2010 World Equestrian Games

Deirdre Lyons molds Alltech's image

AIMS TO MAKE ALLTECH AMONG WELL-KNOWN BRANDS

ctruman@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2009 

NICHOLASVILLE — Deirdre Lyons doesn't make Alltech's products. She makes Alltech's image.

That means that no matter where you are, at any Alltech outpost, Lyons has made sure it can be identified as Alltech.

That also means that, for the thousands of spectators expected at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games next Sept. 25 to Oct. 10, Lyons is facing a special challenge: making the Alltech part of that equation stand out.

Alltech paid an initial $10 million to be the chief corporate sponsor of the games. Pearse Lyons, Deirdre Lyons' husband, czar of Alltech and the man who wrote the check, thinks his company is ready to leap into the image stratosphere as one of Kentucky's top three brands. He has identified the two others as Muhammad Ali and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Alltech's animal nutrition products, its alcohol products, its planned venture into synthetic fuel, its Kentucky roots — all of that has to be conveyed so that guests leave the Kentucky Horse Park thinking Alltech.

It's a make-or-break moment for the company's image — and Deirdre Lyons is its mastermind.

"My job ... is keeper of the logo," she says, "and to project that image in whatever way Pearse Lyons wants me to do it."

The company is planning a pavilion village — like a smaller version of Disney's Epcot — to celebrate its accomplishments in memorable ways.

She's considering elements as diverse as giant sculptures filled with algae, Bluegrass music, clogging and a beer garden.

"Maybe a simulated tank like an IMAX movie," Deirdre Lyons muses. "Or maybe a petting shark."

Deirdre Lyons is the quiet member of the Lyons couple at Alltech. Son Mark, 32, also works for Alltech, and daughter, Aoife (pronounced EE-fuh), 36, is a consulting psychologist who lives in Chicago.

Deirdre Lyons doesn't believe in outsourcing. And there's little in the way of detail that escapes her: In each square of the carpet at Alltech's Nicholasville headquarters, you'll find the subtle pattern of an "A."

Says Pearse Lyons of his wife: "Talented and creative, but she abhors waste."

But, she says, "I don't like accolades. I don't have the need to be out there front and center."

However, she observes slyly of her ebullient husband: "Pearse being Pearse, it always works out."

Visual shorthand

A Dublin native, Deidre Lyons initially expected only a few years' stay in America with her husband. That was 32 years ago. Now she is solid-state Kentuckian, designing music-themed carpet for her friend Everett McCorvey at the University of Kentucky and science labs for schools around Central Kentucky.

She loves music but says she cannot sing. The Lyonses are also avid readers: She likes the sprawling sagas of James Michener, while Pearse prefers the thrillers of James Patterson.

But really, it's Alltech that takes most of their time.

Her mission is designing a look that says Alltech in the same way that, say, a swoosh says Nike.

Consider the company's $15 million headquarters in Nicholasville.

"When you walk in, you know you're in a science-based company without saying a word," Deirdre Lyons says of the capacious lobby of Alltech on Catnip Hill Pike.

She did not design the building — that was architect Steve Graves of Lexington — but the interior, the art, the staircase shaped like a DNA helix, those are the touches that say that Deirdre Lyons has been here.

They're a visual shorthand for Alltech, whether in Kentucky or Alltech buildings in Clovis, N.M., or Guelph, Canada.

Each site is visited as it is being built at least once every three weeks. "It's amazing how many things you can control with a digital camera," says Lyons.

It's easier for her than for most folks to travel to these sites. Alltech has a cool airplane.

"One of the blessings I think we have, believe it or not, is that airplane," says Deirdre Lyons.

Of her husband, she says: "We each have a respect for what the other does. He knows I have the best interest of Alltech at heart."

They met at a rugby club dance. One night when the children were young, he brought home an extra 11 people to dinner. He thought she could work around it. She did.

Home base

Just off the main lobby of Alltech's headquarters is the Kentucky Room: Its door is covered with abstract art that has a surprisingly tactile quality — like touching a horse's leg — but there is no doorknob. The door silently pivots open.

Inside is a glass conference table weighing perhaps as much as 500 pounds and supported by 30 delicate glass horse heads, their crystalline manes waving in an invisible wind: "We wanted to speak about Kentucky."

The idea is designing conference rooms that reference the various world communities Alltech moves in, stressing that the company isn't an organization that makes pet treats, but a scientific force in feeding a world that wants natural feed for its meat, superior food for its racehorses.

What she does, says Deirdre Lyons, who has no interior design or architecture training, is to translate the science of nutrigenomics — the relationship between nutrition and genetic response — into design.

That's the sort of invention that is going to play into Alltech's pavilions at the Games.

On a more personal level, Deirdre Lyons' office is nothing like that of her husband, which she describes as a gentleman's club style in dark wood and heavy accents: The cabinetry in Deirdre's office is light bird's-eye maple with dark modern accents. A bouquet of flowers the size of a small Labrador adorns the desk, a 37th anniversary acknowledgement from her husband.

They are that rare species of married people who have raised children and built houses and comforted friends, but also partners who have nurtured a business.

Deirdre Lyons says of her husband: "He'll never retire."

And now, they're less than a year from the most challenging few weeks their company may ever see. And there's the matter of how to erect that giant algae leaf, and figure out an arrangement for an equine acropolis: "All things pertaining to the history of Alltech without words."

Reach Cheryl Truman at (859) 231-3202.

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