Behind the career: Tim Buzby

December 22, 2013

Position: President and chief executive of Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corp. (Farmer Mac), a District company that buys eligible agricultural and rural utility loans, and provides financing and capital to lenders that serve those industries.

After taking an accounting course in high school, Tim Buzby knew what he wanted to do for a career. He landed a job as an accountant at KPMG right out of college. He eventually moved to lead the financial operations of a KPMG client in the residential mortgage business, which he helped restructure. In 2000, he was ready to get back to accounting, so he took a role as controller at Farmer Mac, where he rose to become chief financial officer and now chief executive.

How have you grown most as a leader over the years?

The most important things to do are to surround yourself with good people and empower those people to make good decisions and trust them. As a leader, it’s important to make difficult decisions and be clear about the reason you made the decision. I think people have a tendency to put off a difficult decision. Then when the decision is made it’s not clear why the decision was made. You have to be very frank with people and open. As you trust them, they’ll trust you.

Why is there a tendency to put off the tough decisions?

Perhaps there’s an insecurity with the decision — not being sure if it’s the right decision. But sometimes there’s also a hesitancy to disappoint whether it’s external critics or customers or employees. You always want to do things that make your employees happy. You always want to put the customer first. A lot of it is about communication and how you’ve built relationships over time so when you do communicate something difficult or challenging, people understand that it was a difficult decision for you and they trust you made the right decision.

How do you strategically build those internal relationships over time?

I’ve been fortunate to have been here 13 years, and many of the employees have been here that long. It’s about empowering people to make decisions and challenging them on their decisions. For example when someone under you makes a decision and tells you what they did, you should ask them about their thought process. Assuming you agree, you support them. You have to delegate effectively so people have the power to make decisions so they themselves can grow. You certainly want to position yourself such that the people further down the line don’t view you as the dictator at the top. I like people to think that I’m the chief executive of the company but also that I rely, trust and have confidence in the team I’ve built around me. As chief financial officer, I always felt I had the responsibility to make the company successful. Now I feel I have the responsibility to position the company to be successful and the people on my team will make it successful.

Reading any business books?

“The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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