On a warm Thursday afternoon in Penn State’s Agricultural Sciences and Industry Building, John Finegan, a 1979 Penn State grad, spoke to an auditorium of students about creating his own startup business, BeckAg.
Started in 1997, BeckAg facilitates phone calls between farmers across the country to encourage one another to purchase BeckAg clients’ products. These clients are agricultural manufacturers, such as John Deere and Monsanto, that want BeckAg to help sell their products.
BeckAg contacts a handful of farmers, asking them to spend an hour in a facilitated conference call to hear about a product. Some of the farmers on the call will have already tried the product and will personally vouch for its effectiveness (or lack thereof). The others will listen to their fellow farmers — rather than sales representatives — talk about their experiences with the product.
BeckAg’s goal, Finegan said, is to provide experience-sharing marketing that is more valuable and credible to farmers than sales pitches straight from a manufacturer.
Finegan said he was inspired to start BeckAg after spending 15 years working for the large agricultural company Chevron.
Just before the creation of BeckAg, Chevron asked Finegan to move from Chicago to California for work. With a newborn and 4-year-old child at the time, Finegan said he couldn’t uproot his family.
“I thought, ‘I can’t have this big company calling the shots in my life, especially because I really want to spend time with my kids and not travel as much,’ ” Finegan said.
“So I thought, ‘I’m going to start my own business. I can do this, I have got a partner…who wants to fund it, and it will give me career flexibility and the ability to raise my kids.’ ”
Since the birth of BeckAg, Finegan said one of its guiding principles has been maintaining a company environment that prioritizes work-life balance. He said it is one of the reasons he decided to make the company virtual.
“The most important thing to me was to allow people who work for us to have balanced lives,” Finegan said. “That means balance between family life, your personal life and your career.”
Finegan said this flexible, virtual workplace makes BeckAg an ideal employer for young women in agriculture. Boasting an award for 2015 Company of the Year from Women in Agribusiness, five of nine BeckAg shareholders are women, and the company supports women in a male-dominated industry, he said.
Allowing employees to work from home supports women who wish to work in agriculture while raising a family, Finegan said.
It is BeckAg’s principles and culture, Finegan said, that have kept the company afloat since 1997.
“You can have the best strategy in the world, but if your culture is dysfunctional…you won’t survive,” Finegan said.
Sarah Mearhoff is a Penn State journalism student.