happening — historical, immediate and a powerful projection of what the data tells us is the future likelihood. His analysis provides an indispensible tool for us to prepare for where we need to go, not just a fond look back on how it used to be.”

As crazy as the economy has been in recent years, Hall has been a vital resource for many business owners who have needed this type of critical information.
“I have a passion for this industry,” Hall says. “I want people to succeed. My sole purpose is to provide growers and others in the industry with the information they need to make informed managerial decisions.”

“If I can provide a practical and pragmatic and useful way for folks to make their decisions, then I consider myself successful,” he states.

His ABCs

Charlie Hall has a B.S., an M.S. and a Ph.D. He works at A&M but has horticulture in his DNA.

Growing up, his family owned a nursery in North Carolina where he was exposed to pretty much everything it takes to run a business — from pulling weeds to potting plants to selling finished product out of the back of the company truck.

“The horticulture industry is something I have always enjoyed. It is a big part of my family history,” remarks Hall.

But when he was in high school, the nursery business began to compete with his two favorite pastimes — sports and girls. When it came time to go to college he was looking for something different, so he enrolled at the University of Tennessee as a pre-pharmacy major.

But the road to becoming a pharmacist was a short one. “Second quarter chemistry took care of that!” he jokes. So he switched his major to agricultural economics and received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee in 1984. At that point he decided to continue his studies and go for a master’s degree in ornamental horticulture and landscape design.

“It was a circular path. The green industry had a way of drawing me back,” Hall says. “But ironically, I had to take even more chemistry courses when I went back for my master’s degree in ornamental horticulture.”

In 1988, he received his Ph.D. from Mississippi State University and then began his academic career at Texas A&M. After 13 years on the faculty there, he returned to his undergrad alma mater, University of Tennessee, and spent five years teaching there before returning to College Station, Texas, and being appointed to the Ellison Chair at Texas A&M in 2007.

Hall says he recognized the importance of listening to others before speaking out early on and it is something he has practiced his entire career. “I’ve got two ears and one mouth. I realized that if I used my ears twice as much as my mouth, then I would be better off and I could help others more effectively.”

It’s a Plant and People Business

Hall says he likes all aspects of the green industry, but he is a people person. “Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of my job is the people I get to interact with,” he says.
“You meet some great people and develop some great friendships [in this industry]. Most of the people tend to exhibit good moral and
ethical character in their business dealings. I find it very rewarding to work with those kinds of individuals,” Hall states.

But he also appreciates the diversity of the industry. He knows that people have differing viewpoints and opinions, and are not always going to agree with him, “But it is always good when you can compromise or reach a common ground with them” and still come up with a solution that benefits everyone in the industry.

“There is diversity in the industry, yet there is a commonality that we all have in terms of wanting the industry to succeed,” Hall says. “That give and take is what counts the most.”
Hall wants to help everyone be successful. “Over the years, I have seen a number of our peers go out of business basically because they didn’t have the necessary information to make informed managerial decisions,” he remarks.

He said when he speaks to groups, “I enjoy giving people a more realistic perspective of the economy and how it affects the industry. But I feel a great responsibility to be even more prepared and more pragmatic in my educational efforts,” he proffers. “I don’t just want to make people feel good during a 45-minute talk, I want to help make a difference in their businesses and their lives.”

Continue Making a Difference

In August, Hall celebrated his five-year anniversary as the Ellison Chair at Texas A&M. He is looking forward to serving another five-year stint as the Ellison Chair and helping continue to make a difference.

One of the immediate issues Hall is concerned with is how the industry will “remain relevant to the Gen X and Gen Y consumers of tomorrow. It comes down to value, relevance and authenticity,” he says. “We are a mature industry. We have always provided a quality product at
reasonable prices.”

But Hall believes the consumers of today and tomorrow need to be continually educated on the economic benefits, ecosystems services and health and well-being benefits that green goods provide. “It is that relevancy that stands in question with our future customers.”

He thinks it is the responsibility of everyone in the supply chain, from the seed supplier to the retailer, to engage consumers and establish relevance of what the green industry has to offer. “We must work collectively, we can’t afford to have a weak link in the chain.”

“We know how good our products are, but we can’t just preach to each other. We have to reach out to [the consumer],” using any and all resources possible.

“We have got to stay relevant to our consumers. We have to get our message out to them and tell them how good our products are and what kind of value they provide,” Hall declares. “And we have to do it authentically!”