The Future of Alltech as seen by new President, Dr Mark Lyons

2018-08-06

INTERVIEW: The Future of Alltech, as Seen By New President Dr. Mark Lyons – Part 1

Source: Feedinfo News Service

2 August 2018 – Global animal health and nutrition company Alltech suffered a terrible loss on March 8th of this year. The company's charismatic President and founder Dr. Pearse Lyons passed away at the age of 73.

Dr. Lyons is survived by his wife, Deirdre; daughter, Aoife; and son, Mark, and Mark’s wife, Holly.

Dr. Lyons was first and foremost an entrepreneur and a tireless innovator who liked to move quickly on opportunities. He had a big personality combined with a keen scientific mind and a vision for improving global agriculture.

In the late 70s, Dr. Lyons immigrated to the United States with his family and a dream: to sustain the planet and all things living on it by applying his yeast fermentation expertise to agricultural challenges. He started the dream from his home garage with only $10,000 and then established Alltech in 1980.

Today, that vision is a big and tangible reality as Alltech and its global team of more than 6,000 people around the world has become a multibillion-dollar international business. Today, Alltech is the only privately held and family-owned business among the top animal health companies in the world and has increased its focus from yeast fermentation to also include enzyme technology, algae and nutrigenomics.

Dr. Mark Lyons
President
Alltech

Also widely regarded as an inspirational leader and communicator, Dr. Lyons lived with passion and purpose. He was particularly well-known for setting up Alltech’s international conference, branded in recent years as ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference – an event which has been held each year for more than three decades in Lexington, Kentucky, near to Nicholasville where Alltech is headquartered.

But for the first time in the 34 years Alltech staged the event without its founder.

At the May 2018 edition of the ONE Conference, Dr. Mark Lyons, 41 made his public debut as the new Alltech President. Mark stepped up on stage, knowing fully well that everyone was watching him, sizing him up and comparing him to his father, wondering what kind of leader he will be, and where he plans to take the Alltech business.

But Mark is no newcomer to the business.

He grew up in the Alltech business, having traveled with his father from the young age of 8 to visit customers. With experience working in all regions and nearly all departments he has a deep and uniquely personal knowledge of the company. He has led many projects, including simultaneously managing a biorefinery project in Kentucky, the establishment of a plant in Serbia and the creation of Alltech’s yeast production facility in São Pedro, Brazil. He also spent nearly four years in Mexico rebuilding the company’s solid state fermentation plant in Serdan. In 2012, Mark relocated to China, as part of Alltech’s focus on the Asia region. Under his leadership as director of North America from 2009 to 2011, Alltech expanded its presence with the opening of new offices and a growing involvement in all agricultural sectors. Today, Mark is based at Alltech’s headquarters in Nicholasville.

Mark may have a different style with long and curly hair, and he is not the big personality his father was, but he is known for his “quiet confidence”, love of collaboration, and he’s committed to seeing that the Pearse Lyons entrepreneurial spirit lives on.

“You can't replace a Pearse Lyons; no one person could. But essentially you're going to see tens, maybe hundreds, perhaps thousands of ‘Alltechians’ as we like to call them thinking like Pearse Lyons. That's what we're trying to inspire. This is the way he thought, this was the impact it had, and these are the things we can learn from it”, he told the Lexington Herald-Leader in a May interview.

Feedinfo News Service was able to catch up with Mark to discuss his father’s legacy and the future of the Alltech business under his “new generation” leadership.

Today’s interview (Part 1) focuses on the father-son dynamic and how the Alltech culture will continue to remain strong. Tomorrow, we will publish the second and final part of the interview with questions more geared towards the business priorities within the company moving forward.

[Feedinfo News Service] Mark, your father argued that, to become successful, you have to ruthlessly protect your company's vision and culture. How will you take over this mantra and personally ensure this protection day-by-day?

[Mark Lyons] I very much agree with my father’s idea about vision and culture. I think this becomes even more important as the company grows and as we move to a new generation of leadership. My father had a tremendous way of imbuing the Alltech culture throughout the organization by communicating at all levels, travelling around the world and personally leading programs such as our “Back to Basics,” which really helps all our colleagues and teammates understand the history of the company and its values. The strategy and tactics of Alltech have consistently evolved in line with the markets and our company’s growth, but our vision and values have remained the same. In fact, I believe they will continue to grow stronger and more defined. 

During the difficult times after my father’s passing this past March, I spoke with many trusted mentors and friends. Several of them said that this was a critical time for us to embed the core values, vision and mentality my father had for Alltech, so this has been the primary focus of my activities these past few months. As I travel around to our offices, the number-one objective I have is to spend time with our teams and share with them how our culture continues to develop and grow stronger. Using a book, “The Founder’s Mentality,” we are emphasizing the importance of keeping a founder’s mentality alive and strong. There will only ever be one Pearse Lyons, but we can have more than 6,000 team members who are thinking like he did.

[Feedinfo News Service] Your father was always an advocate of disruption. Disruption was a necessary component of Alltech's company vision under his leadership. Can we expect more of the same moving forward?
 
