CEO Learned Life Lessons From Growing Up on the Farm

in Nonfiction by

The corporate world is often seen as a jungle, but seldom as a farm.

Pigpen coverBut it was on a farm—a pig farm, to be exact—that Doug Tieman learned many of the lessons that helped him achieve his dream of becoming a CEO by age 40. And now, Tieman is sharing those lessons in his new book, Flying Over the Pigpen: Leadership Lessons from Growing Up on a Farm (HCI Books; September 8, 2015).

Tieman is the CEO of Caron Treatment Centers, one of the largest and most respected not-for-profit behavior healthcare facilities in the country. Caron, which treats people for substance abuse problems, has nine locations and over $100 million in annual revenues.

“Although we lived in a small, rural area where many people didn’t have lofty aspirations, our parents passed along to my four brothers and me many skills and the motivations to use them,” Tieman writes. “We all had different aspirations, and most of us went our own way, yet we realized it was our solid foundation that gave us the opportunity to achieve our dreams.

Doug Tieman cropped
Doug Tieman

While he was growing up in rural Missouri in the late 1950s, “it was expected that a young person would follow in the footsteps of his father,” he writes. “Since my father was a farmer, it was assumed I would also be a farmer. Perhaps I might join the military or find a career with the church, but the CEO of a major not-for-profit organization? Hardly.”

But it was the lessons that Tieman’s parents taught him on the farm that guided and allowed him to achieve his dreams. In particular, the stories his father told him—about farming and about life—guided his path. “When he shared these stories, he always reminded me that he wasn’t an educated man, as he hadn’t gone to college,” Tieman writes.

“It was years before I truly appreciated the importance of my father’s lessons and fully recognized that he was a much smarter man than almost anyone I knew. Truthfully, I learned far more from my dad’s life lessons than I did from academia.”

In addition to conveying these lessons, Flying Over the Pigpen confirms a hard fact of life that many have had to live with: sometimes, despite the best of intentions, plans and effort, we all face challenges—whether they be financial hardship, divorce, addiction, personal struggles or illness—that are beyond our control. In the book, Tieman discusses his own challenge, one that nearly cost him everything he had worked so hard for: alcoholism. His problem came to a head shortly after presiding over a million-dollar fundraising event, when he was arrested for driving under the influence. After seeking help and receiving treatment, Tieman returned to his position at Caron, with a stronger understanding and connection to those afflicted by addiction.

“In writing this book, I’m also reaching out to individuals in recovery,” Tieman writes. “One of the problematic life issues many of us face is an inability to conceptualize and take methodical steps towards actualizing goals. If more people in recovery could do this, it would bring them to new levels of success that, ultimately, might benefit the entire addictions field.

“Ultimately, the lessons that apply to life, career achievement and recovery aren’t all that different from each other,” Tieman writes. “The message remains that if I can do it and you follow the same plan, you can do it too—whether it is achieving career goals, personal recovery, or both.”


Michael Ruscoe is a writer, teacher, and musician living in Southern Connecticut. He is the author of the novel, "From the Stray Cat Files: You’ll Do Anything," the anthology, "Baseball: A Treasury of Art and Literature," and numerous educational texts. An instructor at Southern Connecticut State University, Ruscoe is also lead singer and songwriter for the indie band Save the Androids! In his spare time he earns karma for his next life by ardently following the New York Mets. The proud father of two children, Ruscoe also cares for and supports a pair of goldfish, who, in all honesty, are not very good conversationalists.

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