NAMA, National Agri-Marketing Association, is pleased to announce Sonny Beck, president, Beck’s Hybrids, as the 2014 Agribusiness Leader of the Year. This award, which is NAMA’s highest honor, will be presented at the Opening General Session of the 2014 Agri-Marketing Conference, “A Fresh Perspective,” April 10, 2014, in Jacksonville, Florida. The award honors outstanding leaders in agribusiness, education, government service or other agribusiness related areas who exemplify excellence in agribusiness by their significant contributions to the industry.
Sonny Beck, president of Beck’s Hybrids, has led the company to unprecedented growth. As the largest family-owned seed company in the United States, Beck’s Hybrids is now the sixth largest seed company in the U.S. Under Sonny’s leadership, Beck’s Hybrids has experienced a 20 percent increase in sales each year for the last 20 years, doubling in size every four years. Now encompassing six states, Beck’s Hybrids products can be found in Indiana, Illinois, western Ohio, southern Michigan, Kentucky, and most recently Tennessee. Beck’s Hybrids currently has 10 facilities located in the company’s marketing area.
Sonny firmly believes that to keep up with growing demands, the company has to continue investing significantly into people and facilities each year. While growing at a rapid pace, it has never led Sonny astray from his goal of staying regionally focused, bringing farmers the right products for their acres.
Growing up as a farm boy, Sonny Beck acquired a healthy respect for the importance of working hard. From chores to working alongside his father, Francis, in the fields, Sonny had a deep fascination with agriculture. He graduated from Purdue University in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and a Master of Science in Agriculture Economics. Immediately following graduation, he returned home to the farm, ready to live out his dream of being part of the family business.
Sonny has an innate ability to captivate his audiences, whether it’s employees, customers or the agriculture industry. When speaking with him, one can see and hear the passion he has for the success of Beck’s Hybrids customers. But it’s not just the customer’s best interest he is committed to, but also the happiness of his employees. Because at Beck’s, an employee isn’t just an employee, they’re family. Over the years, Sonny has realized that employees aren’t just satisfied with their job because of money, prestige or a corner office. It’s being given the responsibility and authority to do a good job and get recognition for quality work. Sonny is constantly challenging and encouraging employees to look for ways to improve systems, processes and efficiencies. That philosophy has helped shape the Beck’s culture, creating a work ethic that runs deep through the company.
Sonny Beck is not the average CEO. With his down to earth personality, Sonny’s door is always open to employees who have a question, concern or an innovative idea. His seemingly tireless work style often leads to many late nights and weekends. With his truck parked out front and the building lights turned off, many times the only illumination is from his office.
But it’s not just the late nights it’s the muddy work boots, too. Many times, employees will find Sonny’s muddy work boots by his office door. Those boots are a symbol of his hard work, passion and enthusiasm, which employees strive to emulate.
The impact Sonny Beck has made on the seed industry will live on for decades. In 1992, upon receiving the title of Distinguished Agricultural Alumni from Purdue University, Sonny was asked to prepare a paper on the topic: “What will happen to small and mid-sized seed companies in the future?”
In essence, Sonny believed that the seed industry had reached a point of maturity where it would likely consolidate over the next five to 10 years. He predicted that some companies would make no changes and have no choice but to close some would merge and some would innovate, adapt and grow.
Sonny Beck was determined to be the third prediction. And today, his prediction was not only accurate, but Beck’s Hybrids is a major player in the seed industry.
With Sonny’s involvement in numerous agricultural organizations such as the American Seed Trade Association, U.S. Grains Council, and the Indiana Crop Improvement Association, Sonny is personally committed to the success of each farmer Beck’s Hybrids serves and the future of American agriculture.
In his 2008 State of the Company message, Sonny pointed out, “The only truly sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to learn and adapt faster than your competition.” For Sonny Beck and his team of more than 400 employees at Beck’s Hybrids, that means always finding new ways to keep being Beck’s, no matter how large the company becomes and no matter how agriculture evolves.
A love for being out in nature is something that has always been a part of Sonny Beck. The change of seasons, the growth in the fields, the use of new innovations, and knowing that in the end he’s helped something become better than it was the year before.
As soon as Sonny Beck joined the family operation in 1964 after graduating from Purdue University, he never let grass grow under his feet. Always aiming at building closer, stronger relationships with customers, Sonny immediately launched a couple of customer events that are now long-standing traditions.
It was in that same year, Sonny started what is now called the Practical Farm Research (PFR)® program. Still today, the PFR program is unlike any other in the seed industry. Focused on farmer’s needs, hundreds of studies are completed at five Beck’s locations in an effort to look at how different management practices perform in different environments. The information is delivered to farmers across the Midwest in a 280-page summary book, website and field shows.
Beck’s Hybrids hosts one of the largest field shows in the agriculture industry, Becknology Days™. A three-day event in late August, Becknology Days hosts more than 10,000 farmers from across the Midwest, where they tour PFR plots, place seed orders, join in family activities, and hear from Sonny and Scott Beck.
