Dennis Bolling, outgoing president and CEO, United Producers, Inc. (UPI)
A champion of the co-op business model and visionary cooperative educator, Dennis Bolling has spent close to four decades serving the cooperative sector. He brings a legacy of service to and advocacy of farmer cooperatives to the 2016 Cooperative Hall of Fame.
Bolling’s cooperative career began in 1980, when he started working at the Louisville Bank of Cooperatives, a predecessor institution to CoBank. There, one of his accounts was Producers Livestock Association, the organization that later became United Producers, Inc. (UPI), an Ohio-based livestock marketing, finance and member services cooperative serving farmers in the Midwest.
When he joined the organization in 1989, Bolling helped then Producers Livestock Association emerge from the economic downturn that plagued the agriculture sector throughout much of the 80s. In 1999, he oversaw a series of mergers that doubled the co-op’s size and expanded its services to producers in ten states. In late 2001, Bolling steered UPI through a complex, eight-year legal and financial labyrinth in the wake of a Ponzi scheme that left it bankrupt and $80 million in debt. Under his leadership, UPI not only survived what was widely seen as a crippling setback, but its members emerged protected and its operations undamaged. Today, UPI is the largest livestock marketing cooperative in the U.S., serving 45,000 members, marketing 3 million head of livestock and recording annual sales of $1.2 billion last year.
Once UPI was stabilized, Bolling turned his attention to his lifelong passion-cooperative education and development. An advocate of strong board governance, he developed a board certification program and used the Farm Credit Services’ leadership modules to provide advanced governance training to co-op boards. At a time when the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives’ (NCFC) education program was on the brink of disappearing, Bolling helped reinvent it and ensure its broad support. To build a more engaged and efficient workforce, he created UPI University, which includes company orientation, sales and management training courses. At CoBank, Bolling led the committee that developed its director education program, writing and presenting much of it himself.
Bolling was instrumental in creating numerous cooperative education organizations, including the game-changing Center for Cooperatives, Business and Community Education and Development at The Ohio State University and the Mid America Cooperative Council. Bolling serves on the Executive Committee and as chair of the Education Committee at NCFC, where his goal is to help cooperative directors understand the scope and complexity of their role, acquire the skills they need to apply around the board table, learn to conduct business with accountability and transparency and make informed decisions as part of a diverse group. Bolling also chairs the board of the NCFC Foundation, where he has set fundraising strategies and expanded the organization’s scope of work.
Bolling recently completed a term as chair of the LEAD Program, a two-year leadership program affiliated with The Ohio State University. In July, he received the Reginald J. Cressman Award from the Association of Cooperative Educators in recognition of his mentorship and profound impact on the development of cooperative leaders.