The Lyons share just keeps on growing
“We started in October and we were in profit by Christmas,” he says. “We had to be in profit by Christmas.”
Not only was Lyons in profit by Christmas, but he did a million dollars worth of business in his first year. “And that first million became two ... We have never, ever had a month where Alltech has not made a profit, a good profit,“ he says. “We’ve been growing at 20 per cent for the best part of 30 years.”
Carlsberg don’t do private companies, but, if they did . . . Alltech would have to be a contender.
Along with solving brewers’ problems, Lyons was also bringing the science of yeast and fermentation to the world of animal nutrition. He began creating feed supplements that would, among other things, aid animal digestion.
By 1985, the animal nutrition side of the business had superseded the alcohol side in importance “even though there are similarities between the products on both sides”, Lyons notes.
Today, Alltech is one of the top 10 animal health and nutrition companies in the world, and the only one focused on “natural scientific solutions” (ie, not pharma).
But the entire Alltech line of products and activities goes far beyond that, ranging from beers, whiskey and Kentucky bourbon to fibre-based corn feed substitutes for chickens; from premium beef bred on the Lyons Farm to Nutrigenomics-based Vitamin E replacements.
It is also involved in crop science, aquaculture, algae and much, much more – even stretching to research into Alzheimer’s (the company will shortly begin stage-two clinical trials on patients in the US). The list is seemingly endless, and is constantly growing.
Three years ago, Alltech added a horse feed supplement to its line of products ahead of one of the biggest events in its corporate history – the Alltech-sponsored 2010 World Equestrian Games, which took place in Lexington.
Originally a $10 million investment, the company ended up spending over $30 million and dedicating more than 70 full-time, Alltech staff (many of them top-level scientists) for six months leading up to the games.
“I knew I could fit it into my marketing budget, and I went for it. It changed the company,” says Lyons, recalling his initial, snap decision to take on the sponsorship role. “It brought $500 million into the state of Kentucky,” he adds.
“That was a very big time for Alltech and a time when [the company] maybe attained more respect from the industry, and from society generally,” agrees his wife, Deirdre, who looks after every Alltech-related design project (from the construction of new buildings to the unique art work that litters every one of them – she currently has 34 projects on the go from Dunboyne to China and Idaho).
“And Pearse absolutely loved it,” she recalls. “He’d be out there at the horse park every morning, driving around, handing out doughnuts on a little golf cart. We called it his popemobile,” she laughs.
Whatever the rationale behind taking on the Equestrian Games (and the company is going big for the games’ next incarnation in Normandy in 2014), there is little doubt that something has given Alltech a boost. Revenues have almost doubled since 2010 to this year’s anticipated $1 billion.
Lyons himself says the secret of Alltech’s success is the company’s ability to react quickly to capitalise on opportunities as they arise. If Lyons sees an opportunity to buy a company, he just buys it – sometimes making the decision in a matter of hours.
“Speed, speed, speed is what it’s all about,“ he says emphatically. “And since we don’t have to worry about outside investors or a board we can focus all our attention on those things that really matter.
“We have not one dollar of outside capital in our business,” he stressed. Oh, and, by the way, Alltech is not for sale – “at any price”.
Lyons has full control. And that’s just the way he likes it. It means he can plough every last cent of profit back into the company, with nobody to stake a claim to it.