“Operating a productive and profitable business is one of the most important things one can do. Over time, profitable business activity is the base of our community through the direct and indirect funding of our families, communities, and society. Business is also an excellent way to channel individual and collective innovative, creative and entrepreneurial energy and effort.”
This is the grounding philosophy of Daniel Oh, President & CEO of AgCertain Industries, Inc., a food, agricultural, and bio-based manufacturing company, located in Ames, Boone, and Newton, Iowa.
The company is only three years old, yet Oh and his AgCertain team announced their expansion in the Boone Industrial Park in October 2022. For a company that could locate anywhere, he has again chosen Boone and Story counties to grow AgCertain.
As President & CEO, Oh believes profitability in a company is important and he spends much of his time focused on building AgCertain into an efficient company. But for Oh, operating a profitable business is also a way to contribute and give back. “Business can be a force for good, and Central Iowa has a growing and ever more connected business ecosystem that supports and sustains growing companies. As a community and region, we need to continue to grow highly engaged and profitable businesses to increase the stability that brings to our families and to create career opportunities that support employees being able to stay in the area as they seek greater responsibilities and roles.”
Oh views his work and company as one piece of a broader system. A community relies on businesses just as much as businesses rely on the community in which they reside. In every way, a business can only be as successful as those who are part of it. So, helping our communities grow in other ways including quality of life, interesting places to live and work, access to a strong educational and healthcare system, a healthy environment, all with economic vitality, is essential. The communities where AgCertain operates are all very focused in this manner.
This philosophy is long-tenured and dates back to the early beginnings of his business career. Oh grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, in an entrepreneurial family. His parents owned and operated a food focused retail store and wholesale business. He remembers growing up on the second floor above the store and working within the family business from an early age. After high school, Oh attended college at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“I thought I should serve,” said Oh, reflecting on the decision and the sense of responsibility he felt. Oh’s father emigrated from Korea to attend college and met his mother while attending college in Illinois. “At the time I felt as though it was my responsibility as a citizen to give back to the country that had embraced my family.”
“The United States Army was my first exposure as an adult into the business world,” said Oh who pointed out that the military is essentially a large, self-sustaining organization.
He was an active-duty service member for fifteen years and reached the rank of major. He served overseas during Operation Desert Storm and was exposed to logistics, supply chain management, human resources, and operations during his time in the military. “I really enjoyed serving in the U.S. Army and learned many valuable life lessons; it felt like our efforts had a higher purpose.”
“Even before joining the Army, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but as a young person, I did not really understand what being an entrepreneur really entailed.” At the age of 33, Oh stepped away from the military and attended the University of Chicago to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree. While at West Point, one of his key areas of study was economics, along with the typical required math, science, and engineering classes. At Chicago, he focused on finance, accounting and business strategy to be more prepared for a career in business.
Oh prefers to be involved in companies that provide essential goods and services in support of agriculture, life sciences and renewable energy, improving our environment, and supporting our communities. After graduation from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, he worked at a large management consulting firm with a focus on pharmaceuticals, at Eli Lilly & Company with a focus on finance and mergers and acquisitions, and at an agriculturally aligned consulting firm called Agri Business Group (ABG); all to learn more about how companies are built and operated while also assisting them to grow and improve their operations.
As part of ABG, he worked with one particular client in Iowa. In 2005, Oh assisted West Central Cooperative, now Landus, as they built a business plan for establishing a separate and independent Renewable Energy Group (REG), a company that would become a global producer and supplier of bio-based diesel, headquartered in Ames, Iowa.
After the spin-out was initially funded, Oh was offered a position to join the new company. He and his wife Lori moved their family across the Midwest where he joined REG in 2006 as Chief Financial Officer. After a year, he became Chief Operating Officer, then later the President and eventually the Chief Executive Officer, a position he would hold until his departure in 2017. “I really loved the experience, and the Team accomplished a lot,” said Oh.
“At my core, I am a builder, and immediately went to work building another business while hoping we would determine that the ideal location for our home office was to again be based in Ames.” That business became AgCertain Industries, Inc.; conceptualized in 2017, organized in 2018, and operational and delivering products and services in 2019. The company has been growing with the assistance of a strong local team and investment from Midwest Growth Partners, the Kemery family and the Oh family.
