I like Pearse Lyons' beer, but I like his thinking even better.
This week, the founder and president of Alltech has attracted 1,500 people from 50 countries to Lexington Center for the 26th annual Alltech International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium.
This fall, he hopes to attract more than 250,000 people from even more countries to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Lyons is a successful entrepreneur because he recognizes opportunities — and acts on them. He and his wife, Deirdre, emigrated from Ireland and have spent 30 years building a global brand based in Central Kentucky that does business in 120 countries.
Until a few years ago, few Kentuckians had ever heard of Alltech. That's because most of its business was creating and marketing all-natural animal nutrition supplements.
Public awareness of Alltech has grown with its range of consumer products, which now include Dippin' Dots ice cream, Kentucky Ale, Bourbon Barrel Ale, the Alltech Angus brand of Kentucky-raised beef, and Kentucky Sundown, a bourbon-and-coffee drink. Alltech will be selling bourbon as soon as the first batch has aged enough.
Alltech's biggest advertising vehicle is its title sponsorship of the World Equestrian Games. Lyons said that when he was approached about the sponsorship, he quickly realized the $10 million cost would be a smart investment. Since then, Lyons said, he has put an additional $12 million into leveraging that investment, and will spend yet another $10 million or so before the Games are over.
One thing I find interesting about Alltech is that Lyons doesn't see himself as being just in the animal nutrition business, or even the food and drink business. He sees himself as being in the business of using scientific research, creative thinking, innovation and good marketing to solve some of the world's biggest problems.
Because Alltech is privately held and, according to Lyons, quite profitable, he has the resources to go after opportunities in a big way.
Much of the talk at this week's Alltech symposium has been about using science and innovation to feed the world, make food supplies safer and agribusiness more environmentally sustainable. Lyons believes businesses that make people healthier and the environment cleaner will create long-term value.
Lyons announced Monday that Alltech will create the world's second-largest algae factory in Kentucky, with the location and details to be revealed in August. He thinks pond scum, which can absorb twice its weight in carbon dioxide while producing bio fuels, could be a potent weapon for fighting climate change.
Another thing I find interesting about Alltech is Lyons' belief in the potential of the "Kentucky" brand. He has gone to great lengths to partner with Kentucky's world-class people and organizations. Sponsoring the World Equestrian Games was a logical step in that strategy.
At last year's symposium, Lyons and Muhammad Ali announced a charitable and educational partnership. Alltech is a big supporter of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre program, which under Everett McCorvey's leadership has developed an international reputation.
This year's Alltech symposium featured a talk on entrepreneurship by former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., who franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken. Brown was followed by Joaquin Pelaez, an executive with Louisville-based Yum Brands who now oversees KFC's huge presence in China.
Lyons noted that KFC is better known in China than any other American brand, and the Chinese refer to it simply as "Ken-touch-ee." If name recognition is half the battle in marketing, that's quite a head start for any Kentucky company hoping to do business in the world's most populous country.
I suspect this fall's Games will leave its international audience with a favorable impression of both Alltech and Kentucky — a beautiful state that is home to an innovative company.
We could, and have, done a lot worse when it comes to the Kentucky brand. While there is much to admire in Kentucky, this state has a stubborn legacy of poverty, ignorance and environmental degradation.
If this transplanted Irishman sees so much potential value in the Kentucky brand, maybe the rest of us should, too. If we were Pearse Lyons, we would be thinking: how can we act on this opportunity?