10 Jan Career Spotlight: Auctioneer
Sometimes the best way to illuminate the truth about something is through honest storytelling. This is the story of tragic loss, friendship, a love for the beef industry, and a two-week trip to Montana.
Lanse T. Fox was raised in Kaufman, Texas, a small farming and ranching community about thirty miles southeast of Dallas. He would return there with the intention of bettering his town through the practice of veterinary medicine, a dream that would only last briefly before his untimely death shortly after returning home. I met Lanse while we were both undergraduate students at Texas A&M. We spent hours barbecuing, laughing, travelling together, working with each other, and enjoying the company of our mutual friends. At an annual cookoff, an event Lanse regularly attended but skipped in 2014, we received a call about his passing.
The next several weeks, especially his funeral, were extremely difficult for Lanse’s friends and family. The sadness of his death was magnified intensely by his youth and the fact that he was beloved by so many. But as time progressed, changes began to take place. I mean real, positive changes, not some abstract idea from a self-help book. Lanse’s donated organs saved lives. Friendships that had been nearly swept away were renewed with fresh vigor. New bonds were formed between his high school buddies, his college friends, and the wonderful people with whom he attended vet school. At the behest of Lanse’s best friend, Keith, we gathered together in his honor and formed a nonprofit organization to raise scholarship money. After two years, the Dr. Lanse T. Fox Memorial Organization has endowed a scholarship at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. Now, students attending school there will receive money to help offset the tremendous costs associated with receiving a degree in the honorable profession that Lanse loved so much.
Lanse was fond of all animals, but being raised in a farming and ranching family instilled in him a particular interest in livestock. We worked together for a time at a ranch in college, and Lanse could perform miracles with a horse that I could barely get to stand on four legs. He was comfortable around the cattle, at ease and confident in his abilities. It was partly through our work there that I also became passionate about the livestock industry. I didn’t grow up on a ranch, so I had to find other ways to become involved over the years. It had been suggested to me several times that I might consider being an auctioneer. While the thought intrigued me, I never pursued it.
After Lanse passed away, I began to consider who in my life I held most dear. It occurred to me that the majority of those folks lived within a close proximity to San Antonio, Texas, so after much unnecessary delay I finally sold my home in West Texas, packed up my things without a clue as to how I would earn a living, and moved to the Alamo City. I had some time to reflect on my past career mistakes and successes, and the idea of auctioneering came floating back to the forefront of my mind. As my friends and I were planning for the annual event we hold for Lanse each year, discussion turned to how we could improve our live auction. That was enough for me. I did some research and settled on the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana.
I was surprised that auctioneer school only lasted ten days. Most of that time was relearning how to count (that sounds ridiculous, but when was the last time you counted backwards from 100 in increments of two-and-a-half?) and studying the different rules and responsibilities among the subsets of the auction business. Those ten days, however, are just a launching point. According to Nick Bennett, owner of the college, becoming a full-time auctioneer takes practice and patience. And of course, like all career profiles we have done so far, there is the advice to shadow an industry veteran. “I could have jumped out on my own, but the failures would have been much more prolific if that’s what I’d have chosen to do,” says Bennett.
Bennett, who was looking for a way to reenter the beef industry after college, attended Western in 2012 after spending some time working for a local auction company. During a dinner one night with the owners of the college, he casually mentioned that he might be interested in purchasing the school someday if they ever wanted to sell. He was thinking four or five years down the road, but a month later he received a phone call and things were quickly set into motion. Now, in addition to running the school’s multiple yearly sessions, he calls bids at livestock, auto, and equipment auctions in Montana and across the country.
Bennett retains a cadre of industry experts to instruct students in every facet of the industry, from purebred livestock sales to benefit auctions and everything in between. Students who graduate emerge with a basic understanding of the opportunities for auctioneers and hopefully a commitment to upholding the ethical standards of the business.
There is definitely a fun, flashy side to auctioneering. Calling bids, the chant, the cattle rattle: however it is defined, a good auctioneer can mystify a buying audience with the art in a way that is undeniably poetic in its own right. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of world champion auctioneer and Superior Livestock regular Ralph Wade selling cattle in Fort Worth with a camera on his hat. But the auctioneer is not on the block simply to entertain; he serves a key function in the marketing of agricultural products. Bennett cites full transparency and price discovery as contributions of auctioneering to the vast world of agricultural sales. “The auction method of marketing is a fun, fast, and transparent way to transfer assets . . . Anytime you take an asset and put it on a competitive bidding platform, that’s where you are going to achieve market value on that day at that time, no matter what,” he says.
Opportunities abound for entrepreneurial individuals interested in auctioneering. Auctions are changing the way they conduct business with the rapid technological advancements inundating the market. Bennett states, “The biggest changes that are taking place in the auction industry are technology based, and our industry is going through a lot of evolution with regards to technology.” Online-only and simulcast auctions have allowed remote buyers to participate in the process, whether that be livestock, land, or agricultural equipment, lending even further transparency and liquidity to the marketplace.
Upon graduating from the program and returning to Texas, I had the opportunity to sell a handful of cattle at a local auction. It was slightly unnerving, but I have not felt that kind of exhilaration in many years. If you want an idea about the lives of the people on the other side of the mic, read our post on order buyers. It’s tough to auction cattle for a living. In fact, I knew right away that I would have to supplement my income with a full-time job and work my way into calling bids over several years. But it’s a passion, and like all labors of love something to which I am willing to commit without immediate results.
More importantly, I was able to utilize my new skillset at our annual live auction to raise money for Lanse’s scholarship. In our second year, we nearly doubled the amount of money raised. This, of course, was not solely due to my prowess as a bid caller. The real heroes in this story are the men and women who gave so freely and selflessly of their time and monetary resources to build something of lasting value.
Auctioneers, even those who only step on the block occasionally, can set into motion beautiful and concrete changes in this world. Lanse was always the life of the party, and I like to think that he would have had a joke locked and loaded, something about finally putting my love of talking to good use. At any rate, I am proud to belong to a group of professionals dedicated to assisting agriculturists transact business, and even more proud that I can stand in front of a crowd each year and honor a man who was a true blessing to his profession, his community, and his friends.
In honor of Dr. Lanse T. Fox
Veterinarian, Musician, Outdoorsman, Songwriter, Cowboy, Aggie, Son, Friend, Organ Donor
1986 – 2014