Faces in the Crowd: Brad Morgan

March 8, 2018

By Aaron Michell

Brad Morgan sees the world a little bit differently.
Not surprising, considering he’s turned the management of manure – or ‘animal byproduct’, as he might call it – into a multi-million dollar industry.
Morgan, President and co-owner of Morgan Composting Inc, is the face – or one of the many faces, as he might say – behind the Doo. He’s the guy who took a bunch of manure and turned it into a brand.
The Dairy Doo brand.
As a farmer, an entrepreneur, and a self-described redneck, Morgan has taken manure and helped turn it into a livelihood for 38 employees and counting.
Those employees include co-owners Jeremy Morgan, Head of Operations, and Justin Morgan, CEO and Vice President.
And oh yeah, Jeremy and Justin are also known as Brad’s kids. And to Brad, family is more important than anything.
Family, community, and happiness were common themes throughout our recent conversation. We discussed the entrepreneurial mindset and applying that mindset to rural northern Michigan. We talked about hunting and fishing and basketball and all the other things that make Brad Morgan who he is today. We talked about everything that makes Brad more than just another face in the crowd.

The faces behind Morgan Composting Inc.

The faces behind Morgan Composting Inc.

Marion Press: How did this all come about?
Brad: I was a dairy farmer and I bought all my feed, so I had to find a way to get rid of all of my manure; the manure problems would’ve been here [on the farm] – and basically it was costing me about $25,000 to spread my manure on my uncle’s property, just to give it away.
As the dairy industry – even back then – become financially more stressful and tighter, I started looking for alternatives. I’ve always been involved in agriculture. I’ve always believed in the farm and I’ve always wanted to keep a family-run business. That’s just the foundation of where I was.
Basically, I started looking at composting, and we actually went to Michigan State and they said that you could do it, but it wouldn’t warrant the cost of operation. And I started looking around for products that were manufactured like what I was talking about, and they didn’t exist. So, I started doing investigation into the European countries and what they were doing for recycling and such, and that’s kind of how I got started.
And then my father, Dale, come in, and he was retiring from the road commission. And he didn’t have any money, so we started rubbing two nickels together thinking that we could make a quarter, and that’s how we started the business – as a very small mechanism to get rid of manure… It’s grown.
Now we have six composting sites in Michigan. We have Green Meadow Farms, which is a 3600 dairy cow operation; we have a composting facility in Fennville, which deals mostly with poultry manures and poultry compost; we have the home base here; we have a Kalamazoo operation; we have a Middleton operation; and now we have an operation in Marion.
The objective in Marion is to help take some of the pressure off of the excess manure in that area. These farms are getting bigger. They’re just getting bigger.
The bottom line is that I was trying to find out how to survive dairy farming, and at that time dairy farms were in trouble. And I was in trouble. And I was looking for a means to stay involved in agriculture, yet still find a way to provide a family-run business and create some opportunity for my family. And dad decided that he would get involved with me – and I’m not sure what he was thinking when he did.

MP: How did you get to where you are today?
Brad: In 1996, I had the idea of composting, and we started the composting and we named it Dairy Doo. Our objective that first year was to make enough money to cover our expenses and reduce that $25,000 loss that was going out to my manure. We more than exceeded that in our first year.
By year four, I sold the cows and put 100 percent of my focus on this company. In a matter of 15 years, it has grown to this degree. It’s come a long ways.
There are two sons, Justin and Jeremy, who are very much involved in where this company is and how it got there. It wasn’t just me. Jeremy is pretty much the head of operations here, and that’s growing very fast. Justin is the Vice President and CEO and he basically runs the whole operation. He sees things that have a very, very wide path, and that’s kind of neat to watch young people develop like that.
But we could go right down the line: Diane, Shawn, Nicole, Danielle – this company has every possible reason to exceed. We have our own agronomist on staff, Joel: he’s our soil scientist, he does a lot with product development and he works a lot with farms.
The neatest thing right now is we’re a unique company from the standpoint that we deal with everyone from homeowners to small vegetable growers to some of the mega-farms. To the point that we’ll touch close to 20,000 acres of potato grounds in Michigan. We do have an impact.
It’s been a family effort and I don’t see that changing. We’re comfortable doing what we’re doing.

Brad and his father, Dale.

Brad and his father, Dale.

MP: And you’re married, right? Tell us about your family.
Brad: Oh yeah. 39 years. Cindy Sue Morgan. She’s a beautiful woman and she’s been my wife for 39 years. We have four children: Jeremy, Justin, Jacob, and Jami. And so that was a really neat time when they were growing up and I was milking cows. I loved coaching basketball. Whenever I had free time that was what I wanted to be doing as the kids were growing up; it gave me an opportunity to do something other than work with them. And it was something that we enjoyed doing as a family as well.
Since then, now Justin is coaching in Evart – he coaches 7th grade girls’ basketball; him and Matt Tiedt. Jami works in Farwell at a housing complex, and Jeremy and Justin are invested in the company. Jacob works all over the state.

MP: And you graduated from Evart in the ‘70s. What was Evart like then?
Brad: Graduated in ’75. Evart was really quite a booming town back then. The downtown was always full. We kind of fell apart a little bit at one point, but the school district has come back very strong. I’ve never been as confident in our school system as I am now. We’ve really turned it around. And I say we, but I mean the whole district and administration. The City has been approved for downtown development and that has been a lot of work by a lot of people, and they’ve done a really nice thing.

