Posted: November 30, 2023

Founder of Consulting Firm Beck Ag Named Ag Sciences Outstanding Alumnus

Photo: Courtesy John Finegan

Photo: Courtesy John Finegan

John Finegan, founder and chairman of the board of Beck Ag, an agricultural industry consulting firm, was honored as a 2023 College of Agricultural Sciences Outstanding Alumnus. The award recognizes alumni for their achievements and provides opportunities for recipients to interact with the college's faculty, students and other alumni.

A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Finegan earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture from Penn State in 1979. A successful entrepreneur, Finegan's journey to being the founder of Beck Ag started with a two-year contract with the Peace Corps.

"When I was a senior, I just didn't know what I wanted to do," Finegan said. "I went to a meeting with a recruiter from the Peace Corps, and it sounded great. It also helped me meet the expectations of a scholarship I'd received requiring that I do something to give back to society. I signed up in January 1979 and was in the Philippines by June."

After two years working as an ag educator with the Peace Corps, Finegan returned to the U.S. and took a sales position with Chevron, where he promoted and educated farmers on conservation tillage, cover crop usage and no-till farming.

Over the next 15 years, Finegan moved all over the country, from Virginia to Maryland and California to Washington, D.C., and finally to Chicago. Around that time, he pursued entrepreneurship and started Beck Ag with his business partner, Charlie Beck. The company uses experience-sharing and advocacy to accelerate behavior change and technology adoption in agriculture. Beck was already doing this in medicine with peer-to-peer programs with doctors.

"I don't think that I thought I'd ever be a business owner," Finegan said. "But I loved the concept of having farmers learning from their peers. It wasn't something being done at the time. The business model got me jazzed to pursue it. It also helped to have Charlie Beck help to capitalize the business. He took some of the risks out of starting my own business through his investment. Together, we developed a good reputation."

Finegan has been a longtime supporter of his alma mater, particularly of the college, through the Ray Finegan Agricultural Leadership Endowment in honor of his father and The Arboretum at Penn State.

"It was the early 2000s when Kim Steiner, the Arboretum's founding director, bounced the idea off me," Finegan said. "I'm super proud of what has been built as one of the initial funders. It keeps getting better. The Arboretum at Penn State is a treasure. I stop every time I'm on campus."

Additionally, his experience as a business owner and his desire to see the college continue to produce more entrepreneurial-focused students has inspired him to support the college's Entrepreneurship and Innovation program through a future estate commitment.

Finegan was honored to be recognized by the college as an outstanding alumnus.

"I'm happy and proud that the College of Agricultural Sciences has recognized me," he said. "I'm an ag guy. It was so rewarding that the college recognized me."

—Susan Bedsworth Warner