From being raised on a farm outside Ankeny, Iowa to being profiled in Forbes Magazine as the “Billionaire Weed Killer” and the “Pesticide Prince,” Dennis Albaugh has led a life that truly could be considered the “The American Dream.”
Founded in 1979 by Dennis (who retains 100% ownership) Albaugh, Inc. is the largest wholly owned independent formulator/packager of crop protection chemicals in the industry. He started the company using his $2,000 in savings and a $10,000 mortgage on his house to buy a used truck and over a thousand gallons of weed killer to deliver to a customer is South Dakota. But luck was not with him on that trip as the truck had a leak and he had nothing to deliver to the customer. But Dennis did not let that stop him – he asked the customer for another chance. So back to Des Moines he went, rented another truck, talked to his supplier and received additional weed killer on credit and within three days he made a successful delivery and was back in business.
Of Dennis’s “Can Do” spirit Spencer Vance, president of Albaugh, Inc. says “He doesn’t let typical emotions that cloud our lives to affect his thought process. You don’t ever see weakness or fear out of Dennis.”
Dennis, whose stake in the company may range around 1.5 billion dollars, knew the importance of hard work at an early being raised on the family’s farm. When his brother took over the family business, he knew there was not enough money to support the two of them so he attended Des Moines Area Community College and received a degree in agricultural business. He served in the National Guard until 1976. After that he sold grain and fertilizer for a local co-op for seven years. He then worked for Thompson Hayward, selling crop chemicals throughout the Midwest. He did well and was given the choice to move to Alabama to further his career. Not wanting to be away from his Iowa roots that went back generations he made the decision start Albaugh, Inc., working out of the basement of his home. He began by selling weed killers to ariel applicators. He then purchased mixing and storage tanks. He moved business operations out of his basement to an Ankeny industrial area. Then he hired his first employees: a truck driver a salesman, and an office employee. When large orders were placed it took the efforts of family and friends to fulfill them.
By 1987 sales had grown and Albaugh, Inc. was selling to 315 dealers in five states. This was done at a time when he had only nine employees – he also had over 12 national competitors. When corn prices fell to $1.99 a bushel he rethought his position in the market place and switched the company’s sales focus to distributors rather than dealers.
1992 marked a turning point for the company when he purchased a competitor located in St. Joseph, Missouri. While the home office remained in Ankeny, all plant operations were based in St. Joseph. The plant has become one of the most modern formulation and packaging plants in America with 160 employees. The central location allows 24-hour delivery to most major distribution outlets with Albaugh, Inc.’s own fleet of bulk trailers and accredited professional freight carriers.
Dennis became an international player when in 1996 he bought a controlling interest in Atanor, based in Buenos Aries, Argentina. The purchase was valued in excess of $60 million for an entity that had annual sales roughly four times the size of Albaugh, Inc. After being turned down by 25 banks, the deal was eventually financed by four banks in the U.S. and three in Argentina. Dennis was able to keep Atanor together as a whole, which allowed 832 employees to keep their jobs. The acquisition allowed the company to become vertically integrated from basic raw materials to formulated products.
Today, Albaugh Inc. continues to aggressively pursue opportunities to grow the business. Along with the US business there is Atanor is South America, Agri Estrella of Mexico, Albaugh Europe, and Albaugh Canada. In this present age of company consolidation, Albaugh, Inc. is one the few agricultural companies employing more personnel.
For Dennis, the importance of family has survived throughout the evolution of the Albaugh companies. He has been married to his wife, Susan, since 1970. Together they have two daughters and four granddaughters. When both of his sons-in-law became part of new family business venture it was a dream come true for Dennis.
His commitment to his hometown has never wavered. He is currently developing a thousand acre housing development in Ankeny called Prairie Trail. When completed it will encompass over 3,000 homes, several hundred acres of green space, 13 miles of walking and biking trails, a 525,000 square foot entertainment and shopping hub resembling a traditional town square, a public transit station, a hotel, public library, grocer, schools, and police headquarters. In February 2011 Prairie Trail was named “Top Residential Neighborhood” in the metro by DSM magazine. The president of Urban Design Associates said of the development “Prairie Trail is in the top tier of developments in the United States.” Said Dennis of his latest project “It has always been intended to reflect the best of small town Iowa – homes with character…parks where kids can play...the real story is not in the buildings or the bulldozers. It’s in the magic that happens as neighbors become friends.”
Despite his dynamic business pursuits, Dennis is not an” all work and no play” fellow. A love of Chevrolets that he developed on the family farm has led him to become one of the most widely respected car collectors in the country with over 140 Chevys and still counting. He has a 28,000 square foot garage at his corporate headquarters that houses the collection. He has amassed what may be the most complete set of Chevy convertibles in existence.
But convertibles are not the only Chevys he owns. He has a model of a Chevy representing every year from 1912 to 1975. He also has put together a set of convertible Corvettes from 1953 to 1975. And when work is needed, Dennis rebuilds engines himself. “We try to get all of them running once a year,” Dennis said.
His favorite pastime however is spending time with his grandchildren. He loves to dream up ways to include them in projects; such as building them swing sets and playhouses.
He is an individual who dedicates himself to striking a balance between spending time at work, giving back to his community, and being with his family. His desire to create and build keeps evolving and he sees many more exciting ventures on the horizon.