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Editor's Note: Aventis was created by the merger of the companies formerly known as Rhone-Poulenc and AgrEvo. Committed to developing sustainable agriculture worldwide, Aventis CropScience focuses on researching, developing and marketing innovative solutions that meet the needs of today's farming - increased yields, improved crop and food quality - while constantly striving to respect the environment, the new company says.

With 1998 proforma sales of more than 4.090 million euros, or $3.96 million U.S. Aventis CropScience devotes more than 10 percent of its turnover to the research and development of new chemicals, biotechnology and plant varieties. It employs about 16,000 people in more than 140 countries worldwide.

Pat McDonnell is vice president of sales and marketing for Aventis CropScience. He joined Rhone-Poulenc in 1996 as commercial director for Ag USA. In 1997 he was named vice president, general manager for Rhone-Poulenc Agro.

AM: If you had to give a letter grade to the transition process from Rhone-Poulenc and AgrEvo to Aventis CropScience, from the standpoint of enthusiasm and attitude of your employees in the new venture, what would it be and why?

PM: I would give an A to the employees involved in or affected by the transition process. The process took 12 months - which is long for a merger. I am sure we 'flunked a few quizzes' through the year, but overall morale stayed high and enthusiasm was contagious. In the end, the customer will judge our success in integrating the two companies into one.

AM: From a marketing standpoint, how do you convince your customers that Aventis CropScience is something new, not the merger of Rhone-Poulenc and AgrEvo wrapped in a new package?

PM: This is a very difficult challenge. In the cotton market Rhone-Poulenc was the number one supplier, and in the cereal market AgrEvo was the number one supplier. There won't be much value created by the name change or the merger in these markets. However, our biggest challenge will be the creation of a new presence for Aventis in the Midwest corn market where neither company had a historical presence of significance. The challenge is to create value in the mind of our customers with new products through a more skilled sales and marketing team. As Aventis, our history is not our hindrance. The present season and the future are our opportunities.

AM: E-commerce is changing the way some of your customers do business. How does Aventis meet the needs of its customers, while at the same time keeping its commitment to its traditional partners in the distribution of products?

PM: I don't believe our customers are doing business differently on account of E-commerce. I believe they are thinking about it, just as we are. I'm not sure the path for value creation is clear yet. Once there is clear value created (i.e. reduced cost, more choices, faster service, more profit, etc.), the market will respond. E-commerce has had an impact on other consumer markets, where distribution or product availability were limitations within that marketplace. The U.S. crop protection business probably has as much distribution as it needs today. We are happy with our relationship with our wholesale distributor and our retail customer.

AM: What communications tools are you focusing on to distinguish LIBERTY and BALANCE herbicides in a significantly crowded corn-herbicide market?

PM: We are excited about having GMO and non-GMO solutions to meet our corn-customer needs. BALANCE is a non-GMO, soil-applied pre-emergent herbicide that offers true "one-pass" performance. LIBERTY is a GMO postemergent herbicide option that is linked to specific seed and can be used on any soil. Both herbicides offer fantastic performance at exceptional price per acre. The positioning of each relates to time of application, GMO or non-GMO, and soil type.

A critically important factor in tailoring products to customer needs, and product differentiation, is the local sales representative. We use the sales force and their relationships with retailers and growers to get the word out and get great technology - the right technology - to each and every customer. That's why we've devoted resources to staffing and training our sales force to be the best in the industry - the best sales rep through the door.

AM: Spring planting season is here. What keeps you excited about the agricultural industry?

PM: We are excited about the changes in our industry. For Aventis and each of our employees, change means opportunity. We believe we have technology that will allow the customer to succeed no matter how difficult things might seem. We're proud of who we are and we have the passion to succeed. AM

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