Leaving a legacy of honesty and integrity, Herm Geers, the founder of Michigan Agricultural Commodities, died July 11.
“The people that worked for him admired his lead-by-example style and took pride in living up to the integrity and honesty he modeled,” says his son, Dave Geers, who joined MAC, was named president in 1999 and is now retired. “It was a culture we often talked about. He was humble and respectful and always ready with a kind word or praise.”
In his 85 years, Herm was described as a visionary, and he saw that through with great success, although it was not always easy, Dave says.
Michigan Agricultural Commodities buys, sells and stores agricultural commodities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Today, MAC is Michigan’s largest grain handler with eight elevators, almost 44 million bushels of storage and about 100 employees.
The ultimate trader
“He was intuitive, which is just a fancy word for following his gut,” Dave says. “If it felt right, he did it — with some consultation with others, of course. He was the ultimate trader, loving the completion of a deal and anxious to move on to the next trade.”
Herm is survived by his wife of 65 years, Shirley; three sons, David (Patricia), Greg (Cindy) and Jeff (Bonnie); seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
A native of McBain, Mich., Herm worked for an implement dealer for a couple of years after high school before being drafted into the Army, where he served as a cook while stationed in Germany.
He returned from his service in 1956 and took an 18-month elevator and farm supply short course at Michigan State University. That led to a job at Producers Co-Op Elevator in Williamston, Mich., in 1959 before returning to MSU to get his bachelor’s degree in ag mechanics in 1962.
He was immediately hired by Michigan Elevator Exchange, where he eventually served as a grain merchandiser. He made the leap in 1976 to be his own boss, starting MAC. In the beginning it was just Herm, Shirley and Dave.
“The number one thing I remember when we started MAC was Herm talking about our role, which was to fill niches,” Dave explains. “We weren’t going to go head-to-head with the big guys — we were going to go after the scraps they left behind. He said we would eat very well.”
First scraps, then expansion
Together, they spent the first 10 years picking up what others left behind and trading smaller grains, such as oats, rye, barley. “It was less competitive, with better margins and required less capital,” Dave explains. “We quickly added salvage grains and a products group. It wasn’t high volume, but much better margins.”
In 1986, noting the need for physical grain storage facilities, MAC purchased a small bankrupt grain elevator in Middleton, Mich. At the same time, the Westmac grain elevators in Grand Ledge, Mich., and Newaygo, Mich., ran into financial difficulty and were seized by the lender.
“It was a simple lease with the bank that got us involved with operating, then buying financially stressed assets,” Dave says. “This transaction gave us a reputation for being willing to take over where others had failed and led to the purchase of three other financially stressed facilities.”
Also in the mid-80s, MAC started London Agricultural Commodities, based in London, Ontario, which is in its 33rd year of mirroring the success of MAC.
MAC and LAC have continued to grow and improve facilities by continually upgrading storage capacity, drying and receiving, while providing good customer service.
Humanitarian with passion for ag
Herm was generous as a supporter of the Gideons, as well as Growing Hope Globally (formerly Foods Resource Bank), which focuses on growing projects in the U.S. to generate funds to help people grow their own food in developing countries.
Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, says Herm was a visionary who saw the future of the grain industry in Michigan and built that vision into one of the most successful agribusiness companies in the Midwest.
“His passion for agriculture, his faith and dedication to friends, family and the business he loved never were far from his thoughts,” Jim says. “Herm especially valued his relationships with farmer customers and those MAC sold grain to.”
Herm’s grandson Robert Geers says he was as interested in getting to know people as the business itself. “He was a very good listener,” he adds.
Bruce Sutherland, MAC president, says, “Herm hired me in 1986. Working for MAC had been my desire since my early days in my career. I respected Herm and Dave and everything they stood for. They both gave me the opportunity to grow and develop, and to make the most of my opportunities at this company. It was an honor to work for him.”