LYMAN ADAMS: A cooperative kind of leader

Lyman Adams: “When I came here, I thought five years and I’ll move on to a bigger co-op,” he said. “So, 31 years later, serving on the regional side, plus being a progressive co-op, having a very progressive board—in all that, it has continued to challenge me over the years and I’ve had that satisfaction of being able to stay here.”As he prepared to leave for college, Lyman Adams never imagined that he’d make his professional mark in the agriculture industry—even though he grew up on the family farm near Hoxie.

“I was always an ag man, but it was an era where people said get off the farm and go to the big cities to make a living,” Adams recalled as he prepares to retire as general manager of Coopera­tive Grain & Supply after a run of 31 years.

“Agriculture was tough at that time,” he said. “So I never took an ag class in high school or in college. I went to Kansas State Univer­sity for four years and graduated in 1973 with a degree in accounting.”

But agriculture commandeered Adam’s destiny anyway.

His uncle, who served on the board of directors for the cooperative at Grainfield, passed on Adam’s name to the auditors who happened to be reviewing the books there, knowing that his nephew was looking for his first job out of college.

“Have him apply with us because we like kids with farm backgrounds,” the auditors had replied.

The new graduate did apply, and began working with the C.R. Rock Co. in Hutch­inson. Two years into it, Adams decided spending 120 nights in a motel during his first two years on the job was more traveling than he wanted to do.

At that point, he and wife Marie decided he should look into co-op management.

“Growing up, I always thought if you couldn’t get a job any place else, you could get a job at the co-op—it was sort of a last-resort thing,” he said with a smile because of the irony of his bias.

But Adams’ work as an auditor had its benefits.

“Through auditing I learned there were some very, very good co-ops out there,” he said. “Ironic­ally, during those two years, I was a very green auditor but I got to audit at Hills­boro.”

Adam’s first job in a co-op was as officer manager and comptroller in Great Bend. Two years later, he was promoted to assistant manager, and spent 61⁄2 years learning the business.

From there, Adams accepted the general manager position at Farmers Grain, Fuel and Livestock at Pawnee Rock, where he became familiar with the Mennonite clientele who were part of the co-op membership.

It was good preparation for his next job move: to become general manager of Cooperative Grain & Supply, although the board seemed a little leery that he was only 34 years old at the time.

“They thought I was quite young,” Adams recalled. “I told them I can’t change my age, but I do have a lot of experience.”

Adams was hired, but fate intervened on the night he was to be introduced to the owners at the CG&S annual meeting.

“We left home that Satur­day morning with our three kids,” he recalled. “East of Ellin­wood we hit some solid ice—and ended up putting our car over on its top. Luckily nobody got hurt, but the car was damaged. A lot of the older (CG&S) members still remember my introduction—and not being present.”

Growth path

It was an unconventional start, but over the next three decades Adams helped keep CG&S on a 30-year growth path.

Adams said one of the first things he did when he arrived was to move his personal office from the 100 block of West Grand, where Panda Kitchen is situated today, and into the elevator offices along Ash Street.

“It was a place where I could see customers,” he said. “I got some feedback from the board and members that they really appreciated me being right there in the middle of the action,” he said.

In the ensuing years, Adams and the CG&S board initiated numerous projects to enlarge the scope of the operation.

Among them:

• Acquiring the grain facility in nearby Canada. The CG&S network eventually grew to include the operations at Lehigh, Marion and Canton as well.

• Purchasing the former Men­nonite Brethren Pub­lish­ing House building on North Main Street, where the CG&S offices are currently located.

• Launched Countryside Feed in 1997, the fledgling business made its feed at the elevators in Hillsboro and Walton before building a multi-million dollar mill at its current location in the Hillsboro Industrial Park.

“That was one of the biggest steps we took,” Adams said of the project. “It’s worked out well on both accounts. For CG&S, it’s been a fantastic move. We built the mill for about $4 million. Today it cost $10-14 million to build the same type of mill.”

• In 2000, CG&S became part of the Team Marketing Alliance.

“That was probably the second big step for us by combining our marketing efforts on grain and logistics with TMA,” Adams said. “It brought us some size and scale in that area, just like Countryside Feed does in being a major player in that arena.”

In the ensuing years, CG&S has developed the property south of Country­side Feed as a location for its crop-production services, dry fertilizer storage as well as a liquid chemical plant and storage facility.

To illustrate the effect of expansion, Adams said the crop-production department had two employees when he arrived in 1986.

“Today we’ve got 14 people working out there at that site, and we continue to expand that area.”

• In recent years, CG&S has made significant strides in its grain-storage capacity, increasing from 2.2 million bushels when Adams started to 4.4 million bushels today. Much of it was energized by advances in genetics and changes in farming practices.

“When I got here, I was amazed how many tractors were pulling grain carts and pickups,” Adams said about the latter. “Today, there’s five semis for every single-axle truck. I can still remember the long lines we had here (years ago) at the Hillsboro location.”

Broader stimulation

One of the things Adams appreciated during his time was that the CG&S board allowed him to be involved with regional agencies in agriculture. Adams served as a director for Farmland Industries for 11 years

“That really opened my eyes,” he said of the experience. “I’ve always said I learned more than I gave there. My biggest disappointment was when Farm­land had to declare bank­ruptcy (in 2003).”

Adams credits good board members, good employees and good customers for the success that CG&S has achieved over three decades, and for stoking his interest in staying on for three decades.

“When I came here, I thought five years and I’ll move on to a bigger co-op,” he said. “So, 31 years later, serving on the regional side, plus being a progressive co-op, having a very progressive board—in all that, it has continued to challenge me over the years and I’ve had that satisfaction of being able to stay here.”

Staying the course

If the recent membership vote to unify CG&S with MKC had been ratified, Adams would have departed his position knowing that the unified company would absorb CG&S operations.

Because it didn’t pass, Adams said he will be extending his stay a few weeks beyond the end of the calendar year.

“(The board’s) initial plans are to hire an interim manager, and they want me to stay around for about two weeks with the interim manager—or until he gets tired of me,” Adams joked.

Though Adams and the board were disappointed the merger wasn’t ratified, he said they are fully prepared to continue CG&S operations to better serve their members.

“The new manager and the board will have the same challenges as if I was staying here,” Adams said. “The good news is the co-op’s balance sheet is very strong, and so we have a base to still function.”

Adams said the challenges facing CG&S haven’t changed all that much over the past 20 to 30 years.

“It’s how do they adjust in a changing world?” he said. “How do you continue to find good talent, and add to your good working force, or replace the people who retire? It’s also trying to stay on top of technology, and then its always capital—finding enough not just to stay even, but to add to what you have.”

Written By
More from Don Ratzlaff
Hospital celebrates construction halfway point
About 100 people, including the entire JE Dunn construction crew, gathered under...
Read More