Alltech boss Dr Pearse Lyons dies at 73

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Dr Pearse Lyons (1944 - 2018)
Dr Pearse Lyons (1944 – 2018)

Alltech founder and president Dr Pearse Lyons has died in Kentucky at the age of 73.

The Irish entrepreneur, who built a multibillion-dollar international business, died on March 8 from an acute lung condition after months of being in hospital from complications following heart surgery on November 1.

Dr Mark Lyons is to become chairman and president of Alltech, which focuses on improving animal, crop and human health and performance through its use of yeast fermentation, enzyme technology, algae and nutrigenomics. Its mission has always been guided by Lyons’ early commitment to the “ACE principle” – a promise that the company’s work must have a positive impact on the Animal, the Consumer and the Environment.

“We are all deeply saddened by my father’s passing,” said Dr Mark Lyons. “He always focused on developing people, and he built an extraordinary team over the years. I know he had full confidence in his team to continue growing the company he built.

“He saw farther into the horizon than anyone in the industry, and we, as his team, are committed to delivering on the future he envisioned. He planted seeds that will produce a bountiful harvest for the world in the years to come.”

The company has a global team of more than 5000 people around the world and will remain privately owned by the Lyons family.

Deirdre and Dr Pearse Lyons at the Alltech Pavilion at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.
Deirdre and Dr Pearse Lyons at the Alltech Pavilion at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

In the late 1970s, Lyons immigrated to the United States with his young family — Deirdre, Aoife and Mark — and a dream. His vision — to sustain the planet and all things living in it by applying his yeast fermentation expertise to agricultural challenges — came to life in his home garage with $10,000.

Lyons was first and foremost an entrepreneur and tireless innovator, with a keen scientific mind. His scientific expertise, combined with an acute business sense, helped revolutionize the animal feed industry through the introduction of natural ingredients to animal feed.

He built Alltech into the fastest-growing company in the global animal health and nutrition industry. Today, it is the only privately held and family owned business among the top animal health companies in the world.

The company’s reach has also grown far beyond yeast-based additives for animal feed to include award-winning beers and spirits, a crop science business and even promising research into human health challenges, such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Entrepreneurial beginnings

Born on August 3, 1944, to Thomas Kevin and Margaret (nee Dunne) Lyons and raised in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, he was one of six children. On his mother’s side, he came from five generations of coopers who supplied barrels to distilleries in Ireland – although both his parents were teetotalers.

His mother owned a small grocery shop, which Lyons later acknowledged to be the inspiration behind his entrepreneurial drive. His first job at the age of 14 was at Harp Lager in Dundalk, where he helped out in the laboratory.

Lyons received his bachelor’s degree from University College Dublin, Ireland, graduating with first-class honors. He continued into postgraduate study at the British School of Malting and Brewing in Birmingham, where he gained masters and doctoral degrees in brewing science from the University of Birmingham. In fact, he was the first Irishman to receive a formal degree in brewing and distilling from the university.

He interned at the Guinness and Harp Lager breweries and later worked as a biochemist for Irish Distillers, makers of Jameson whiskey. He was instrumental in designing the Midleton Distillery for Jameson, an opportunity which he considered to be a highlight of his early career.

Family business

Pearse met Deirdre (nee Byrne) when she was 17, and they married in 1972. Their daughter Aoife Louise was born in 1973 and son Mark in 1976.

Lyons moved to the United States in 1976, having been asked by Irish distillery Gems Whisky to help ethanol distillers in Kentucky improve their processes.

In 1980, Lyons decided to “take control of his own destiny.” He launched his own business, Alltech, which built its success upon the application of yeast technologies to animal health and nutrition.

Alltech was set up in a garage with an initial investment of $10,000 and enough money set aside to pay the mortgage and buy groceries for the family for a year. In its first year, the company turned over a million dollars.

The very name ‘Alltech’ ensured his family was built into the business from day one. Alltech’s name is based on the initials of daughter Aoife Louise Lyons, and Alltech’s signature logo color was son Mark’s choice at the time.

Both of his now-grown children are leaders in the family business. Dr Aoife Lyons is a licensed clinical psychologist and global director of educational initiatives for the company, while Dr Mark Lyons is president and chairman.

