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Q&A with Sonny Beck

Don’t expect the leader of Beck’s Hybrids to retire anytime soon.

If you’ve met Sonny Beck, you may be surprised to learn that the CEO of Beck’s Hybrids had his 75th birthday last year. That number is deceiving when you see Beck scouting cornfields on his dirt bike. Or when you hear that he has no intention of retiring.

“I will continue to do the work I’m doing now for however many days the good Lord gives me,” says Beck, while noting that he has transitioned most of his responsibilities.

Beck oversees production, processing, and the facilities at Beck’s. The other nine departments are managed by Beck’s son Scott, president; Kevin Cavanaugh, director of research; and Tom Hooper, director of sales. 

“The leadership team has been working together for 25 years, so we know how each other thinks strategically,” says Beck. “If any one of us were gone, we might miss a few beats, but we would fill in the blanks quickly.”

A top-notch leadership team isn’t the only safeguard Beck has in place to ensure Beck’s thrives for another 25 years. The company’s commitment to adding value to products continues to increase market share. Six core values guarantee that the next generation of Beck’s employees will provide farmers with the service they are accustomed to from the family-owned seed company.

SF: Beck’s has doubled in size every five years since 1992. What has allowed Beck’s to increase market share?

SB: If you’re going to be a growing company, you have to add value to what customers are getting, or they will go down the street. We provide value to farmers by helping them farm better and make more money. Helping farmers succeed has been our mantra since 1937.

This is done by providing a grocery store of traits and germplasm. We develop our own corn genetics as well to put traits in, giving farmers the whole package.

In addition, through our Practical Farm Research, we conduct over 90 different studies on more than 800 acres at six locations across the Midwest. This helps farmers figure out what inputs they should spend money on and what things they shouldn’t. 

SF: Where is the market share increase coming from?

SB: If you look at the five Midwest states that make up 40% of the U.S. corn and soybean market, Beck’s and two other companies are the top three brands in terms of market share. Last year, we grew market share in each of those states, which include Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.

We recently expanded to a few new states, including Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee, and Iowa. However, we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. Before we move to a new area, we will make sure we can maintain our level of service in that area.

SF: In 2004, Beck’s employed 65 people. At last head count, Beck’s had 552 employees. How do you keep the integrity of the brand while the company is growing so rapidly?

SB: In 2010, we identified six attitudes and actions that define Beck’s employees. Since that time, these values are what we use when we hire, evaluate, and reward our employees.

1. Teamwork. We are always looking for people who are willing to play on the team. 

2. Integrity. You can’t have a team unless there’s integrity and trust that everyone will do his or her job. 

3. Adaptability. This is one I like a lot. I want an employee who may have a bad day but will come up with ideas to fix issues and be more productive the next day. 

4. Innovation. Put the baling wire on the planter and finish the field. Figure out how to get it done. 

5. Commitment. For me, this means commitment to my faith, family, and to my job. If you get the right balance, you’ll have a happy life in all three of those categories. 

6. Passion. We look for people who love what they do. 

With these six attitudes and actions, we employ people who will help farmers succeed. That’s the formula for us.

Why Beck’s Hybrids Focuses on Research

SF Bio

Name: Sonny Beck

Title: CEO of Beck’s Hybrids

Family: Sonny and his wife, Glendia, have three children: Scott, Tony, and Kim. 

Scott (president of Beck’s) and Shantel have three sons and
two daughters. 

Tony (who manages Beck’s central Illinois seed corn production in Allerton) and Tracey have five daughters. 

Kim and Todd Marschand (Beck’s facility manager) have three daughters and one son. 

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