[Mark Lyons]
Alltech has always been a maverick in the industry. This could perhaps be called disruption. We believe wholeheartedly that we must continue to challenge the status quo, both within our company and within our industry. I think we can see this throughout the history of Alltech. One aspect of this has been being proactive in understanding and promoting new ag-tech companies through initiatives such as The Pearse Lyons Accelerator. These entrepreneurs may bolster our industry and, at the same time, challenge and disrupt the norm.

One aspect of “The Founder’s Mentality” that resonates with me is the idea of being an insurgent. Small companies have limitless horizons and are constantly taking risks. This is true of Alltech also. As we grow, we must work even harder to simplify our business and ensure that the entrepreneurial energy is active in the local markets. This strategy challenges us to continue to develop ourselves with the intentionality and passion characteristic of a founder. 
 
[Feedinfo News Service] We know that your father was passionate about horses, among many other things. Alltech was the title sponsor of the 2010 and 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games, spending significant resources on these events. Will Alltech continue to be associated with such events moving forward, or will you be looking to enhance Alltech's global exposure via other means?
 
[Mark Lyons]
The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in 2010 and 2014 were wonderful opportunities for the Alltech brand to step onto a different stage. It changed the way that the world looked at us, but, far more importantly, it changed the way we looked at ourselves. Our team realized what we could achieve when we set our mind to a goal, even one that was far outside of our area of expertise. The teamwork and confidence that the experience of the Games built were integral as we then began a series of large acquisitions.

In terms of future involvement with events of that level, being private, we can and must think about these opportunities and approach them in the right manner. I am sure that there will be many different ways that we can achieve this exposure and opportunity, given the creativity and ingenuity of our team.

[Feedinfo News Service] People have described your father as being "larger than life". He truly was a remarkable man, and his legacy will without doubt live on. But from a business strategy standpoint, are there specific areas where you would like to implement changes and leave your own mark?
 
[Mark Lyons]
At ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE18) in May, I spoke about the fact that no one could replace a Dr. Pearse Lyons. He was certainly larger than life in many ways, which is why we awarded him the Alltech Medal of Excellence and the Alltech Humanitarian Award at ONE18. 
 
My parents raised me to be myself, and, undoubtedly, this will be reflected in the strategic direction of the company. Although my father and I were quite similar in many regards, there are certainly differences. I grew up in a household where I developed a worldview that was very global, not seeing the common barriers between people and regions. I was also more influenced by some of the cultural norms of other parts of the world. I have had unique access to Alltech, to see from the inside where the company’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Because of this, I am more focused on building teams compared to my father. I see a lot of opportunities for us to collaborate, where my father might have decided we should go it alone. What he built was a platform that will allow us to create more and have an even bigger impact on animal, plant and human health. We are very lucky to have this seamless transition in leadership. The legacy of Dr. Lyons has resulted in a wonderful rallying cry from the whole team to fulfill his vision and build beyond it as we work together toward a planet of plenty.

 

INTERVIEW: The Future of Alltech, as Seen By New President Dr. Mark Lyons – Part 2

Source: Feedinfo News Service

3 August 2018 – Further to yesterday's focus on Alltech's culture and the legacy of Dr. Pearse Lyons, in Part 2 today we highlight the discussion we had with current Alltech Dr. Mark Lyons about Alltech's business priorities and what's in store.

[Feedinfo News Service] Mark, Alltech achieved $2-3 billion in annual sales a few years ago. The company's current target is sales of $4-5 billion by 2018. Are you confident this will be met?
 
[Mark Lyons]
Alltech’s growth over the last few years has been extraordinary. My father’s vision and courage to move from the pure organic growth model to one of acquisition has been one of his most extraordinary successes. The acquisition of nearly 20 businesses within the last five years has doubled the revenue of the company, but, most importantly, has allowed us to innovate internally in a manner that we would not have been able to in the past. 
 
This is going to help to propel our growth, both in terms of our top line and bottom line now and into the future. My father wanted us to become a $10-billion company. We will continue to work toward this through organic growth, collaboration and acquisition. I believe opportunities for collaboration may be our biggest driver over the next five years of growth, but I also see a refocus on organic growth as the most important in the immediate future. 

[Feedinfo News Service] You mentioned organic growth but history tells us that Alltech is always looking for global opportunities to increase its on-farm presence across the feed industry via acquisitions, some of which include Lienert Australia in 2014, Ridley and Masterfeeds in 2015, Keenan and Coppens in 2016, and WestFeeds in 2017. That's roughly one a year. Can we expect developments from Alltech on the M&A front in 2018 or 2019?
 
[Mark Lyons]
I think we are finding additional ways to achieve our goal of moving closer to the farm, not only through acquisition, but also through the utilization of different technologies. This is central to The Pearse Lyons Accelerator. However, in terms of acquisitions, there are a number of opportunities that come to us on a regular basis. While we have completed many deals, we say no far more than we say yes. We will certainly be continuing to look at acquisition as a growth strategy; however, I believe there are many other ways to partner with businesses that can also assist us in growing.
 
