Thomas Brown Paulk
Tommy Paulk grew up in Union Springs, Alabama, and from an early age worked at Bonnie Plants, the family business that was established in 1918. Paulk demonstrated a solid work ethic as he came up through the ranks, doing whatever tasks were needed, from driving trucks to working in the hay fields.
His exposure to Alabama agriculture increased as he flew a crop duster around the state, logging thousands of hours of flight time during the farm’s off season. It was also during this time that he completed his bachelor’s degree at Auburn University at Montgomery and went onto receive a law degree at the Jones School of Law in Montgomery.
In the mid-1970s, severe weather extremes and three consecutive years of hard freezes put the family business on the brink of bankruptcy and foreclosure, but in 1975, the Alabama Farmers Cooperative purchased Bonnie Plants, a move that saved the business and hundreds of jobs. Paulk became the company’s sales manager in 1977 and general manager in 1986. He directed a new marketing strategy to meet increasing consumer demand for established potted plants. The success of this program led the company to shift to a model that now encompasses 75 growing and distribution sites across the country.
Paulk ran Bonnie Plants division until 1994, when he became CEO of Alabama Farmers Cooperative, a position he held until his retirement in the summer of 2012.
Under Paulk’s leadership, Alabama Farmers Cooperative established a scholarship in the College of Agriculture that covers tuition and books, followed by a management-training program within the company. The Co-op also is supporting the implementation of a catfish production system developed in the fisheries and allied aquacultures department. The new concept is expected to revolutionize the catfish industry by allowing producers to grow more fish in a smaller space and by providing a cleaner environment for the fish, improving waste management, increasing food conversion rates, and enhancing disease control.
Tommy and Ruth Paulk have two children, Mahaley and Christopher, and one grandson, Duncan McInnes.