WEDC CEO Missy Hughes

HUGHES SEES PEOPLE AS WISCONSIN’S BIGGEST ASSET

Missy Hughes was recently appointed as the new CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The Wheeler Report had the opportunity to sit down with Hughes on her first week in the office and talk about where she came from and where she sees WEDC going.

Hughes grew up as the youngest of seven children just outside New York City; raised by parents who were both doctors. Hughes went to Georgetown where she studied political science, then moved with her husband to Wyoming where she obtained her J.D at the University of Wyoming. She and her husband came to Wisconsin so her husband could work at Organic Valley, and eventually Hughes was hired at Organic Valley to be their general counsel. Hughes has been in Wisconsin for 16 years with her husband and three children.

When asked about Wisconsin Hughes said, “My favorite thing about Wisconsin is the people. It’s so different than New York.  I’m not going to say people from New York are one way and people from Wisconsin are another way. There are all humans.  I love how hard-working Wisconsin folk are. I love how honest they are, and how much they appreciate just living and getting through the day. They enjoy simple things. It’s the people.”

Prior to her appointment at WEDC, Hughes served as the Chief Mission Officer and General Counsel for Organic Valley, where she served for 16 years. Hughes highlighted that her work at Organic Valley started as General Counsel as the first attorney. Hughes said her job expanded into government affairs as Organic Valley grew and worked closely with the USDA to make the organic designation a strong national designation. Hughes emphasized that when she began working at Organic Valley it was a small organization. Hughes said the organization has seven farmers that oversee the organization, which as the organization grew became more of a governance board. Hughes said she worked with the governance board to “make sure they had a good feedback loop with the rest of the membership. They have over 2,000 farmers in over 36 states. All of whom have a vested interest in the success of the coop. We really wanted to make sure as a coop we have a full democracy for everyone to work with. That was what we called Stewardship. Stewarding the cooperative. That was probably the most satisfying piece of work that I did. Bringing people together, getting everybody’s ideas on the table, and letting people be heard. Once people have the chance to share their ideas, they are move open to hear other people’s ideas. Then you can get to the heart of what you need to accomplish together.” Hughes said that was when her position ‘morphed’ into Chief Mission Officer.  Hughes said Organic Valley had a strong mission and it was her responsibility to make sure the cooperative stayed true to that mission. Hughes said the challenge was to make sure the farmer voice was heard and maintained clearly in a productive way.

Hughes believes that her role at Organic Valley will assist her as she transitions to the CEO for WEDC because she believes she has strong listening skills and she plans to begin her tenure by listening. Hughes plans a statewide tour to learn more about the communities in Wisconsin. Hughes said she wants to hear people’s concerns, ideas, and their thoughts on the state’s strengths.  Hughes said, “I don’t have a particular mindset of ‘I think this should happen here’ or ‘I think this should happen there.’ I’m a firm believer that if people believe in their own idea, and it comes from the grassroots, then that’s going to be the most successful. So, in all of these regions throughout the state, I am so excited to go out and hear what people really want to bring forward.  What they tried that hasn’t worked, why they think it hasn’t worked, and ‘if we just did this’ it might go better…I really want to get out and meet people all over the state and learn about them.“ Hughes’s statewide tour will begin next week.  

Hughes was asked about what she sees as her mission at WEDC and she said, “My mission is to take the businesses and the strengths of Wisconsin and bring them together to really build communities. Organic Valley is one of the biggest companies in Vernon County…but it’s not a one company town by any means. What has happened is in the county and surrounding region is that Organic Valley has helped bring folks to the region, but then all sorts of other little businesses are starting on their own. I want to go all through the state and figure out where the real seeds of community are, and what WEDC can do to help those grow… Success for me would be in 20 years when I drive around the state with grandchildren seeing communities that I helped gain strength and become more vibrant over the years.”

Hughes called the opportunity to be the CEO at WEDC ‘mind-boggling’. Hughes has high praise for her position, the people, and the atmosphere at Organic Valley and said she should never want to leave, but emphasized she sees this as an opportunity to take what she has learned at Organic Valley on bringing people together to work together on a much broader scale. Hughes said she sees an opportunity to help ‘so many areas’ of Wisconsin succeed.

WEDC, and before it the Department of Commerce, have long been areas of contention with the legislature and different administrations.  Hughes said, ‘There is such an opportunity to smooth the waters and have a really amazing, excellent transparent agency with lots of integrity and lots of success that goes across administrations.” Hughes emphasized that she wants to take the strengths at WEDC and continue those consistently into the next administration. Hughes discussed the importance of consistency for businesses regardless of administration in the agency, its people, and its mission. Hughes was persistent in her emphasis that her goals working with the legislature will be to listen to their concerns and work with them to solve problems going forward.

Hughes highlights that her time at Organic Valley has given her the opportunity to be part of a company that has had an amazing growth by bringing the farmers together and allowing them how to decide to go to market together.  Hughes stated that Organic Valley has been so successful because “there were humans behind it that worked incredibly hard.” Hughes said regardless of the industry in Wisconsin, if there are people who want to put in the hard work, WEDC should be supporting that effort.

Hughes has not had the opportunity to meet with anyone at Foxconn at this time and has not yet had the opportunity to visit the building site since she is so new to the position, but Hughes was quick to say that Wisconsin has a lot of amazing executives and she’s looking forward to meeting all the people on that list. Hughes said in working with Foxconn she plans to look for the commonalities.  Hughes explained that everyone wants Wisconsin to succeed and benefit from this partnership with Foxconn, and everyone wants the taxpayers to be protected.  Hughes says Foxconn should be recognized for choosing Wisconsin and wanting to be in a relationship with Wisconsin. Hughes said she’s still learning about the issues and all the opportunities with the Foxconn partnership and she’s looking forward to digging into it.

Hughes ended the interview by saying she believes strongly in approaching challenges with a “genuine curiosity for solving them.” Hughes said she loves problem solving and appreciates working with people who are willing to share their ideas and are willing to take the time to find solutions.  Hughes said, “Solutions don’t come easily, but what I’ve found in my work at Organic Valley is that when we really spent some time really thinking about something, we had amazing success.”  

Hughes said she believes there are so many exciting stories to tell about Wisconsin, and she appreciates the team at WEDC.