Alvin J.M. Smucker, PhD
Founder and President
Dr. Smucker spent 47 years as a Professor of Soil Biophysics and Plant Root Dynamics at Michigan State University. During his tenure he has published more than 328 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, conference proceedings, abstracts and research reports in his field. He is one of the few academics to have received, twice, the Alexander von Humboldt Research Award. He has mentored more than 125 graduate students and has taught more than 1,250 students at graduate and undergraduate levels. His research, conducted and coordinated in 45 countries, include water retention in sandy soils, carbon sequestration, microtomographic imaging and processing soil aggregate formation, plant root architecture, and root and trace evidence extraction from mineral soils. He received Michigan State University’s Technology Award in 2015 for his work on Sub-surface Water Retention Technology (SWRT). He currently holds emeritus status at MSU and is a frequent keynote conference and symposium speaker, directing conferences on water, soil carbon, plant root dynamics, and synchrotron applications to soils.<
James K. Franz
James K. Franz has over 33 years of manufacturing experience
and learned Lean as a Toyota Production Engineer in Japan, responsible for the design, installation, and launch of production facilities. Franz left Toyota to apply his Lean expertise at Ford Motor Company, working around the US and internationally to drive Operational Excellence and help teach the Toyota Way. In 2004 he began working with thirteen-time Shingo Prize-winning author Dr. Jeffrey K. Liker. In 2008, he partnered with Liker to co-found the Toyota Way Academy. His work has taken him to over 50 countries working with Fortune 100 companies on their Operational Excellence drives and as an executive coach. Franz has guest lectured around the world as a recognized expert on Lean and Continuous Improvement Cultures. Their book, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement, published (April 2011) by McGraw Hill was awarded the industry’s highest award, the Shingo Prize for Operational Research, in May of 2012 and is published globally in over a dozen languages.
Vice President Customer Development
Steve has a distinguished career in agricultural finance and conservation. After completing his B.S. degree in Crop and Soil Science at Michigan State University, he held a Loan Officer position with the Production Credit Association of Central Michigan. He spent 32 years with the USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) working around Michigan assisting Farmers to implement a wide variety of conservation practices to control soil erosion and protect water quality before retiring in 2014. Prior to retirement Steve administered the premier conservation financial assistance program in the Michigan NRCS State office and was responsible for the obligation of 30 million dollars annually to contracts with Producers for the installation of soil and water conservation practices.
Steve has a strong connection to agriculture through his association with a 1,200-acre cash crop operation. He also volunteers for the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts providing training and support to the Directors and Staff of Michigan's 75 Conservation Districts as the Capacity Programs Manager.
Brian Levene, PhD
Vice President Field Research & Support
Dr. Levene began his career in agriculture as a child on his family’s grain and livestock farm in NW Iowa. He obtained both his Master’s and Ph.D. from Iowa State University and has since worked primarily with new product development. Extensive research experience across much of the United States for more than twenty years as well as practical field/research experience with row crops, many fruits, vegetables and various other cropping systems has shaped his career. In addition to research, a significant portion of his time has also involved educating farmers and consultants on many aspects of new product use, proper plant nutrition and also represented products at various trade shows across the US and Canada. Brian has looked to blend his background and experience with pesticides, bio-pesticides, crop fertility, plant health and now with SWRT into ways that can optimize crop yields and quality for future generations. He has been directly associated with the development of the technology since its infancy.