Deirdre, co-founder of Alltech, is director of corporate image and design. She designs and outfits the company’s more than 80 offices around the world, and oversees Alltech’s philanthropic involvement.

Dr Pearse Lyons has died at the age of 73.
Dr Pearse Lyons at the Alltech Conference in 2013.

Brewing and distilling

In 1980, Lyons established The Alcohol School in Lexington, Kentucky, one of the few schools at that time for the distilling industry, and ran it for 25 years. He also published and co-authored The Alcohol Textbook, a text that evolved over four editions and soon became a key source for the beverage, fuel and industrial alcohol industries.

Dr Pearse Lyons at Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company's Town Branch Distillery
Dr Pearse Lyons at Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company’s Town Branch Distillery in downtown Lexington, Kentucky.

In 1999, he bought the former Lexington Brewing Company in downtown Lexington and made beer and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale after putting the beer into freshly emptied bourbon barrels to soak up the fresh bourbon and oak flavors. In 2012 Lyons realised his dream of having his own whiskey, producing Pearse Lyons Reserve,  a malt whiskey introduced to the world on his birthday

Last year he and Deirdre opened an Irish whiskey distillery in Dublin, in the long-abandoned St. James’ Church in The Liberties district of the city. The church had been built before the signing of the Magna Carta, and the Lyons’ painstakingly restoring it. The creation of the new Pearse Lyons Distillery at St. James was made all the more meaningful by the fact that Lyons’ great-grandfather and several other relatives were buried in the churchyard.

A lasting legacy

Lyons was widely recognized for his contributions to science and industry and was awarded honorary doctorates from many colleges and universities around the world. He was named Business Person of the Year by Business & Finance magazine and received the prestigious Ireland-U.S. Council Award for Outstanding Achievement. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny recognized him with the St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal in recognition of creating a global business based on scientific research. He was also selected to receive the Commander’s Award for Public Service, a rarely presented official US Army medal, and has been honored with the prestigious Henry Clay Medallion for Distinguished Service.

The Lyons family funded and oversaw the construction of more than a dozen state-of-the-art science laboratories at primary schools in Kentucky and Ireland. The labs were completed as a personal tribute to Lyons’ late brother, Father Kevin Lyons, a priest who was dedicated to improving the lives of children. The Lyons hoped to inspire children to greater curiosity about the world around them, and many of the schools with new labs have gone on to achieve Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence status.

The Lyons believe in cultivating lifelong learning, and with the Alltech Young Scientist program – the largest global agriscience competition of its kind – has engaged more than 100,000 university students.

Lyons also established Alltech’s ACE Involvement Foundation, a charitable foundation to help fund the company’s philanthropic efforts. These efforts have included Alltech Café Citadelle, a Haitian coffee that offers a “cup of hope,” created following the devastating 2010 earthquake. All profits from the sale of the coffee are reinvested into two primary schools in northern Haiti.

In May 2009, Alltech and the Muhammad Ali Center announced the creation of a joint charitable fund, the Alltech-Muhammad Ali Center Global Education and Charitable Fund.

Lyons’ wealth was estimated to be in the region of €1.5 billion and according to the Sunday Times Rich List he was the sixth richest Irish person in 2012.

Lyons spearheaded Alltech’s commitment to international equestrian sport by sponsoring the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 in Lexington, Kentucky, which led to his receipt of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s first-ever Legacy Award in 2011. Alltech’s commitment to the Games amounted to some $US30 million.

Tandy Patrick, chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, said: “The Kentucky Horse Park extends its deepest sympathy to the Lyons family upon the passing of our good friend, Dr Pearse Lyons. The vision and support of Dr Lyons and his wife, Deirdre, enabled the Kentucky Horse Park to host the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The Alltech Arena, at the Kentucky Horse Park, is one of the nation’s premiere equine event facilities. Both are legacies of his support.

“Dr. Lyons’ energy, enthusiasm and belief that anything is possible will continue to be an inspiration to all of us.”

Funeral masses will be in Lexington, Kentucky, USA, on March 17 and in Dublin, Ireland, in April. A special celebration of life will be held on May 20 at the beginning of ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference in Lexington.

In lieu of flowers, the family is encouraging donations to the Alltech ACE Foundation.

Thomas Pearse Lyons (August 3, 1944 – March 8, 2018)

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