On the evening of Friday, February 3, 2023, to a packed room at the Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort Hotel & Spa at Grand National, AlaTrade Founder Davis Lee was inducted into the Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor for agribusiness.
Davis Lee is one of the most influential figures of the Alabama agriculture industry.
Originally from Arapahoe, North Carolina, Lee’s career in the industry is long and illustrious. He has been a mainstay of the Alabama poultry industry ever since he began working for ConAgra Poultry in Decatur, Alabama, in 1977.
His working days started even before that. The son of aircraft mechanic Lytle and his wife Eva, Lee worked in the field starting at age 8 to earn money for school clothes.
Lee’s first experience with chickens arrived when he was 13. As part of his school’s agricultural project, Lee ordered 150 chicks from Purina. Lee was tasked with overseeing the chickens’ growth and cultivation before they were sold. By the time the chickens were ready to be sold, however, only 52 of them remained; Lee had eaten the rest. His teacher was pleased with his bookkeeping, he says, if not his profit margin.
While in college majoring in business administration, Lee worked for two summers on a commercial fishing trawler out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and worked night shifts at a pork processing plant.
His first job out of college in 1960 was an accounting position at Rose Hill Poultry Company in Rose Hill, North Carolina. In the span of two years, he worked his way up to sales manager. Just a year later, he had increased the sales volume of Rose Hill Poultry by 100%.
Lee served as the president of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association from 1992 until 1993. In 2000, after “retiring” from his 40-year career working in the poultry industry, Lee found the opportunity to start AlaTrade Foods, a processing company that currently debones more than 400 million pounds of chicken a year. He has also started companies specializing in wood pellets and wood pellet burning furnaces for poultry houses.
When it was time to “retire” again in June 2021, Lee decided to thank his workers by converting AlaTrade into an employee-owned business. Today, The Guntersville-based business with plants in Albertville, Boaz, and Phenix City, Alabama, is one of the largest employee stock ownership plans in Alabama.
Lee has also provided for his community in countless ways. He founded a school to teach English to Hispanic students living in proximity to an AlaTrade Foods location. In 2008, he founded the Liberty Learning Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to facilitating active citizenship and civil work programs for children across the state.
Lee’s family and friends as well as AlaTrade President/CEO John Pittard, AlaTrade CFO Andrea Elrod, and AlaTrade VP of Operations Kevin Parnell attended the banquet to honor Lee.
Since 1985, the Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor has inducted three individuals each year: one in agribusiness, one in education/government, and one in production. In addition to Lee’s induction in 2023, Ray Hilburn was inducted as the education/government honoree, and Billy Maples was inducted as the production honoree.
*content provided in part from the Auburn University College of Agriculture 2023 Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor Banquet program