Wise awarded Cozad honor
CHAMPAIGN — One of the nation's top authorities in farmland management and marketing has been named Parkland College's V. Dale Cozad Entrepreneur of the Year.
Murray Wise, the chairman and chief executive officer of Champaign-based Murray Wise Associates, will be honored June 12 at a fund-raising banquet for the Parkland College Entrepreneurial Program.
Contacted by The News-Gazette on Tuesday, Wise said he was "stunned" to learn of the honor from Parkland College Tom Ramage. Wise said he had attended most of the banquets honoring previous winners and found their stories interesting.
Plus, he said the honor is particularly meaningful to him because "Dale Cozad played an integral part in my business life."
Wise formed Westchester Group in 1986 after acquiring the Champaign division of The Sandage Companies. Over time, Westchester grew to become a leader in farmland management and in farmland marketing through real estate and auction services.
Although the business initially concentrated on land in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, it eventually diversified into California almonds and wine grapes, Florida citrus, mid-South cotton and rice and Washington apples and cherries.
In 2010, Wise sold a majority interest in Westchester Group to retirement system giant TIAA-CREF, which was interested in investing in agriculture worldwide. At the time, Westchester managed more than $1 billion in agricultural assets and nearly 320,000 acres in the U.S. and Australia.
Wise continues to hold a board position with Westchester Group, as well as an equity ownership position.
TIAA-CREF did not acquire the auction side of the Westchester business, nor did it acquire Westchester's Iowa farm real estate and management office.
Those are now part of Murray Wise Associates, which conducts farm and land auctions in 14 states and provides real estate transaction and farm management services for individual investors.
A subsidiary, Murray Wise Capital, offers investment banking and strategic advisory services to agribusiness.
The two companies employ 12.
Wise is the author of two books, "Investing in Farmland" and "Farmland Investment Strategy." He has been a regular speaker at Chicago's Top Producer Seminar and Purdue University's Top Farmer Crop Workshop.
Plus, he chaired the World Agri Invest Congress in London, an event attended by international investors and asset managers.
Wise received a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Iowa State University in 1973 and got his start in agricultural real estate when he joined The Sandage Companies in Ames, Iowa. In 1982, he opened an office for Sandage in Champaign.
Three years later, he got the opportunity to buy Sandage's assets east of the Mississippi. The following year, he started several limited partnerships in farmland with help from V. Dale Cozad, the founder of Cozad Asset Management. Mr. Cozad died in 1993.
"What stands out to me about Murray is that he has a high-energy motor and is always looking toward the future," said Greg Cozad, son of Mr. Cozad and chief executive officer of Cozad Asset Management.
Cozad said Wise has been successful "because he is innovative, decisive and willing to embrace new opportunities."
"In recent years, I have been very impressed with Murray's quiet generosity to many, particularly those who have expressed an interest in either agriculture or entrepreneurship," Cozad added.
The June 12 banquet, which includes a 5 p.m. reception and a 6 p.m. dinner and program, will be held at the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign.
Suggested donation per ticket is $50. Tickets can be reserved by contacting Susan Goldenstein at the Parkland College Foundation at 217-351-2464.
Here are previous winners of the V. Dale Cozad Entrepreneur of the Year Award, given by the Parkland College Foundation:
— 2010: Clinton Atkins, Hobbico chairman and owner of The Atkins Group
— 2011: Rick Stephens, co-founder of Horizon Hobby
— 2012: Dwight Miller, area McDonald's franchisee
— 2013: Rudy Frasca, founder of Frasca International