I sat with Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech, a company with a vision and the title sponsor of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. We talked about vision and what it means to be a game changer and how Dr. Lyons is the one who is willing to lead the way.
“When we started this business we were all about education. In fact, a phrase we often used was marketing through education,” explained Dr. Lyons.
Then as is typical when having a conversation with Dr. Lyons he drifted off into an anecdote that would help me understand where he was going with this conversation about how Alltech does things just a little bit different than others.
“I was a disappointed teacher,” he explained, “but teaching is something I do well.” He again gave an example of what he meant because when he went to school he studied science and yet had no scientific background. “They made things so complicated. Here I am never having seen any of this. So, I came up with my own system where I was a good teacher (doing it his way). In a year I was teaching chemistry to those having difficulty passing. Over there (in Ireland) we called it ‘grinds.’ “
Well, Dr. Lyons took that lesson with him into the business world noting, “Anytime you want to create a marketplace you have to teach and that is what this is all about.”
The “this” Dr. Lyons was talking about was all around us because we were at Alltech’s 27th Annual International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium.
“My job is to make things happen,” he continued, explaining how meeting key people has been something that happens when you least expect it. Those people then can help you progress in an area where you need to expand.
A total of 2200 people from all over the world were there in Lexington, KY to learn about nutrition and animal science for cows, poultry, pigs, horses and a host of other animals. It was his vision that helped create an event that has now become a symbol of education and thinking outside the box rather than following what has been done over and over again.
“As the programs got stronger it became a melting pot of ideas whether they are talking about horses or some other animal. It’s about sustainability and it is a fountain of ideas,” he added.
Dr. Lyons then laughed for a moment about an article that had come out in the Lexington Herald Leader that morning quoting him as saying, “Stop using corn. It is the height of lunacy to take 6 pounds of corn to make a pound of beef.”
Just one more example of how Dr. Lyons and Alltech often take a deep breath and instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done, they look for another way.
“I am stirring the pot,” he continued. “They are like termites who are blind for millions of years and …,” he added not really having to say much more because his message was clear. We can’t just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done, especially if we are not getting the results.
“It is about making things happen. This is a game changer,” he continued.
Time for another anecdote as Dr. Lyons spoke about two Irishmen singing a Spanish song to some Spaniards, which was something that actually happened the night before at the Kentucky Night dinner. His point was that this wasn’t the norm and yet by the end instead of singing “to” them they were singing with them. “That is what the symposium is all about,” he explained.
Our conversation turned to Alltech’s sponsorship of the National Horse Show. Earlier in the year the talk was about doing a legacy event in the fall and yet Dr. Lyons got a lot of resistance to the idea.
“Many of my people said it was too soon but my gut feeling said it had to be done right away before the memory faded. A leader is someone who sees something that others don’t see and makes it happen. He brings that faith to something but a leader needs to be flexible and then along comes the National Horse Show. It was Deirdre (Lyon’s wife) who said this makes perfect sense. This has the touch of glamour to it. They know how to do the parts that we don’t know how to do but we have the marketing prowess. Sometimes, things come to you and other times you go to them,” he added.
And so instead of a legacy event it will be the Alltech National Horse Show, an old tradition ready to create a new legacy.
Lyons spoke about how often he has confronted those that when you try to do something different “the nay sayers will always prevail and there has to be someone who will go against the tide.” Specifically he was talking about the residents of Kentucky, who initially did not get behind the World Equestrian Games.
“As I was trying to drum up business their reaction was it will be a flop. It was mind numbing and it exhausted me. They could not see our vision.”
Yet when it was all over Bill Engel named a number of Sportsmen of the Year. The first few were all well known and from the sports you would expect but then he added Dr. Pearse Lyons because of what he had done for the sport of equestrian.
Engel commented that Alltech took what he thought was going to be an embarrassing disaster and turned it into a spectacular success.
Lyons also referred to some comments made by Princess Haya who explained that it is never written if something is not done and who did it but it is only written that it was done and Alltech and Pearse Lyons did it.
Lyons admitted that there were times when it was a work in progress and that sometimes “it’s good that you don’t know all the problems and can be a little naive. Early on he recalled someone asking him if he realized what he was getting into, to which he responded, “probably not.”
He was speaking at a school once and commented to the kids, “I have many PHd’s in failure. Don’t worry about what you are going to do. So what if you fail. The worse that can happen is you get fired but at least you tried.”
Our conversation turned to what Dr. Lyons’ hopes will come out of his 27th Symposium. “What I hope is that people will walk away saying, wow, this was so enjoyable – this was wonderful. I hope to achieve a feeling of being with family. Mi casa e su casa and you are with family. The boss of Alltech had said you are family and families who work together, play together and stay together.”
Lyons continued, “It’s taken 27 years to take it to the level it is today. Join us, stay with us – you are our family. Take the journey with us.”
Lyons concluded our conversation referring to a friend named Charlie Adams who had been in Hiroshima who ended up working for him.
“I was with him on his 60th wedding anniversary. On one arm he was wearing the Medal of Honor he received from President Bush. On the other arm he had a Seiko watch that Alltech had given him in 1988 for being Sales Manager of the Year. His comment to me was that those were the highest honors he’d received in his life.
“He used to say to me, you know Pearse this is a great job. We meet great people. We get to travel and the darndest thing is they pay us to do this. Is that not a wonderful attitude towards this.”
And so there you have the Alltech vision. It’s all about creating a family of people who are either willing to be “the Game Changers” or are willing to follow the leader, Dr. Pearse Lyons.