Financial Training Leads Arizona Farmer From Turnrow To Wall Street And Back
• By Carroll Smith,
Growing up in an Arizona cotton production area, Brian Rhodes never imagined the twists and turns his career path would take.
His parents were schoolteachers in Casa Grande, but some of their family friends were farmers. This ag connection turned into summer work for Rhodes, who says he “really enjoyed it and got to know the business.”
After obtaining his Arizona pest control advisor license, Rhodes started a custom spraying company. While attending Arizona State University, he secured a small acreage and began farming on his own.
“As I progressed through my university education, I was always interested in finance and Wall Street,” Rhodes says. “I had to work hard to get into one of the big Wall Street firms, but I finally landed a job as an analyst at Lehman Brothers in New York after graduating from ASU in 1999.
“People normally step into these types of financial positions in August, but the company allowed me to defer my start date. August wouldn’t work with a cotton crop in the ground. After wrapping up the season, I quit farming and joined Lehman in January 2000.”
Rhodes and his wife, April, moved to New York and settled into a downtown apartment near Battery Park City.
“I was in close walking distance to my office, which was next door to the Twin Towers in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan,” he says. “I had a 9 a.m. meeting Sept. 11. At 8:45, I was still on the street when I noticed the tower burning although I had not seen the plane hit it. A massive amount of people was standing there watching.
“We soon heard a big explosion as the second plane hit and debris began falling. It became apparent this was not an accident. It was intentional. Cell phones were blocked out by that time, so I couldn’t communicate much. People on the ground who had radios said the media was reporting multiples planes in the air. Then the Pentagon was hit.
“I ran back to my apartment building and took out as much cash as the nearby ATM machine would allow. I retrieved my wife’s 20-pound cat, grabbed a few of our personal things and went down to the street. Since I was nearby when the towers fell, I was consumed by smoke and dust and began walking not really knowing where I was going. It was chaos.”
Rhodes eventually flagged down a taxi to take him north of Manhattan to Westchester County where his wife was with family friends. The trip took four to five hours as the driver navigated around bridges and tunnels that had been closed.
“Watching everything happen in real time was very difficult,” he says. “But I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am grateful for that. Our building was so damaged, we never moved back in it. We worked out of a hotel for a year before Lehman bought a building from Morgan Stanley in Times Square.”
Back To Arizona
Rhodes says he and his wife didn’t move back to Arizona because of 9/11, but New York had become a different place.
“I still had some leases where I had farmed before,” he says. “We moved back with a small acre base and grew from there.”
Then his career path took yet another turn. In 2005-06 when a lot of Arizona farmland was slated for development, Rhodes and his family moved back East. He attended the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, received his MBA and wound up back in New York on Wall Street.
“As I was sitting in my office around 2011, 2012, I’m watching cotton prices hit $1-plus,” he says. “We had children by then, and that was getting tough in New York. So we moved back to Arizona in 2012. Today, we have about 20,000 acres under our umbrella in Pinal County. We farm between 5,000 and 6,000 acres of cotton every year.”
100% Seed Production
Rhodes is also a foundation producer for BASF cotton and an e3 sustainable cotton grower. The company’s nursery operation was on their farm for several years before BASF consolidated them in Lubbock, Texas.
“Not all of our land is in the foundation category,” he says. “But we are 100% seed production for seed companies. Most of it is with BASF cotton, but we also produce seed for Dyna-Gro and Deltapine although I don’t have any Deltapine this year.”
When asked if he still yearns to be in the financial world, Rhodes says he misses it at times but has “kept his toe in it” via an ag investment group.
“There is a huge finance component to farming, too,” Rhodes says. “My financial background helps with risk mitigation when prices are volatile. But having a decent looking crop this year and 90-cent-plus cotton is something I am excited about.”