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Career Center

Christian Ahlmann

K-State graduation year: May 2005
Degree: B.S. Horticulture
Other degree received: MBA, Sonoma State University
Current employer: Six Sigma Ranch and Winery
Position:Vice President of Operations

How many times, if any, did you change your major during college?


Describe the process of choosing your major.

I love growing things, planting seeds then watching them turn into plants, and love great food and wine.  So, it seemed natural that I should get in a business where I get to grow food and wine!

What activities/organizations were you involved in while in college?
  • Cycling Team
  • Agronomy Research Farm
Did you complete an internship or have related work experience prior to receiving your job?

I worked at two winery internships during college.  After freshman year, I spent a summer at Rex Hill in Oregon.  Then I took a semester off school after sophomore year to work at Eagle’s Trace Winery in Napa Valley.  Both helped me better understand the industry.  I very much recommend an internship as early as possible to make sure one’s degree is going in the right direction!  While studying, I also worked jobs at a local production nursery and with a local landscaping company in Manhattan, KS. 

Describe the process of finding your first job.

My first job after college was at a retail nursery in Roskilde, Denmark.  My wife and I wanted to move abroad while we still free from commitments, so I sent resume’s and made phone calls to the top 10 nurseries in the country.  I interviewed over the phone, and took the first job offer that would pay the bills.  Then we bought plane tickets. 

Briefly describe a typical day at your job.

Nine years after graduation, I spend less time outside and more time in the office.  I meet with each coworker (eight or so) weekly, manage budgets and make occasional sales trips to sell wine in various domestic markets throughout the United States. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love growing the company, building the team and unifying the vision. 

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

My favorite part is working with people, and that is also the most challenging part.  People are more complicated than plants!  As a close second, it is challenging to grow the company; there’s a constant healthy tension of limited resources (time, money, talent), and the allocation of them to make the greatest impact. 

What advice would you give someone interested in your field?

Take a few internships during your studies. Start building connections with people in your field.  Call the folks running the companies you admire.  You will be surprised how often they are willing to share expertise. 

What were the stepping stones that led to your current career?

Once I got comfortable with greenhouse production and viticulture, I realized that business expertise is just as important when building a small company.  I learned that growing business is, to me, as much fun as growing plants.  That led me to an MBA. 

What were the major lifestyle changes your first year out of college that made the transition hard from college to the world of work and how did you adapt?

In college, I had a near-foolish optimism about personal finances.  I figured, after graduation, a full time job would take care of debts and future expenses.  Once I settled into “real life,” I realized that money doesn’t solve itself after graduation.  I should have begun personal budgets well before graduation, and it took a few years to catch up! 

What was the one thing you did in college that has had the most impact on your life or career?

I got a great deal of benefit from going above-and-beyond on class projects, especially when using them as a good excuse to connect with successful professionals in my field. 

Was there a specific class you remember that sparked your interest in your career direction?

I loved greenhouse production with Dr. Williams.  She structured the class as a business, going so far as to handing us the cash when our greenhouse plants sold to customers.  That was a light bulb for me; it was very real to see the plants turn into cash that we could use to pay bills. 

Was there a specific person in college who had a significant impact on your life or career?

I spent two years working for the Career Center on campus, under Michelle Haupt.  Michelle did an awesome job of hiring, training and creating a culture that all companies should aspire to.  I learned as much in that job as any class about how to build and manage a team.

What didn't college teach you that you wish you would have known before you started your career?

I wish I would have learned more about managing money in my undergrad, both personally and professionally.  So many students graduate with debt that follows them for decades. 

I also wish someone had mentioned that a degree and subsequent job has to create value in order to make a living.  Many college degrees, it seems, are more of an academic exercise than a preparation for a job.

Do you keep in touch with your college classmates? How have those relationships influenced your career?

I keep in touch with one classmate from college, in addition to my wife whom I married during senior year at KSU.  Moving out of the country after graduation for a year, and then back to a different state (California) put us in a different social circle than we would have been in if we had stayed in Kansas.  In hindsight, doing a better job keeping those connections would have been a good idea! 


For more information, you can contact Christian at Christian@SixSigmaRanch.com or www.SixSigmaRanch.com or Facebook.com/SixSigmaRanch.