Biotech entrepreneur with passion for brewing
Obituary: Businessman established Alltech in his garage with investment of $10,000
Dr Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech: in life, as in business, he wanted to make a difference
Pearse Lyons Born: August 3rd, 1944 Died: March 8th, 2018
Pearse Lyons, who has died in his adopted home of Kentucky following heart surgery, was a far-sighted Irish businessman of energy and flexibility. He founded and built biotechnology company Alltech into a major force in animal health and nutrition. He did so because he transferred his skills as a brewer working with yeast to applying yeast technologies to animal health and nutrition.
Motivated and passionate, he could communicate his enthusiasm. He was hugely energetic, running every day, usually at 5am, and a voracious reader.
Pearse Lyons was born in Dundalk in August 1944, the third of six children to Thomas Kevin Lyons, an electrician, and his wife Margaret (née Dunne), who ran a small grocery shop. Both parents were from Dublin’s inner city. His mother was determined her children would go to university. His father was a quiet, charitable man, with an entrepreneurial streak.
He was educated at St Mary’s College, Dundalk, and UCD. At UCD his interest in science bloomed, and he graduated with a first-class honours degree. He then obtained a master’s degree and a doctorate at the British School of Malting and Brewing (part of the University of Birmingham).
After graduation he worked for Guinness and then Irish Distillers. One of his proudest achievements was being instrumental in designing Middleton Distillery for Jameson.
In 1977 he moved to the US, initially working for a biopharmaceutical company, which supplied the brewing and distilling industries.
In 1980 he decided to strike out on his own. He set up Alltech in a garage with an initial investment of $10,000 (approximately €24,000 in today’s terms). Alltech supplied biotechnology-derived ingredients to the livestock and poultry feed industry and rapidly prospered. In 2015 Lyons was reported as saying the company was worth between $2.5 billion and $3 billion. The company had more than 3,000 employees and a presence in 128 countries, with a strong regional presence in Europe, North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
He continued his involvement in brewing and distilling with Alltech, investing in Ireland and the US. His Lexington brewery began the trend in the US to age craft beer in bourbon barrels. Last year he established the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin’s Liberties.
Lyons was awarded several honours, including the Ireland-US Council Award for Outstanding Achievement and the St Patrick’s Day Science Medal. He claimed the arts were essential to creative thinking and Alltech sponsors an annual scholarship for promising young vocalists.
He was charitable. Education was a passion. He funded and oversaw the construction of more than a dozen science laboratories at primary schools in Kentucky and Ireland, as a tribute to his late brother Fr Kevin Lyons.
Alltech engages in philanthropic projects. One is Alltech Café Citadelle, an organic Haitian coffee. Profits are reinvested in two Haitian primary schools.
He was charitable in everyday life. While in hospital, Dr Lyons discovered a janitor was going through a divorce and not seeing his children because he didn’t have a car. Lyons gave the janitor an Alltech fleet car for a year, with insurance and petrol paid, to see his children and move his life forward. In life, as in business, he wanted to make a difference.
He is survived by his wife, Deirdre, daughter, Aoife, and son, Mark, and by his sister, Deirdre, and brothers John, Lorcan and Rory. He was predeceased by his brother Fr Kevin.