Alltech Ideas Conference centers on disrupting business for the good

George Blankenship is one of the keynote speakers at Alltech’s conference on business disruption. Blankenship has been an executive at Apple and Tesla.
George Blankenship is one of the keynote speakers at Alltech’s conference on business disruption. Blankenship has been an executive at Apple and Tesla. Photo provided

The Alltech Ideas Conference doesn’t want its participants to play by the rules.

The conference, in its 33rd year, begins its formal run Monday in Lexington and continues through May 24. Many conference events will take place at Rupp Arena and Heritage Hall. A concert and “Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale Trail” will take place in downtown Lexington Tuesday night.

The theme of the conference is “disrupt the disruptors.” About 4,000 people are expected to attend.

Disruption doesn’t mean chaos, but neither is it meant to be comforting to businesses that think they can thrive by continuing to do the same thing the same way, said Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech, an animal health company headquartered in Nicholasville.

George Blankenship, a former executive at Tesla, Apple and GAP, said that when he joined Apple in 2000, the brand was near the bottom of its fortunes because Apple “didn’t control how its products were presented to the customers.”

Blankenship is one of the keynote speakers at the conference.

Apple decided to get its message out where customers went when they were thinking of buying new things, leading to the launch of the Apple Store, Blankenship said. The first two opened in Tyson’s Corner Va., and Glendale, Calif., in May 2001, and sold a combined total of $599,000 of merchandise over their first weekend.

In 2007 the iPhone was introduced; in 2008, the App Store followed, allowing customers to tailor their iPhone for whatever use they liked, from maps to weather to summoner of rides and food.

The iPhone “totally disrupted the way people engage with technology” — making the phone more than simply a person-to-person communications device and more of a lifeline with which the customer can constantly engage.

Tesla has similarly changed the fundamentals of how customers look at cars. Even if the customer is not now in the market for a car, Blankenship said, the company finds that it pays to educate the consumer. Tesla provides consumers with constant reminders that the fundamental model of car buying — going to a dealership and coming out with a gas-powered auto — can be fundamentally different.

Alltech has been a disruptor in the field of animal nutrition as well as brewing, said Lyons, adding there’s a difference between unproductive noise and true disruption that makes positive changes to the business template.

Part of Alltech’s ability to disrupt how business operates stems from its being a privately held company, Lyons said.

“We’re private, and when we make money we plow the money back in,” he said. “We don’t do the next quarter. ... We simply do what we do, and that enables us to be disruptive.”

“Somebody who’s disruptive doesn’t see the negatives,” Lyons said. “That’s what people want to buy into, the things of the future.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman