Director of Agriculture and Food at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
As a 2002 graduate of Agricultural Economics, Tres is one of our many former students who has earned a successful career in agriculture. Tres is now the director for agriculture and food in the corporate affairs and government relations division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. In this role, he represents Walmart on a variety of issues including food safety, nutrition policy, international trade and global development.
We recently caught up with Tres and garnered a few words of wisdom. Check out what he had to say!
“Tres, what made you decide to study Agricultural Economics?”
In the interest of full disclosure, I originally wanted to be a veterinarian, and even worked on a cancer research project at the vet school for nearly three years. Like so many potential vet students, I realized getting admitted would be tough and that I’d better hedge my investment in the event I didn’t get accepted to vet school. Economics, free markets and agriculture development have always been interesting to me, so Agricultural Economics was a great fit.
“What would you say is the most valuable thing you learned from your time at A&M?”
Quite frankly, it’s hard to pinpoint the most valuable thing I learned during my time at A&M because there are so many enriching experiences I remember. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the people at A&M really played a strong role in shaping the person I’ve become. My experiences were really a domino effect – from my time working at the vet school, to serving on COALS, being on the Horse Judging team, being on the Ag Marketing team and on student NAMA, and then there was the catalyst moment getting the Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Internship in Washington, D.C. At each step of the way, there were family, professors, employers, and student peers that helped mold me.
“How did you go from rural west Texas to living in Washington, D.C. and working for Walmart?”
I really have to credit the ANRP internship program for that launch pad. I had the incredible opportunity to intern for Congressman Charlie Stenholm, who was the Ranking Member on the House Ag Committee at the time. That internship turned into a full time job where I cut my teeth learning legislative and political processes. In politics, there’s a hard lesson one eventually learns – that elections have consequences. Charlie wasn’t re-elected in 2004, so I was out on the street looking for another policy job. Fortunately, Walmart was growing their Washington office and looking for someone to work on agriculture, food and some trade policy. It was a job I couldn’t turn down (after gratefully accepting the offer from a Longhorn).
“If you could go back, what would you change (if anything) about your studies or work experience?”
I should have worked harder to develop proficiency in a foreign language. I studied Spanish growing up but didn’t continue it in college. Language skills in Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, or Chinese are an invaluable asset in today’s business world.
“What would you say contributed most to your success in your profession?”
My background in agriculture growing up provided a great foundation. Then I have to credit the leadership development I got from 4-H and FFA. I learned evaluation and communication on judging teams. And then the great education that Texas A&M offered really helped round-out the person I’ve become. Working in Congress helped too — we were always sensitive to constituent concerns. All these things combined have helped me work for the world’s largest retailer, and biggest seller of food. Admittedly, it wasn’t always easy. With such a strong background on the production side of the equation, I’ve had to learn how to be sensitive to consumer concerns and how to manage those in an era of growing concern about where our food comes from and how it’s produced.
“If you could give the students of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences one piece of advice, what would it be?”
Stay optimistic and think globally. I get really excited thinking about the opportunities on the horizon in agriculture. We have a growing global population that is quickly emerging from poverty and demanding more, and higher quality food. Couple that with limited natural resources and that leads me to believe there will be great opportunities for young graduates who understand science, economics, languages, culture, and who aren’t afraid of change and innovation. Gig ‘em.