MP: Outside of work, what do you like to do as a family?
Brad: We hunt. We hunt, we fish. One of the things that we try to do – and it’s tough to do as families start to grow – but I need a summer fishing trip with the boys. It don’t need to be long, but at some point in time that’s one of the most important things. The way I look at things, they’re my partners, they’re my business associates all the way through the year. And there are times when I just want my sons back.
It’s hard to explain, but when you’re in business balancing employees, finances, things that need done, customers; that engulfs you. But at some point in time, if I can’t look at Jeremy and see my son; if I can’t look at Justin and see my son, I’m not sure the trade-off would be worth the effort. So, we try every year to either do a hunting trip or a fishing trip of some sort.
In a perfect world, which we’ve done multiple times, we’ve done it as a complete family. That’s pretty important to me: Mom, Dad, my sons, my wife. As much as we can. More times than not it will be my wife and myself and our four kids and grandchildren.

MP: How many grandchildren do you have?
Brad: We have four right now. I might be a little biased, but they may all be perfect.

MP: Grandkids are perfect, right?
Brad: Jacob has a child: a little girl. Jeremy and Missy have three children: a son and two daughters. Justin is involved with a gal and we may be adding some more to the family, who knows. I’m very comfortable with that.
That’s the part when you’re so focused on business, is trying to separate [family and business] and that’s hard for me. A lot of times it’s hard for me unless I get completely removed and away from here.

MP: So where are some of the places you’d go?
Brad: Canada fishing. Up north of Wawa we have a little lake that we’ll go to. We’ve had an opportunity to get away and go to Montana a few times, hunting. We’ve gone to Oklahoma. We just made a trip to Florida.
But there is no such thing as free time – it’s time that you steal. Literally, in this type of business you have to almost steal this time. And you want it to be pretty important, but you realize that in a family run business when family pulls together they can grow at an amazing amount of speed because everyone’s pulling in the same direction. When they come unraveled, they unravel twice as fast because everything is personal. That’s why they’re so hard to maintain, generation after generation.
People look at me and say, well, you’ve done a lot of trips and so forth – well that’s what I call self-preservation mode.
If you don’t find a way to maintain some sense of a self-preservation mode, or at least an important piece to that puzzle – at least to understand that there’s still a family time.

MP: So when people might say that you shouldn’t do business with family, your self-preservation time is kind of your response to that?
Brad: It’s critical.
But I’ll tell ya the reason you DO do business with family:
There’s nobody that I would trust more; there’s nobody that has a better work ethic; there’s nobody that would get things done the way my boys do, and my father does. There’s nobody you can count on more. So, you can say whether it’s a good idea to do business with family or not, but the truth of the matter is that this company wouldn’t have gotten to where it’s at today if it wasn’t a family-run business.
I have little different perspective than most in business. I don’t know if it’s right, wrong, or indifferent, but it seems to be working for us, right now.

MP: And I know you were big into basketball. Do you still follow the sport?
Brad: Oh, absolutely. I started with the youth, and then I ended up coaching varsity girls for a couple years. I’m a huge [head coach Tom] Izzo fan. And I do believe that if there was a year where Michigan State had a chance to win it all, it’s this year. They’re pretty strong. You know who’s gonna stand in their way? Michigan.

MP: Really, you think so?
Brad: I think they’re the Devil’s advocate of Michigan State right now. They’re 2 for 2 against Michigan State this year. So if State don’t win, I’d love to see Michigan win.
I will tell ya that Izzo’s got a really strong group; they’re young, they’re hungry. But they’ve got some pretty big guns to get by in the tournament.

MP: So you don’t bleed maize and blue, or green and white, one way or the other?
Brad: No. I’ve always been an Izzo fan, but if Michigan State is out, I’ll root for Michigan in a heartbeat.
Same way with the kids, all the way through. Justin’s more of a Michigan fan. I got three grandkids and two of ‘em are Michigan State fans and one is a Michigan fan, so I went down and bought them all State jerseys, so now they’re forced to wear ‘em.

MP: And I know your family’s been involved in the community and in 4-H over the years, tell us about that.
Brad: We’re still involved in 4-H. The 4-H has taken over the greenhouse that’s in town, and we’ve been a major contributor to make sure that stays alive.
I think that we do a terrible job in our small communities of telling our kids that in order to be successful, you’ve got to leave [the area]. That’s what I call a trade deficit.
When you take your most gifted children and tell them that they can’t be successful in their own hometown, what you’re doing is diluting your small town.
If you’re a parent who thinks that they want something better for their kids, we keep telling them they gotta go someplace else. Sometimes the most positive thing that we can do is make sure that they understand with the technology and capabilities today, there are opportunities here no matter what they’re doing.
I do think we miss that in our public school systems; sometimes we can be our own problem. When we paint the role that you really have to leave the area to be successful, that’s not a good message.
We’ve been blessed, I’ll tell ya. We’ve been as broke as broke can be, there’s no question about it. This farm almost went up for sale because we couldn’t afford it. There were times I was gonna tear down buildings because we couldn’t afford the taxes. So, this is not something that just fell into our lap. This is something that we had to work very hard for. And, trust me, it could be lost – no business is exempt in today’s society.
On the other hand, I am confident that my boys will always find a point of success. They know how to work, they can communicate; they do have the tools. My hopes are that they always find happiness no matter what they’re doing. And that’s probably very doable today in northern Michigan.
I probably look at this rural community a little different than most. We’ve been very blessed. To sit here and try to convince you that we’re where we want to be, or that we’re wealthy – we’re not.
People, when they start talking about success, if they measure it by money they’re missing out. My success will not be determined until I’m history. I’ve got three boys and a daughter: my success is going to be measured by if they’re happy – and that doesn’t mean they’re gonna have the biggest bank account.
My mindset and work ethic is probably a little weird. I just feel like you have to get the most out of every day, in some way, shape or form. Whether you’re working, or whether you’re contributing to something, you’ve gotta put something in the cookie jar every single day.

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