Forever Forward

Randy Canady, Founder and CEO of Atticus

Randy Canady, Founder and CEO of Atticus

Randy Canady was born to move in one direction: ahead. 

This highly successful entrepreneur and graduate of NC State’s Agribusiness Management program has worked hard and postured himself for success long before he even finished college. Since graduation, he has launched many businesses, three of them alone during a recent Thanksgiving weekend; and he is a bold decision maker who can often be heard saying, “We’ll make mistakes, but indecisiveness is not going to be one of them.”

True to form, Canady was very decisive when asked to consider supporting the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI). With little to no hesitation, he named a conference room in the NC State University Plant Sciences Building, N.C. PSI’s future headquarters, after the fully independent business he managed to start, build, and sustain with his own limited resources: Atticus.

Why is Canady so decidedly supportive of the N.C. PSI? 

In part, Canady felt his leading off-patent pesticide company, whose purpose is to enhance daily life, resonated with N.C. PSI’s purpose: to address the grandest challenges intersecting agriculture and society through some of the world’s most advanced interdisciplinary research and innovations. 

Canady also felt like giving back to support the university that helped him succeed, as well as advance the crop protection industry he is a part of.  He feels his industry exists under one common passion: to improve lives and make a large and positive difference in society. As such, he does not view his competitors as enemies. Quite the contrary; he views them as partners. 

We connected with Canady to learn more about his drive to advance himself and the world around him in his capacities as a business leader, a philanthropist, and a guest lecturer at NC State.

The N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative breaks down barriers to solving agriculture’s grandest challenges. As the founder and CEO of a major crop-protection company, which grand challenges in agriculture would you most like to see addressed, and why?

We at Atticus rally around a purpose to enhance daily life, because what we do makes a difference across society. Our role in the agriculture industry and professional non-crop markets is to support and sustain life: plants, animals and the basic needs of people. Food, clothing and shelter can never be taken for granted; and I think our industry has instilled an emotional connection with our society and culture, one that’s inspired non-industry folks to find a passion for our industry. The N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative serves on the forefront of that passion – and the commitment we make to society. I also find great satisfaction waking up each day and knowing that such an overwhelming commitment is sitting on NC State’s campus. No matter what our society faces – and no matter what new technologies we hold, wear, or even implant, generational evolution simply will not outrun the need for our industry to advance. The N.C. PSI will help our industry advance while delivering on global and societal impact.

The NC State University Plant Sciences Building will host the work of top minds in academia, government and industry. How will you and your employees be involved with the building’s activities?

Atticus has a broad network of friends serving in the capacity of agriculture and professional non-crop retailers, as well as sourcing partners around the world. We have clients and partners across the U.S., China, India, and other countries visiting us in Raleigh. The Plant Sciences Building is a great place to showcase the initiatives and influence of NC State on a global scale. We are keen on inviting those networks to take an active role in the Plant Sciences Initiative, starting with hosting meetings in the building to gain the initial exposure and excitement. All products, concepts, and companies go through a life cycle, and most find success when founded on the energy that has fueled the Plant Sciences Initiative so far. Even though Atticus is a post-patent company, we respect the product life cycle and value research, development, and academia overall. The emotional connection that we share as an industry inspires a passion that is greater than the daily competition.

You’ve built a storied career in the crop protection industry, working across many positions and companies before founding Atticus. What did you learn at NC State that contributed to your success?

Take the initiative while you’re there. I was very involved. I was a president of Ag Business and the National Agri-Marketing Association. I was a treasurer on a CALS advisory board. If you think that, just because you have a college education, success is going to be handed to you, you just made your first mistake. Even the (Randall Canady) scholarship we have in place is largely founded on students who demonstrate initiative above and beyond the classroom. 

NC State has provided the forum for unbelievable success. It’s giving you access to anything you want to do. But if you’re not willing to reach back to those who are reaching to you, you’re not going to go anywhere. So take ownership of your education, and make the most of your time and the resources available to you. At the end of the day, you are accountable for driving your own success while in school. Early initiative and ownership starting now will reward you beyond the classroom.

On the subject of education, you’ve recently become a guest lecturer at NC State. How will you help students succeed in the increasingly complex world of agriculture?  

I have grown professionally so much with each passing year; and the more I experience, the more I appreciate the lessons learned in the classrooms. Those textbooks were written for a deliberate reason. That said, my teaching style is based more on active engagement. I enjoy sharing the inner workings of past and current businesses. I like to show how a vision transforms and comes to life – and the respect that’s required across all functional disciplines to make it a reality. 

I can walk students through a day in the life as a business owner by sharing things like, “Here’s a live example; let me take you through this obstacle that we had to overcome.” 

It’s about those real-world situations and how we faced them, the mistakes we made, and the critical nature of being decisive versus just stifling in indecision. I always like to say that we’ll make mistakes, but indecisiveness is not going to be one of them. 

Not everyone’s going to be an entrepreneur, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have an entrepreneurial mindset. To me, it’s about making the student a better employee that understands all the functions of an organization, to make the organization successful. That’s the groundwork for being a successful entrepreneur – and the groundwork for successful employees who see how business works.

Each person is a hub with spokes coming off them, but equally you’re the spoke to someone else’s hub. So if I can help get students to understand and appreciate that, I think that’s going to set them up for success no matter what job they step into.

Why did you sponsor a conference room in the N.C. State Plant Sciences Building?

Sponsoring this conference room is a billboard acknowledgement to those who I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have in my life, from family roots to relatives to community leaders, and all of those in the industry who have placed their confidence in me and created a positive influence in my professional career. In turn, the NC State Plant Sciences Building will also play a role in advancing opportunities for young agriculture students.

Why did you decide to support the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative?

I believe in the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative and the difference it will make around the world.  How could I pass on an opportunity to be a part of something so significant while also expressing my appreciation back to a university that staged my career success?

I also like the overall balance of what I see in the Plant Sciences Initiative. It goes beyond agriculture, and it’s far reaching. Could there be some biological microbials that help us? Most likely. But If we want to advance, we need a combination of better technologies in the plants, perhaps better microbials around the plants, as well as modes of action sprayed on the plant and soil to grow it. The N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative is balancing across all of these areas – and more.

You started several businesses last year during one Thanksgiving holiday alone. Why do you have such a large appetite for entrepreneurship?

I see opportunity in every direction I look, and prioritization is really my greatest challenge given my insatiable appetite for business and our industry. I enjoy being in the heat of battle and the daily discipline and intensity that it requires to drive success. 

I am incredibly fortunate and eternally grateful to have found a career and industry that inspired such an emotional connection and passion within me. I have been able to explore, learn and grow; and above all else, I continuously challenge myself to pursue what some may consider impossible. I find it difficult to celebrate milestone successes as much as when that peak is reached. It only brings visibility to the next peak to conquer, and I stand there with only one question: How far can we go? As I think about this question, it reminds me of a perspective shared with me from an individual who became a best friend as we interacted through the years in various capacities as supplier, customer, employer, and competitor. The feedback did not come directly from my friend, but rather words that he shared to others about me: “What makes Randy so effective and such a competitive threat is the blurred line he has between work and hobby.  Randy loves the game, and he’s an intense student of it.”  Yep, that’s a friend who truly knows me; I love what I do!

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.