Bob McClaren knows potential when he sees it. The former president of business operations for the Houston Astros and one of the driving forces behind the revitalization of downtown Houston now sees great possibilities for Texas A&M University’s new International Beef Cattle Academy (IBCA). That’s why McClaren, who currently serves as president and chief executive officer of 44 Farms, made a lead gift of $250,000 to establish the 44 Farms International Beef Cattle Academy Endowment.
The academy has the potential to expand Texas A&M’s leadership in agriculture even further across the world. McClaren’s gift, which also kicks off a multi-year $10.5 million fundraising campaign for Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science, will be used to support scholarships, the development of educational curriculum and other expenses incurred by the cutting-edge online program.
Strong Maroon Roots
Bob has strong roots in Aggieland. His father, S.W. “Mac” McClaren ’53, received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and earned the rank of captain in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. Mac returned to College Station to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering while his wife, Jo Ann, worked in the university’s registrar’s office. During that time, Bob was born in Bryan.
The family eventually moved to Grand Prairie, where Mac worked as an aerospace engineer. However, the family couldn’t resist the lure of Aggieland. “My dad loved Texas A&M and our family always stayed connected,” Bob said. “As a youngster, we always ended our vacations with at least a couple days in College Station. He always thought it was the best place on earth.”
However, Bob’s dream of earning a degree from Texas A&M was derailed as a teenager when his father became a paraplegic. Bob decided to attend the University of Texas at Arlington and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting so he could assist his mother with his father’s care. “His condition changed our family’s life forever,” he said. “It certainly was a struggle, but circumstances brought us very close as a family and strengthened our Christian faith tremendously.”
A Field of Dreams
After earning a law degree from Texas Tech University and briefly working in a law firm, Bob was hired as general counsel for the McLane Company, a multinational wholesale grocery company owned at the time by entrepreneur Drayton McLane Jr. Shortly after joining the company, Bob helped facilitate the company’s merger with Walmart.
Bob’s career moved from supply chain to the baseball diamond when he continued with McLane, who purchased the Houston Astros baseball team. As president of business operations, Bob spearheaded the effort to build a new ballpark in downtown Houston. The successful effort led to the creation of what is now Minute Maid Park, spurring the transformation of downtown Houston into a destination area. That experience also led Bob to become a major player in the renovation of both Kyle Field and Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park on the Texas A&M campus.
Home on the Ranch
After a stint as a sports television consultant and agent representing athletic players and coaches, Bob’s career path took a dramatic turn when he took over 44 Farms. Established in 1909 by Bob’s great-grandparents, Sherwood and Josie McClaren, 44 Farms was passed down through the generations and portions were sold to third parties. Bob and his sister, Janet Salazar, purchased the various properties, restored the brand and created a premier Black Angus ranch. “My dad always said, ‘Son, it is hard to make a living in production agriculture.’ But I still liked it,” Bob said. “The whole agriculture thing was always interesting to me, but I never had any real-life experience other than when we visited my grandparents. I always had a great admiration for the men and women of production agriculture because of the hard work and consistency that’s involved.”
His dream was to find a way to make a production agriculture ranch successful. He started 44 Farms as a genetics business in which the team tried to develop the best possible Angus genetic stock. In doing so, Bob and his team also strived to change the paradigm that classified the beef industry as a commodity. “Our whole program is to provide genetics that make cattle better quality so they can grow and thrive without any kind of additional hormones being added,” he said. “We believe genetics can drive profitability and our proven program really makes a difference for ranchers.”
That effort created a following for the ranch, setting the table for the company to launch a branded beef program, 44 Farms All Natural Beef, which is currently in 607 restaurants across the United States. That program proved very successful, nearly doubling the number of restaurants served every year since it started. Fall 2019 marks the launch of the company’s Prime Pursuits beef program, which will make premium Angus beef available in select Walmart stores.
Bob’s work with 44 Farms has brought together many of his previous professional contacts as well as his extensive experience. He believes there is a parallel between professional sports and 44 Farms in that both must develop strong systems—the minor leagues in baseball and the genetics program in cattle development—to create a quality product.
An Eye for Seeing Potential
Bob’s entrepreneurial experiences are exactly what drew his interest to funding the IBCA. The academy is a certificate program focused on advancing the knowledge of students worldwide in the latest technologies related to beef production. Furthermore, with advancements in online learning, college leaders see a huge opportunity to leverage the department’s collective knowledge and the Texas A&M brand to reach many more international stakeholders.
This effort is critical because of the world’s growing population, an increasing demand for animal protein and diminishing resources. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, the world will be home to 9 billion people. This will require beef production to increase by 120 percent by then. To achieve this goal will require those who work in the beef cattle industry to increase beef efficiency. That’s where the IBCA plans to help.
Online, On-Demand and Customized
The academy, which enrolled its first class in fall 2018, offers online courses that cover several topics, including cattle nutrition, breeding and genetics, forage production and utilization, and herd health management. Each class is taught by at least two Texas A&M faculty members who are leaders in their subject areas. In addition, the IBCA will tap in to a network of international experts, such as Temple Grandin, an animal science specialist at Colorado State University. “We want the students to learn from the best,” said Associate Professor Reinaldo Cooke, who coordinates the academy with Texas A&M colleague Ky Pohler.
The academy is designed for seasoned professionals who have a strong background in beef production. “Our students are not traditional students,” Cooke said. “They are working in operations, in the industry or are researchers, and they need to expand their knowledge. To accommodate their busy schedules, we’re being flexible in letting students choose when to take their classes.”
The program, which currently has 13 participants but will grow to 30 in the future, is tailored to meet the needs of these busy professionals. “We’re doing something unique,” Cooke explained. “That’s why we have a small group size. It’s very 1-to-1 so we can customize each student’s experience based on their location in the world, their educational needs, and what they need to learn to go on and make a difference.”
The first cohort of students, who will graduate in fall 2019, come from Texas, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Romania. Program leaders want these students not only to learn the latest about beef cattle but also to disseminate this information through their own regional networks.
The IBCA is also an integral part of the Department of Animal Science’s larger strategic effort as a Texas A&M University Area of Excellence. “There was this space where there were very few people doing this work,” said Department of Animal Science Department Head G. Cliff Lamb. “IBCA is just one of many initiatives in the department. It is designed for us to be known nationally and internationally as the Department of Animal Science and to be the leader in beef cattle production systems.”
To support the Department of Animal Science or the International Beef Cattle Academy, contact Jennifer Burnett ’05 at email@example.com or (979) 862-5923.