By Lisa Henderson
“If you’re not losing money, you’re not trying hard enough.” That’s one business philosophy shared by Lee Borck, President of Innovative Livestock Services, Manhattan, Kansas, with attendees at the recent installment of the Upson Lecture Series presented by the Kansas State University organization Food For Thought. Borck, who has had a long, successful career as a cattle feeder and businessman, wanted students to recognize that not every venture will be successful, but that they must persevere.
Growing up, Borck says he learned what not to do by watching how farmers interacted. “The worst mistakes farmers and ranchers made were not knowing how to communicate. They didn’t know how to ask for help or say what they wanted to.” Borck also says that to be a successful person you need to make others feel comfortable and be able to listen and communicate well.
A native of Blue Rapids, Kansas, Borck graduated in 1970 from Kansas State in Agriculture Economics, which ensured that he would be a lifelong supporter of the university. Borck has devoted much time and resources to K-State in an effort to help others succeed through education. In 1992, Borck was named K-State Outstanding Stockman, an alumni fellow by the KSU College of Ag in 1995, and Distinguished Alumnus by the KSU department of agricultural economics in 1998. In December 2007, he received the KSU Medal of Excellence, the university’s highest honor. Finally, in March, Borck was recognized by the Livestock and Meat Industry Council as the 2014 Kansas Stockman of the Year.
After graduation Borck began his career with the Larned Production Credit Association and worked helping others become successful in the cattle business until he decided he wanted in on the action himself. He joined Ward Feed Yard Inc., in 1979.
“It was a dump,” says Borck of Ward when he took it over. “We cleaned it up and painted everything purple, because purple covered up more sins than any other color,” Borck joked.
As the general manager of Ward Feed Yard, Borck developed business relationships with other feeders and began to accept industry leadership roles. He has been recognized as an industry leader many times, including a 2012 induction into the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame, and industry leadership roles such as president of the Kansas Livestock Association. He also served on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association board and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, and was president of Cattle-Fax in 1994.
Borck continually urged that “if you are going to feed cattle then you need to know risk management.” In 1988, Borck led a group of 11 different feeding entities to form a marketing cooperative called Beef Marketing Group to help offset some of his risk management. “We were having a difficult time competing price-wise with the larger feedyards,” Borck says. “We knew we needed to get bigger to be relevant. The way we could get bigger was with cooperation rather than capital, by forming a cooperative to market our cattle.”
Beef Marketing Group became one of the first entities to form a working relationship with a packing company. In 1993, BMG entered into one of the first agreements with IBP (now Tyson) to market cattle using a pricing grid. That agreement, Borck admits, made him and the other BMG principals unpopular in some corners of the cattle industry. BMG was on the leading edge of an industry trend that helped revolutionize the way cattle are marketed and upgraded the overall quality of products offered to consumers.
“Agriculture is the food business. We have moved from commodity-based ag production to a branded product with accountability and promise of quality.”
Borck is also the president of Innovative Livestock Services, a venture-capital company that owns six of the feedyards that constitute BMG, including Ward Feed Yard where Borck began his career. ILS includes a 35,000-acre farming operation and other services such as trucking, finance, farming and feed manufacturing that provide advantages to ILS customers and partners.
Some top advice Borck gave to new entrepreneurs included:
- To be successful you need to;1. Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing.
2. Be willing to work hard, and
3. Associate with others who have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and work hard, too.
- Never give up being in control of the decision making process.
- Don’t do business with a friend, it will kill you.
- Ethics – doing the right thing all the time not because it’s easy, but because it’s right, never trade against a man’s back.
- Believe information – who has it first? Information = knowledge = advantage.
- Two things to look for with information:1. What do you do with it?
2. How long does it take for you to act on it?
Borck’s passions aren’t limited to cattle feeding. He’s proud of his family — wife Kathleen and daughter and son-in-law Debi and Doug Bazzel, who have two children, Brooke and Braden — and he’s an ardent supporter of Kansas State University.
Borck says he is excited for the future of agriculture and the many new technologies available today and, “My only regret is that I’m 67 and I can’t keep going forever.”