Cheryl Longtin has led Nexus Corporation, based in Denver, Colo., as the Chairman and CEO for more than 20 years, since she and her husband, Mike Porter, purchased the business in 1994. Bringing her years of business and law experience as an executive and general counsel for Fortune 100 automotive companies, Borg Warner Automotive and ITT Automotive, Longtin has made a big impact on both Nexus and the horticulture industry.
Longtin serves many roles, as an accomplished business leader and an employer who has shaped her own business, team members, and influenced her customers and her community, as well as an active member of the floriculture industry who has served on foundations and boards. She is also a mother and grandmother, successfully balancing both a prominent career and a family.
For all of these reasons and more, Longtin is ideally suited to kick off Greenhouse Grower’s Women In Horticulture online series. To nominate someone to be profiled in the series, please eMail [email protected]
Longtin Built Nexus On A Solid Background In Business And Law
When Longtin came to the horticulture business, she applied her experience in the automotive industry to promote the adoption of more technology in greenhouse production.
“I came out of a very large corporate structure, both at Borg Warner Automotive and ITT Automotive, and I was lucky enough to be exposed to a variety of businesses around the world,” she says. “I think one of the advantages I brought to Nexus was my comfort with that international side of the business and transition, which allows me to look globally and help our customers develop that interest and technology and innovation from what’s available around the world into their own businesses.”
Leading with technology is important for business, no matter whether you’re an automotive parts manufacturer, a greenhouse manufacturer or a plant manufacturer (grower), she says.
“What I learned in the automotive industry is that the competitive edge you have when you lead with technology is huge, and proprietary technology is so important,” Longtin says. “You need to never believe that your technology is good enough. You have to constantly invest in it.”
New product development has been a large part of the success Nexus has realized over the years, and focusing on helping its customers advance their growing systems and change their cost structure, she says. That includes investing internally in innovative technology automation at the company’s manufacturing locations, to lead with innovations like its Zephyr greenhouse, which incorporates natural ventilation and cooling to help growers reduce energy bills. It also means developing relationships with other companies, like Visser, to provide automation systems to growers.
“What we have tried to do at Nexus internally is to maintain the U.S. manufacturing that we have, but also to look for other sources of supply for our customers, whether it’s a new growing system or a new cloth or a new bench system, and bring that technology here to let the growers have access to it,” Longtin says.
“Whether you’re looking at the manufacturing of plants or you’re looking at the production flow within their economics of producing that plant, if you make growers successful by giving them more technology, it translates all the way down the line. It makes a healthier industry, healthier customers and in turn, it makes us all more profitable.”
Technology And Engineering Provide Pathways Toward New Opportunities
Part of that heavy lean toward technology includes a laser-focus on engineering, which is an area where Nexus excels, Longtin says.
“We have the largest engineering group for greenhouse structures,” she says. “We have at least two engineers in-house for each state certification, so we do not have to go outside and get someone else to stamp our plans. We internally have that capability for every state, and it makes a huge difference. The engineering certifications allow us to react very quickly when a customer wants a new structure code up.”
Longtin also uses her background as a lawyer as an advantage – not to provide official legal counsel, as she emphasizes she does not practice law for anyone beyond Nexus itself – but to provide growers with a frame of reference when it comes to issues like zoning, building permits and working with contractors and subcontractors.
“As growers get larger and need outside help for things like building their structures, they have, out of necessity, come to more of a legalistic way of doing business, because activities like building greenhouses are more contractually based now,” she says “I have helped growers weave through that and understand what’s important about protecting your downside. I don’t believe in any legal transaction you ever eliminate all the risks. And what you are really trying to do is understand what the big risks are and manage those larger risks. I think I’ve helped a number of our customers to really take a look at their projects and growth opportunities and identify the risks and manage the downside.”
The company’s engineering and business prowess has been instrumental, not only in designing greenhouse environments for any climate, whether to withstand snowloads in the Northeast or the heat and humidity of Florida, but also in special circumstances, like working with a customer to figure out how to build a greenhouse on the roof of another building.
Collaborating with Gotham Greens, as Nexus Greenhouses did to build the greenhouse on the roof of the Whole Foods store that opened in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., was an exhilarating project for the company, Longtin says, and she and Porter were excited to be there for the grand opening of the store in December 2013.
That project has led to other exciting new projects underway, Longtin says, and Nexus is also rapidly becoming increasingly involved in the vegetable, marijuana and water treatment industries, as well.
