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DAA: Kevin J. Cavanaugh

Kevin J. Cavanaugh


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At age 14, Kevin Cavanaugh landed a summer job in a Pioneer Hi-Bred corn breeding station near his family’s small grain and livestock farm in northwest Ohio. He didn’t understand everything he was doing, but he enjoyed the work, and he would return to Pioneer Hi-Bred during school breaks throughout high school and college. “That’s where I really developed a passion for corn breeding and the seed industry,” he says. He excelled in crops judging at Iowa State University and came to Purdue for graduate study because of the strength of its program and to get closer to the Eastern Corn Belt. He joined Beck’s Superior Hybrids in 1993 as its corn breeder, attracted by the opportunity to gain a much broader view of the seed industry. Although his title has remained director of research since the following year, his job has evolved. By merging a highly effective research and testing program with excellent marketing, Cavanaugh helped Beck’s become the largest independent family-owned retail seed company in the United States. As part of its four-person leadership team, he is involved in business development, setting seed programs, pricing, inventory, facilities, and policy-making. “I’m really more of a people person than a hardcore researcher,” he says. “Really, what I’m best at is understanding the scientific principles and knowing how to apply that in the business world.” He spends a great deal of his time selecting products for the company’s retail lineup. Beck’s uses its own germplasm but also sources other companies’ genetics. Since Cavanaugh joined the organization, sales of corn, soybeans, and wheat have increased more than ten-fold. Cavanaugh and his wife Carey, an attorney, met at Purdue’s agronomy farm. His favorite activities are those that involve his family, including coaching sports and working a 12-acre hay operation with their sons, ages 12 and 7. It’s hard work, but then again, Cavanaugh admits, he’s never been very good at sitting on the couch.