Lightner leads Platinum Crush, seeks employees with integrity
ALTA — It’s been two months since Erik Lightner and his wife arrived in northwest Iowa, and his home is only a quarter mile from the Platinum Crush plant where he holds the title of chief executive officer.
Platinum Crush is a manufacturing facility that is being built northwest of Alta in Buena Vista County; 70% of those hired will be operationally facing and the remainder will be commercial and accounting employees.
For all practical purposes, this is not Lightner’s first rodeo.
“My wife and I have lived in central Illinois,” said Lightner. “We have also resided in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lincoln, Nebraska. We also had two international locations with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and most recently with Haskell for the last seven years in Jackson, Florida. No matter where I go, I enjoy the challenge of a leadership position.”
For Lightner, this opportunity is an extension of his ability to guide an organization.
“At ADM, their focus was to hire chemical engineers for operational roles,” said Lightner who has a chemical engineering degree from Penn State University. “Chemical engineers have an ability to learn different things. Many times, that’s process focused, so we were able to work in soy crushing, oilseed refining, flour milling, corn processing, and cocoa-chocolate — and we can assimilate to all different processes.
“At the end of the day, most people don’t care what your degree is,” said Lightner. “They’re more interested in your ability to help solve problems. I understand how inputs become outputs when it comes to manufacturing.”
At ADM, Lightner gained a philosophy that has served him well during his career.
“The ADM ladder for me was to build the plant and then run it,” said Lightner. “There was a time when I ran the biggest food oils packaging facility we had on the globe in Decatur.”
When Lightner went to Lincoln, he switched to flour from soy and then oil to flour. His next stop was London and then to northeast Pennsylvania to build a chocolate and cocoa plant.
“In Pennsylvania, we ran a similar type of project to Platinum Crush,” said Lightner.
“Obviously, it was a different part of value-added agriculture being cocoa and chocolate. From the capital perspective and building business from the bottom up, it was quite similar.”
From Pennsylvania, Lightner went to Singapore for international work in the cocoa industry, filling out his 21 years with seven locations.
For the last seven years, Lightner worked for Haskell, an architecture, engineering, and construction company where he helped clients start up their business, build their business, or improve their business.
“All of these experiences culminated into a right reentry point to bring the Platinum Crush vision alive,” said Lightner. “From an agricultural perspective, northwest Iowa is the place to be. This is historically a 50% to 70% export market for soybeans.
“What the local producers were growing was going outside of the county for the most part. Our area is the supplier for the global protein and fat markets. We are going to take locally grown soybeans and manufacture them locally. These products are going to go to market in various markets in the global supply chain.”
Platinum Crush is targeting May of 2024 for opening.
Lightner said that the construction is progressing “extremely well with a legitimate opportunity that the construction could be pulled forward.”
“Permanent power is on schedule to meet our date,” said Lightner. “We don’t see any hang-ups with the supply chain. Coming from construction, I don’t consider building the physical assets normally that difficult.
“Our biggest challenge is building a business and having the business ready in all aspects, from safety to quality to how we transact business with producers and customers.”
Lightner expects that his plant will hire 55 to 65 people.
“We want to get the best people and give them the best opportunities,” said Lightner. “Once we get the right people, the velocity with which we can make decisions will increase. My focus is to build the team and lay the foundation of what the business infrastructure is going to be and then gain critical mass with team size so we can do all the work when the assets are ready.”
Employees will serve in operations and commercial teams to operate a 24-7, 365-day-a-year plant.
“What we’re looking for in employees, regardless of functional role, is integrity, respect, and work ethic,” said Lightner. “These core values and beliefs exist in northwest Iowa due to the way people are raised here. The core values build trust and commitment, allowing us to build a team which can operate and lead a business with excellence.
“This kind of culture will have a direct impact on the producers, customers, the team members, and ultimately the surrounding communities.”