At Work, Here and There: Scott Lively’s organic beef business

Scott Lively and one of his four children, Sarah, in their Edgartown kitchen where he tests his products. — Photo courtesy of Scott Lively

At Work Here and There is an occasional series about Martha’s Vineyard residents who take advantage of advances in high-speed broadband access to the web and digital communications to telecommute, doing business off-Island while enjoying life on the Island.

Scott Lively is the managing director of the Katama Company, a growing multi-million dollar company that employs hundreds of people and that owns and manages organic, sustainable food brands, primarily organic beef.

Unlike some commuting Island professionals, Mr. Lively does not travel to a major urban center on a daily or weekly basis. Instead, he runs his company from a two-room office across from the Triangle in Edgartown.

An athletic looking, upbeat 40-year-old, Mr. Lively speaks quickly and moves with economy. He has the habit of framing most things as opportunities. It’s never, “we had a chance.” But always, “we had an opportunity.”

He is on the road every other week for a few days, mostly to Seattle, Oregon, and Chicago. “All over really. I like to stay involved and hands-on as much as possible,” he said during a recent conversation in his Island office. He says that travel to and from the Island is not a problem. “It’s easy to get on and off the Island, especially in the winter when it’s not crowded.”

The Katama Company owns and manages eight different businesses at the moment. “They have to be sustainable, organic, health- and wellness-oriented businesses,” he said. “I hate the multitude of ingredients in pre-packaged food. If I can’t recognize the ingredients, I just don’t eat it.”

One company, Sustainable Gourmet, produces a pre-packaged, marinated tenderloin fillet with sea salt, rosemary, and black pepper. “It’s ready to go on the grill, and it’s all organic,” Mr. Lively said.

His largest business, Organic Ranchers, processes and sells organic meat. The other companies are in related businesses — from organic, gluten-free turkey balls to bio-degradable serving trays. The Katama Company buys cattle from farmers all over the country and processes most of its meat in North Dakota and Oregon. They sell to major chains like Costco and Trader Joe’s. “If you buy private label organic beef, most of the time it is probably ours,” he said.

Mr. Lively said he often either works out or plays tennis early in the morning, sometimes after taking very early morning calls from European businesses. “It’s not unusual for me to come to the office for a couple of hours before going back home to help get the kids to school, then work out.” Calls from the West Coast sometimes keep him working late.

“The culture here is really conducive to getting stuff done,” Mr. Lively said. “Everyone talks about this laid-back mentality, that’s kind of a summer thing. In the winter people are working. They’re moving stuff. There is time to focus. They’re getting things done.”

He and his wife, Julie, say they love living on Martha’s Vineyard. The parents of four elementary school children, they live in Edgartown.

One of his favorite things about living here, he said, is that his kids can walk to his office when school is out, do their homework, and then hang out with him before they all walk home together.

Mr. Lively’s current passion is tennis. He also plays baseball with a local 40 and over group, and he is on a men’s travel soccer team. He coaches the boy’s 11-year-old soccer travel team, and he bought an interest in the local futures collegiate baseball team, the Sharks.

“I am all business for eight to ten hours a day,” he said. “But then I can relax.” He said he rarely answers his phone on weekends.

Mr. Lively studied education at Arizona State University and settled in Chicago, working in sales and business development for several software companies for almost 10 years.

He and Julie, his girlfriend at the time, first visited the Island when a workmate in Chicago won a few days in a Cape bed and breakfast and invited them down. Mr. Lively said they fell in love with the area, and with each other, at about the same time and were married on the Vineyard.

One of his jobs in Chicago involved working with supply chain management software. An investment banker friend told him about a large beef company that was looking for “software that would measure all the components in the supply chain.” They helped develop software that could manage the livestock industry “way back to the livestock side, genetics, bull sperm, … all the way up to a hamburger.”

They mapped out the software for the customer, who said it was too much information. The next idea was to sell this software to other beef companies, but it became clear no one wanted that much information.

Mr. Lively and his wife later moved to England for a year when Mr. Lively took a job overseas.

While working in England, he researched the beef industry, writing a history of the American beef industry. He also decided to build a beef company. “I thought I could make a better company and a better product using our software,” he said.

It was a time when meat sales were booming, due in part to the popularity of the Atkins diet. Mr. Lively also noticed people were beginning to eat more organic vegetables. He thought he could merge the two ideas. He started a company called Dakota Beef, which quickly became the largest producer of organic beef in the country.

“When we got back, he was starting his business in South Dakota, and we came here while he was doing some consulting in Boston,” Julie Lively said. “We were trying to figure out where to live. Eight and a half years later, we are still here.”

After an acrimonious separation from his partners in Dakota Beef (he says they are all now friends again), Mr. Lively started his own company, which he then merged with a friend’s business to form the Katama Company. “I don’t think I would be as relaxed or successful if I didn’t live on the Island. It has this calming effect.”

What are his goals, aside from improving his ground strokes on the tennis court? He says he would like to double the size of his business. “The company is already bigger than I thought it would be at this stage. This is my life. I live it. If you want to leave a legacy and do something for your kids, you gotta work. Nothing comes easy. You know what I mean? Let’s get some sushi.”