Former Cooperative Leader Remembered

Tom Lyon speaking at a CRI annual meeting.

Thomas L. Lyon, a respected and influential figure in the history of GENEX, died March 8 at the age of 80.

Tom Lyon

Tom, who was raised on a dairy farm in Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in dairy science, made his mark on the cattle genetics industry and the cooperative business world.

He began his career in the bovine artificial insemination industry in 1967 as the Director of Public Relations for GENEX predecessor Midwest Breeders Cooperative, which served producer members in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. He quickly advanced to Vice President of Marketing for the cooperative. In 1976, he was named General Manager. Then, in 1985, when Midwest Breeders merged with Minnesota Valley Breeders to form 21st Century Genetics, Tom was named General Manager of the new cooperative organization.

In 1993, Tom demonstrated visionary leadership, leading the charge in the formation of Cooperative Resources International (CRI). CRI became the first holding cooperative in the U.S., connecting several dairy cattle breeding cooperatives and milk testing services through one parent company. This was a cutting-edge business model that preserved member ownership and equity through cooperation among cooperatives, while also growing the organization’s global impact.

“Throughout his career, Tom was dedicated to the cooperative business model. He believed in an organization developed for and by its member-owners. He believed in the cooperative culture, where employees earned satisfaction from a genuine feeling of helping others, from partnering with members to improve their herds for the next generation,” said Keith Heikes, former GENEX CEO and now URUS COO.

For his contributions toward advancing cooperative philosophy and ideals, Tom was named a 1989 Co-op Builder by the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives. In 2006, he was inducted into the national Cooperative Hall of Fame. The inscription on the plaque summarizes Tom’s dedication to both GENEX and cooperatives in general:

“Described as an innovator, visionary and pioneer, Tom Lyon devoted his life’s work to building cooperatives for the future. Cooperatives at the local, state, national and international levels have benefited from his experience, wisdom, organizational skills and professionalism … Lyon always demonstrated a willingness to implement new concepts to make cooperatives more successful.”

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