Pork Commentary: In Memoriam

CANADA - This weeks North American Pork Commentary from Jim Long
calendar icon 15 November 2006
clock icon 6 minute read

J. Douglas Maus, 1956 – 2006

Last week a friend and partner passed away. Doug Maus, President of Farms.com collapsed with a heart attack playing hockey and never regained consciousness. Doug was in his 50th year.

It is times like this that subjects such as the swine market appear trivial. I want to take this opportunity to remember and reminisce about Doug.

I first came to know Doug in 1979-1980. He was working on his family farm about 60 miles from my family’s farm. My family had about 1500 sows then and Doug was beginning a career brokering feeder pigs. Over the next five years, Doug sold thousands of my family’s pigs. If you knew Doug, you know how he could talk. No one could hold a candle to the amount of time Doug could talk on the phone. I don’t think I am exaggerating to say that there was probably a minute of phone conversation per pig he sold for us. Doug had a wonderful personality, exceptional intelligence and innate ability to sell. Doug was born with a livestock trading gene. His grandfather, J.W. Maus had a legendary reputation as a cattle and swine trader who amassed large farm holdings. Doug continued the family tradition.

In about 1985, Doug wondered if my family would be interested in partnering with him, if he went fulltime in the feeder pig brokering business. We agreed. What’s interesting in my mind is that even though we had done business with Doug for over five years, we had never met. In retrospect, after the number of hours we had talked on the phone we did know each other.

I remember during this time, we sold some pigs to a group in New York State. They had paid for the pigs but told us that many were dying. Doug and I talked. We decided Doug would drive over to see them. The farm was near Ithaca, New York. Doug went to the barns. They were converted chicken barns, railway ties as slats and long troughs that they fed the pigs whey in – whey and only whey. The pigs were dying of salt poisoning. Doug thought that he would go and see the owner who had a small abattoir. The owner was from New York City. He didn’t appear to be a farmer – a pretend farmer. Doug looked around and left. Their helicopter pad had made him nervous. He found out that the ‘farmer’ had just got out of jail after twenty years. We decided we didn’t need any more of their business. A few weeks later, the place was closed down in a large narcotic bust. Over the next twenty years, Doug and I would laugh about this experience. Always in the context “Some people aren’t worth doing business with.“

Doug was really good at selling but some months were better than others. One month, I remember Doug’s cell phone bill was greater than sales receipts (commissions). A testimony to Doug’s commitment to oral communication.
After a couple of years, Doug said he wanted to go on his own. We agreed. Doug then began M&F Livestock. The business evolved like most others, with normal ups and downs, but continually growing. We continued to do business with each other and be friends.

In the swine price debacle of 1998-1999, Doug and M&F got caught with several feeder pig purchase contracts on formula prices. Many of the buyers for these contract pigs ran away in the market crash. M&F lost lots of money and could not honour these purchase contracts. Doug and Bob Fraser, who joined with Doug in 1995, went to most, if not all, of their contract suppliers and apologized for what had happened. They promised and committed that when and if they had the money, they would come good for it.

In the same time period, Doug, Bob and Joe Dales (also with M&F) incubated eHarvest.com, an agriculture related internet site. The internet concept was growing while the swine business was in the tank. If there was ever a time for perseverance, vision, nerve, resourcefulness, etc, it was then. In the darkest of business hours, when all appeared lost due to the losses in the feeder pig business, a miracle, or at least really good fortune. The eHarvest.com portal was purchased for a lot of money plus a number of shares as it morphed into Farms.com.

Soon after, Doug and Bob Fraser did as they promised. The million or so dollars they promised to make good on in the bad contracts was lived up to. Doug and Bob visited the producers and wrote the cheques. Few, if any would have done the same. It was about honour. It was about integrity and character. It is about never giving up. It was one of Doug’s finest hours.

Since then, Farms.com has evolved into several business groups. The original feeder pig trading M&F group, which is the largest in North America, the ownership of PigCHAMP software company, a risk management group, AgCareers.com, agriculture land holdings and of course the Farms.com internet portal.

Doug had the ability to attract loyal and capable people to work with him. At the funeral home and funeral, about 1,000 paid their respects. Many were his colleagues, who had not only lost their president but someone that they liked and respected. It was a sad day. Doug lived every day looking to the future. He was a classic entrepreneur, always intrigued and curious by what is possible, not what is impossible. Doug was my friend, for over 25 years, our lives were intertwined. We both had our ups and downs. We even both have 4-year old boys three weeks apart in age. Doug’s death really hits home.

As we go through life, we all have met people that matter - people with substance, character and honour. We like to have such people as friends. Doug was such a person. I’m glad he was my friend. I will miss him.

Written by Jim Long, Genesus Genetics / Keystone Pig Advancement Inc. - 14th November 2006 - Reproduced courtesy Farms.com

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