Sonny Beck has always strived to give customers as much of an edge on their farms as possible, by offering them the best available hybrid options, whether or not the technologies were created by Beck’s Hybrids. In the early 1990s, Beck’s Hybrids quickly adopted the idea of trait technology, providing customers with a “supermarket” of seed products.
That philosophy of offering customers choices in products continues today. And because Beck’s Hybrids is an independent seed company, they are one of the few companies who can offer a “supermarket” of seed products.
Since that time, Sonny Beck has frequently stated that before 1992 Beck’s Hybrids was a seed producer who happened to do some marketing, but with the arrival of traits, Beck’s became a marketing company who happened to produce most of their own seed.
But it was not just traits that Sonny and the Beck’s Hybrids team pursued. In 2001, Beck’s Hybrids was the first to market 100 percent of its seed corn with a seed-applied insect control system called FaSTart®. Over time the seed treatment evolved and in 2009 Beck’s Hybrids became the first seed company to put together a unique set of yield-enhancing products called Escalate® yield enhancement system. Escalate comes standard on all Beck’s corn, soybean, wheat and alfalfa products.
A true point of uniqueness to Beck’s Hybrids is the 100% Replant Policy, which began in 1937, the same year Beck’s Hybrids was born. The 100% Replant Policy states that if there is a need to replant a field of Beck’s corn, soybeans, wheat or elite alfalfa, as determined by a Beck’s representative, Beck’s will furnish the seed and royalties free.
Sonny Beck is truly an innovator of his time. He and the Beck’s Hybrids team have grown a small family seed business into the largest, family-owned seed company and the sixth largest seed company in the United States.
For more than 75 years, Beck’s Hybrids has changed with the times, bringing farmers the highest quality products in an effort to increase yields and profitability. With Sonny Beck’s leadership and vision for the company, Beck’s Hybrids conducts ongoing research to develop the best hybrids and growing practices to fit the climate variations in its marketing area. In addition to developing high yielding products, Beck’s Hybrids markets hybrids from other sources, giving farmers access to the most advanced scientific options developed.
In August 2013, Sonny received the highest honor awarded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Kentucky Colonel, in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation. Among the ranks are Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan. In 2012, Sonny Beck was bestowed the honor of becoming a Lifetime Honorary Member of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), an organization he has been a member of for more than 20 years, and one he was President of from 2002 to 2003.
His passion and enthusiasm for Purdue University began at an early age, as his father, Francis, attended Purdue for a short course in agriculture. After graduating with a bachelor and master’s degree in 1964, Sonny continued to have an impact on the Purdue campus.
His impact on Purdue University was recognized in 2007 when he received an Honorary Doctorate of Agriculture. Committed to educating and giving advice to the youth in agriculture, Sonny then became a Purdue Old Master in 2008.
Then in July 2013, Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, appointed Beck as a trustee on the Purdue University Board of Trustees. According to Pence, “Sonny Beck is an extraordinary Hoosier whose character, business experience in the agriculture industry and commitment to excellence make him the perfect choice to serve on the Board of Trustees of Purdue University.”
Giving back has always been important to Sonny Beck and his family. To them giving back isn’t just about giving back to the agricultural community.
Sonny stated in a speech upon receiving the 2010 Celebration of Philanthropy Living Legacy Award in Indianapolis, Ind., “Philanthropy is not about being honored. It is about all the little things you do every day to make someone else’s life easier or the world a better place to live.
Fifty years after we are gone, nobody will remember how much we had in our bank account, but a child or another adult may remember how you helped them with your talents and treasures.”
Sonny, the Beck family, and Beck’s Hybrids donate thousands to charities that are near and dear. Over the years Beck’s Hybrids has contributed to the National FFA Foundation, 4-H, Habitat for Humanity, Purdue University, Birthright of Cicero, Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County, local food pantries, We Care for Orphans Adoption Fund, and Ivy Tech, just to name a few.
In November 2013, Beck’s Hybrids and the Beck family was recognized for a $100,000 gift toward the construction of the Ivy Tech-Frankfort site, as well as to support the Connection campaign that will expand the Ivy Tech-Lafayette campus. In recognition of the gift, a classroom in the Bane Agriculture Technology building will be named for the Beck family.
Being able to give back to the agriculture industry and community is something Sonny Beck doesn’t see as an obligation, but an honor.
Sonny Beck’s dedication and passion for agriculture extends far beyond Beck’s Hybrids. He has played an integral role in leading several agricultural organizations, providing each with a unique leadership approach, ultimately guiding them to newer heights.
In addition, Sonny currently serves on the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, is vice president of the Purdue Ag Alumni Seed Improvement Association and is a founding member of the Purdue FarmHouse Fraternity Foundation board.
Beck has held a variety of other leadership positions within the agriculture industry, including president of the American Seed Trade Association president of the Indiana Crop Improvement Association a charter member of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture Advisory Board a charter member of the Purdue Foundation Development Council member of the Board of Directors for the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) member of the Board of Governors for the U.S. Grains Council and a member of the Purdue Agriculture Dean’s Advisory Council.
Over the years Sonny Beck has given countless hours of service to these organizations. His involvement comes from the heart and a true passion for the success of American agriculture.