A front-row seat to the man and the mind behind some of the most innovative and maverick ideas in agriculture
by Aidan Connolly, Chief Innovation Officer & Vice President of Corporate Accounts, Alltech March 2018
For over 25 years, I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat to the man and the mind behind some of the most innovative and maverick ideas in agriculture. When the founder of Alltech, Dr Pearse Lyons, moved his family to Lexington, Kentucky in the 1980s, no one could have foreseen the transformative impact he would have on the animal health world.
For at the heart of Alltech is the energy of an entrepreneurial spirit driven by a vision to sustain our planet and all things living on it. Dr Lyons was a scientist who sought to use his expertise in yeast fermentation to tackle animal health challenges. Strictly speaking, he was an outsider, having worked as a biochemist for Irish Distillers before moving to Kentucky. His background in brewing and distilling enabled him to consider the digestion and fermentation processes in an animal very differently from those trained in animal nutrition. It was this unique perspective from which Alltech"s technologies were born.
In 1983, Alltech launched Yea-Sacc® 1026, the company"s first animal nutrition brand, and soon became the first company to launch an enzyme complex, a live yeast culture, buffered organic acids and the application of specific probiotics. Sel-Plex® organic selenium, Mycosorb® for mycotoxins and Bio-Mos®, a yeast- based nutritional solution for gastrointestinal health, arrived in the 1990s and were the first of their kind. These animal health solutions are testament to the significant investment Dr Lyons made in research and development within Alltech"s bioscience centres and with partner universities.
In fact, it was through research at the University Kentucky that the actual mode of action of live yeast cultures was first identified. This was transformative to the animal health industry — Dr Lyons brought scientific rigor and proof to the additive market, giving it much-needed validity. This research finally explained how yeast was affecting the rumen function, and when and why its use was most critical.
It wasn"t only his technology that was ahead of his time, but also his philosophy. At Alltech"s symposium in 1989, a presenter spoke about ACE, the idea that the agricultural industry needed to think about the welfare of the animal, consumer and environment. At that time, the industry was primarily driven by the idea of producing cheap and safe food in abundance. The ACE concept was ridiculed and people actually walked out of the presentation.
Dr Lyons, being the visionary he was, saw merit in the ACE concept and felt it fit his model for Alltech. ACE became Alltech"s guiding principle from that point forward, ensuring everything the business did was for the benefit of the animal, consumer and environment. What was seen as a radical idea in the early 1990s is now almost a requirement of all modern agribusinesses.
His knowledge and understanding of marketing was second to none. He knew there needed to be a stronger connection between the general public and the world of animal nutrition. In 2010, Alltech sponsored the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky and again in France in 2014, bringing Alltech, and animal nutrition, into the living rooms of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Dr Lyons drove for Alltech to be the best on every level, including pushing his team for "higher than industry" quality standards. What resulted was the Alltech® Quality System, a global quality assurance program has set the gold standard by meeting or exceeding all local requirements globally.
We now inherit a truly global company, doing business in over 120 countries. We are not merely present globally, but all these regions are quite evenly balanced by share of the total sales. Dr Lyons always went where others would not dare to go, so Alltech has led the market into most countries. Because we are present globally, we are positioned to observe trends and regulations in one country and foresee their knock-on effects on other countries. We"ve also been able to pick up ideas from one market and carry them over to other markets.
Dr Lyons might have started his entrepreneurial journey alone with his young family, but he leaves behind a team of over 5000 people who share his vision and passion.