The base production asset came from a company known as KemX Global, a glycerin and vegetable oil refining company located in Boone, Iowa. In 2019, AgCertain purchased certain assets and hired some employees from the prior company and began operating as AgCertain Boone, LLC. Since then, a tremendous amount of improvement and investment has happened.
There is a growing need to know where goods come from and how they are specifically handled along the way. AgCertain is doing this within the food, agricultural and bio-systems space on a more integrated basis in terms of markets, traceability, production, logistics and supply chain management. Delivering agricultural certainty so people can be sure that what they are receiving is what they wanted and is as expected - in terms of food, feed, oleochemicals and related products - that is what AgCertain does.
Located in the Cultivation Corridor, AgCertain is at the center of agricultural innovation where science and technology converge to impact our nation. Local logistics are excellent with access to the Union Pacific railroad via the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, Iowa Highway 30, Interstate 35, local warehousing and local packaging. The local education system, including area high schools, DMACC, and Iowa State University generate a well-trained community from which to hire. The business mind-set in the region is quick, efficient, no-nonsense, and focused in the right manner. Local government is supportive of growth that AgCertain strives to accomplish. And, the knowledge base in the region is ideal in terms of food, agricultural and bio-based systems activities.
AgCertain notes that the Boone refinery is “one of the most adaptable edible oil refiners in the industry producing Non-GMO, organic, high performance and conventional oils.” They are USDA Organic and Non-GMO verified and hold Kosher, Halal and Safe Quality Food (SQF) certifications.
The Boone facility’s adaptability and flexibility enhances its ability to support traceability for a wide variety of products that become ingredients for larger manufacturers, consumer packaged goods companies, and food producers. The process includes documenting the production, processing, and distribution of finished products and ingredients. This is particularly important for food products, and in AgCertain’s case, glycerin and edible oils such as vegetable, fruit and nut oils.
Expansion was always part of the plan for Oh, both in Boone and within the food, agricultural, and bio-based product industries. In June 2022, AgCertain announced its acquisition of Maytag Dairy Farms located in Newton, IA; the artisanal manufacturer and marketer of world-famous Maytag Blue Cheese, and other specialty food and beverage products.
In the press release, Oh said, “by combining our two Iowa-based companies, we are able to create deeper branding opportunities and expanded product sales opportunities for both organizations.” He also recognized their ability to leverage the talent of leadership and staff in both organizations to “provide a quicker growth trajectory,” an operational business mindset that was developed early on at West Point.
In October 2022, AgCertain celebrated their expansion in the Boone Industrial Park at an open-house event. Currently, in Boone, AgCertain occupies 120 acres of land, a footprint that could grow over time if the right conditions emerge. AgCertain has had an intern program every summer since its inception, and in 2023 plans to host another 20-25 interns across locations. Overall, AgCertain currently employs approximately 75 people.
In many ways, Oh has only been in business since 2000, but his entrepreneurial upbringing and sense of responsibility to community has formed his career trajectory from the beginning. Oh says that his ability to build and grow “AgCertain is a result of many people who have invested in me through their teaching, and worked together to build business that matters.”
Oh also owns and operates property in Ames and Bloomington, Indiana, through a business now known as OEI (Oh Enterprises & Investments). OEI was formed by the Oh Family back in 1996 to acquire and improve historic properties in Bloomington. In 2018, OEI expanded into Ames, IA. A large effort of OEI seeks to preserve history while turning historic properties into viable economic assets that support thriving downtown areas. Through business, OEI serves its communities in a manner likely to support entrepreneurs, local business, and downtown living.
The cycle of an economy is something that Oh often thinks about. By investing time, effort and capital in the community in which he lives, he and his family contribute to the vibrancy and economic development of that community. Dan and Lori raised their four children in Ames and enjoy being part of a college-town community.
For Oh, giving back to the community is a concept that has no end. It is a concept that was instilled in him from his parents early on and was reinforced during his training as a soldier. The profitability of a company is important as it provides stability, but defining and building a business that matters is equally as important.
He is a builder at heart, and this is something that he tries to do in many beneficial ways for his teams and communities, and that is never done alone. “The journey is building things that matter and serving people along the way.”
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