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
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
“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.