Alumni Spotlight: Tom Rathje
Tom Rathje started his journey at Iowa State University, as many in animal science do, as a pre-vet major. Possessing a strong love for science and math, this seemed to be the perfect option for him until he found his undeniable passion for genetics while taking an advanced breeding and genetics course during his time at Iowa State. Rathje went on to explain that current associate professor Brad Skaar and now professor emeritus Max Rothschild “were able to show me a path forward in genetics where I would be able to utilize all of my skills and interests.” Rathje graduated from Iowa State University in 1989 with his bachelor's degree in animal science and continued to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he received his MBA in Business Administration along with his M.S. and Ph.D. in Genetics.
During his time at Iowa State University, Rathje kept a busy schedule as a member of the Live Animal Evaluation Team and the Meats Judging Team. He was also an active member of Farmhouse Fraternity and assisted professor emeritus Peter Hoffman with a beef project as an undergraduate research assistant.
Today, Rathje works for the second largest swine breeding company in North America, DNA Genetics, as their Chief Technical Officer. Through this role, he oversees the company's genetic program and genetic improvement. Rathje leads a team of five Ph.D. Geneticists and well as a team of five individuals tasked with maintaining the implementation and communication between the geneticists and the nucleus farms. Each DNA Genetics nucleus farm houses 750 - 3,000 purebred sows and is the site of breeding, farrowing, and data collection.
While Rathje assures that he is still very much a scientist at heart, his favorite part of the job is working with the company's customers and team. He enjoys listening to customers, figuring out what they need and how to build a pig that will meet those needs, explaining that this is where science and business meet. Rathje continued by saying, “this is not always just improving feed efficiency, but pig behavior as we move to group housing models or sow longevity. I love creating value for people through pigs.”
When asked if he could choose a most meaningful moment, Rathje described when he learned that growth and learning do not just stop after college but that you must continue to be a life-long learner and keep adding to your toolbox to stay relevant. He went on to explain that this moment was revolutionary for himself and his career. “You don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t need to, but you need to keep learning and stay humble.”
Tom’s Advice to Students:
“Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and pay your dues. If you are going to work in the livestock industry, get your boots on the ground. It is not a waste of time but an investment. The professionals with this type of experience are the ones who excel because they have built their experience and knowledge of the industry from the ground up.”