[Feedinfo News Service] Looking at Alltech's key geographical markets, where do you think there is more potential for the company to grow? A few years back, Alltech said that China would be its number-one market by 2020, with $1 billion. Is that still the case?

[Mark Lyons] Speaking of growth, I think that the opportunities in Asia over the next decade are certainly the greatest, especially having been based in the region for the last seven years as head of Greater China. We all know about the changes — not only in terms of demographics, but also wealth — and how this has disproportionately been seen in Asian markets. China leads the way; however, there are many more markets in which we see significant opportunities. When I look forward toward a $10-billion Alltech, undoubtedly, China and Southeast Asia will represent a very significant portion of this. 
 
However, the growth of the business in Europe and North America also means that we are creating new opportunities that we could not have foreseen a few years ago. It has been wonderful to travel the world visiting our global team and customers to see the myriad opportunities in so many different markets. 
 
[Feedinfo News Service] Alltech today has a diversified product offering and we may tend to forget that the company started with one core element: yeast. Will yeast always be the core focus at Alltech?
 
[Mark Lyons]
Certainly, the core of Alltech is yeast, and beyond that, it is fermentation technology. My father’s Ph.D. was on yeast and particularly the yeast cell wall. Mine was on something called solid state fermentation. So many of the activities that we have ongoing, in terms of the development of new products, are also based around some sort of fermentation. Right now, I would say we have a refocus on innovation and are deploying more resources toward this area. We have recently established several new roles for people to help to bring ideas back from the markets, helping create new products to solve industry challenges. Many of these solutions are based around some sort of fermentation. As a result of this, we are seeing a speeding-up of new products being launched, both regionally and globally, which is tremendously exciting for a company of our size. Our activities in the ag-tech sector are also creating new ways to innovate.

Dr. Mark Lyons
President
Alltech

Over the past month, my global travels have included an internal Innovation Road Show, where we are creating half-day workshops with our teams from different markets, exploring innovative ideas in all areas of our business. Innovation is the DNA of Alltech and must always remain at the core of our culture. 
 
[Feedinfo News Service] Alltech invests more than 10% of its revenues back into research and development. What are your priorities in terms of R&D? Can you comment on the progress being made in delivering new Alltech technologies to the market?
 
[Mark Lyons]
Alltech’s research and development continues to be at the core of so much of what we do. We have organized our activities along several species and issue-based platforms platforms. We are also collaborating with a number of universities and institutes and have nearly 30 formal research alliances in place globally.

Alltech just celebrated 10 years since the opening of our Center for Animal Nutrigenomics and Applied Animal Nutrition at our headquarters in Kentucky. We have been celebrating 10 major achievements and contributions that our nutrigenomics research has made in those 10 years. We are now looking at the next technologies that we will invest in, in terms of primary research. We are also seeing more fruits of our nutrigenomics labor; as we get closer to the end user, we are discovering new ways to apply the research and technologies. 
 
[Feedinfo News Service] In January, the Alltech Algae pilot facility in Winchester, Kentucky, was closed down. How important is the algae fermentation business to Alltech’s global sales strategy?
 
[Mark Lyons]
Our algae fermentation research is continuing to move forward, and we see this as extraordinarily exciting for the future. Presently, many companies are looking for algae-based products for very specific uses in relatively niche areas. We are also seeing continued demand for replacements for fish oil and fish meal as pressure on overfishing increases and aquaculture grows. We believe both ends of the spectrum provide opportunities for Alltech, and our research — in terms of utilization of our products and process of optimization — will lead to some wonderful opportunities in the future. 
 
[Feedinfo News Service] Now that Alltech ONE18 is over, can you outline Alltech's agenda and priorities for 2018-19?
 
[Mark Lyons]
ONE18 was a tremendous success. I believe it was an excellent recognition of my father’s achievements, yet we were also able to highlight our direction for the future, focused on continuing to innovate, grow and, most importantly, follow my father’s wish, which was to have an impact on those around us.
 
Planning for ONE19 has already begun, and the event will continue to move from strength to strength. Nearly 4,000 agriculture industry peers and leaders joined us at ONE18, and the goal for ONE19 is even bigger. We are looking at continuing to develop and transform the program in new ways. One of the strengths of the ONE conference has been that it has evolved each year to include new ideas.

This year, we are taking a preview of ONE around the world through the Alltech ONE Ideas Forum tour, which will begin in the fourth quarter this year.  This will bring some of the ideas of ONE around the world and allow more people to get a taste of the big event. We are also presently kicking off the third year of The Pearse Lyons Accelerator, which will expand to include more startup companies in 2019, who again will be featured in May in Kentucky at ONE19. There will be even more to experience at ONE19. 
 
For Alltech in general, highlights of the next 12 to 18 months will include the opening of our new UK office in Stamford, England, and the opening of our new expansion to our headquarters in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Both mark significant steps forward to create new and exciting spaces for our teams to interact and develop the concepts that will propel our growth for the future. We will feature innovation spaces in both offices and are excited to share these with our customers. 
 
My top priorities for the next year are to spend more in-person time with our teams and our customers around the world and to seek out new opportunities for now and into the future.

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