Children are encouraged to chase their dreams of becoming astronauts, athletes, superheroes, and cowboys, but very few people hold onto those aspirations. They devote their early adult lives just trying to make a living, banking on the idea they will live out their dreams in retirement. But what if there was a way to accomplish both?
Dare to be Bold Episode No. 5 showcases a software-developing cowboy, Mr. James O’Brien. James is a seven-generation working cowboy on the O’Brien family ranch. James explains, “Ever since I was old enough to do something, I was watching my dad, uncles and the hands out here do bold things [such as] roping bull yearlings on two-year-old colts because that is what needs to be done…. I had an opportunity early on to watch people be bold because they had to be.” James recalls growing up thinking, “‘Man they can do anything. I can do anything too!’” At first glance, his personal story tugs at everyone’s inner child as he technically left the big city and followed his passion back to his family’s ranch. However, after discussing with James the concept of tapping into his personal calling, his drive to provide for his family while fulfilling his dreams is far more than simply abandoning the big city. He figured out a way to combine ranch life with urban technology. James was able to continue working on the ranch while providing new business opportunities.
The story begins in 1834 when the O’Brien Ranch was founded in the outskirts of Beeville, Texas by his long line of ancestors. The ranch began laying the roots for a family-run business with the production of beef. . Today, beef production is still their primary operation. The O’Briens seem to have always had an inherent business sense. James’s grandfather, John Morgan O'Brien, started raising Quarter Horses with the intent of using them on the ranch for working cattle rather than having to buy them. The ranch’s Quarter Horse reputation grew into selling show and rodeo horses which continues to play a key role in the family’s business operation today.
The O’Brien Ranch was sewn into the family’s way of life. Generation after generation, the family was born and raised on the ranch. However, James grew up during a different time when the internet connected the entire world and the ranch life became a luxury. James was faced with the decision to stay connected with the rest of the world or hold onto the old way of life. “It is hard to stay connected to this when it seems like the whole world is blowing past it.”
Instead of picking one or the other, James decided to embrace both. “I studied computer engineering at Texas A&M University, embraced the technology, embraced the progress and at the same time embraced the history too…. When I went into computer engineering I thought that whatever my “real job” would be, I could do it from anywhere. And anywhere means here [the ranch].... I wanted to train horses. That is what I wanted to do. But I [also] wanted to be able to make a living…. I was persistent enough to keep doing other opportunities that might be related to horses and might be related to agriculture.” These opportunities helped him develop the skills necessary to get back to the ranch.
While at Texas A&M, James met his wife, Tonni, who was studying marketing. Upon graduating, they founded a software company based in San Antonio, Texas, and developed a program to keep records for their equine operation which later pivoted into a marketing company. “If I thought I could support a family as soon as I graduated high school, I would have been on the ranch… But that lifestyle is not a lifestyle that you can support a wife and two little girls.” In order for James to return to the ranch, it was necessary to bring alternative revenue models and ways to improve his business so that he could live the ranch life while still making a living.
The O’Brien Ranch was born out of necessity, but over the past 184 years, the family has continued to grow their beef production while fostering new opportunities as they arise. In addition to raising Quarter Horses, James has included a horse training program, a direct-to-consumer grass-fed beef program launching this fall, and an upcoming book series titled The Ranch Princess. Today, James, his father Morgan, his uncles Mick and Dick, and Mick's son Kelley O'Brien work on the ranch full time.
Update on August 23rd. Dare to be Bold Episode 5 is now live!