“I think we, like most people, have been hesitant to understand the legal side of the marijuana market, but the laws are on the books for more and more states, and the federal government has stated that they will not prosecute. We find no reason not to invest in the marijuana market, from our perspective,” Longtin says. “We’re not replacing our moral judgement with anyone else’s. It is a legal industry. I don’t know of a good reason not to, so yes, we do serve that market and we do think it has tremendous potential.”
Developing Industry Leaders Through Investment And Scholarship
As an employer, Nexus has been fortunate to retain many of the team members who were there when Longtin and Porter bought the business, which speaks to the value the company places on them, Longtin says. That value, she says, translates to better business for the company and its customers.
“When I look at Nexus, one of our key indicators of the successful philosophy is the team’s longevity,” she says. “When you consider the knowledge in that group of people, it bodes well for the company at large, but I also think it really helps our customers because when people come to us, they come to knowledgeable people that we’ve invested in and those investments just translate all the way down the line.”
Nexus has invested in its employees, providing assistance to help put many of them through school, including one employee with a law degree and another with an MBA. That investment extends to the marketplace, as well, where Nexus is involved in scholarship programs to promote the next generation of growers.
“When you look at small businesses, in order to maintain and attract those quality young people, I think they have to see opportunity and investment in them by you, and when they do, they want to stay,” Longtin says.
“I also believe that your people are your strongest assets, whether it be Nexus or one of our commercial partners that are benefiting from a scholarship opportunity, the strength of your business is that employee, and when that employee knows how to do their job and can expand that opportunity, they create more business for you.”
Longtin’s Thoughts On Advancing Women In Horticulture
Women have much to offer in any field, and Longtin has long been an advocate for women in business.
“When I look back, when I was a vice president for Borg Warner Automotive Group, there was only one other woman in that industry with me, at that level. And now, it’s much different,” Longtin says. “In my former job, when I would talk to our executives, I would say, ‘When you exclude hiring women, you’re excluding one half of the knowledge genetic pool that exists. And you’re ignoring so much talent.’”
At Nexus, there are numerous women in key positions, but the business – and the industry – doesn’t typically look to whether a position is filled by a man or a woman, which is true of many customers, as well, she says. That’s because horticulture, with its rich family tradition, has long promoted women in the industry, and is more advanced compared to other industries, Longtin says.
“One of the things that makes this business unique is that historically, it’s been a family business, and when I walk into Tagawa Greenhouses, whether I’m calling on Randy or June or Ken, it doesn’t make a difference. June is there and she is key to that business. When I walk into Lucas Greenhouses and I see George Lucas, I also see Louise and she’s critical to that business. So I think floriculture has provided unique opportunities to women because with the family component of this business, people have not had the built in, historic prejudices that they did in other businesses. So I think it’s a great area for women to work.”
However, that doesn’t mean we are immune to the current concerns regarding gender inequality, Longtin says.
“We would be foolish and naive if we believed that we were there,” she says. “There is still inequality, there is still unequal pay. But we are moving along. This industry is an industry where I believe we are advancing faster than the norm.”
Longtin encourages women in horticulture to continue to seek out opportunities to provide volunteer leadership in organizations that shape the future of the business.
“I know this is true of myself when I was raising our family, is when you’re working, raising your family, and doing all of these things, and you’re so caught up in all of that and your time is so committed that you really don’t necessarily take on additional responsibilities for developing the industry, for developing that camaraderie,” she says. “But I think where we could help ourselves in the industry is to be more active on those boards. There are a lot of those areas where women can have an impact, and have a role in strengthening the business, and I think if I were to encourage women in our industry to do something different, it would be to pick up something like that. Because again, your business is only as strong as your industry, and your industry is only as strong as the participants who support it.”
Cheryl Longtin’s Resume
- Chairman and CEO of Nexus Corp., from 1994 to present.
- Vice President Strategic Planning and Business Development- ITT Automotive from 1991-1994
- President ITT Automotive U.S. Brake Division from 1989-1991
- Vice President and General Counsel Borg Warner Automotive 1983-1988
- 1967-1971 Bachelor of Science, Michigan State University- East Lansing, Michigan
- 1974-1977 Juris Doctor, Loyola University School of Law- Chicago Illinois
- 1980-1982 MBA, University of Chicago-Chicago, Illinois
Outside Board Positions
- Lutheran Hour Ministries Foundation (1995-2002)
- President Castle Pines Country Club-Ladies League 2011-2014
- Castle Pines Garden Club 2010-2013
- Our Father Lutheran Church Council 2008-2012
- Colorado Floriculture Foundation 2000-2006
- Wheatridge Ministries 2012-2014
- Tagawa Greenhouse Enterprises