Financial and Business Consultant Anna Richards Helps Keep Farm Businesses Sustainable

Celebrating 10 Under 10 honoree Anna Richards, MBA ’20

By: Janice Endresen
upper body photo of Anna Richards with a spring garden in the background

Anna Richards, MBA ’20, founder and CEO of 2020 Consulting

A financial and business consultant who is passionate about the agricultural industry and the people who grow our food, a 4-H leader who helps youth build confidence and independence, and a mother dedicated to raising powerful daughters, Anna Richards, MBA ’20 (Executive MBA Americas) is one of the inaugural 10 Under 10 Notable Alumni honored by the Johnson Recent Alumni Council (JRAC).

Anna Richards standing with her arm around the neck of her horse, who is looking at the camera
Anna Richards with her horse, Shorty. She rides him to work cows on a friend’s ranch and to compete in reined cow horse competitions.

Richards is founder and CEO of 2020 Consulting, a financial management and business consulting startup she launched when she was a student and working at Cornell. “I spent my early career working in financial services for agricultural businesses,” says Richards. “After a few years, I had found a niche working on succession planning and generational transfer from a tax and asset preservation standpoint, but I still felt that I was missing the bigger picture.”

That’s when Richards came to work for Cornell as a dairy business management specialist and enrolled to earn her MBA. In 2019, she stepped out on her own as an independent consultant. “While I was initially focused on providing just management accounting support and succession planning services, I soon found there was an overwhelming demand for comprehensive financial analysis as well,” she says. “I made the decision that I wanted the company to be something greater than myself, and began to bring on staff and scale up. Today, we work with about 85 clients in 16 different states, and are continuing to grow rapidly.”

Richards lives in Skaneateles, NY. Her favorite quote comes from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Learn more about Richards in this Q&A.

Inspired to Help Farm Owners Remain Sustainable

Q. What drives your commitment and focus in your professional career?

Anna Richards standing next to a man, both dressed in blue jeans and looking at a ledger, in a dairy barn with hay and cows in the background
Anna Richards reviewing financials with a farm owner in his dairy barn

Richards: My career has always been centered on a love for agriculture and the people who make up the industry. The work ethic, dedication, and passion they display is unmatched, and to earn the respect and trust of the cohort that feeds the world is a great honor. Working with these businesses—often families—to help them remain sustainable through generations is rewarding in its own right.

As I grew to find my place in the industry, however, I discovered that I also deeply love running my own business. Being able to give opportunities to others and support them in their career development is just as rewarding, if not more so.

In agriculture, community and industry involvement go hand in hand

“Like a lot of people in the agricultural field, for me, community involvement and industry involvement go hand in hand,” says Richards. “I rarely think of it as community service, because I’ve always felt that I get more out of them than I give.” Richards’ community service activities include:

  • 4-H: “Being involved as a 4-H leader has given me a way to connect to people in new communities as I’ve moved, while helping provide meaningful opportunities for youth.”
  • New York Agricultural Land Trust: “Sitting on the board allows me to be a part of helping to preserve open space and keep land in production, but also gives me a place to connect with other people who share the same values within my community.
  • Early Childhood Center: “Being a board member lets me help ensure there’s high quality, affordable child care available for people who are working and raising a family.”

Q. What inspires you to dedicate your time and energy to this community service? What impact do you want to have in the world?

Richards: Supporting youth development programs is very important to me. There are two things that I truly believe in: Youth need the opportunity to build confidence and independence, and they do not get enough exposure to agriculture. Even if they do not become producers, understanding what truly goes into feeding the world—the science, the technology, the economics, the environmental stewardship, the animal husbandry, the legacies of family businesses, and the work ethic—helps youth become more educated consumers, community members, and policy makers. It insulates them from the effects of food bullying and manipulative marketing tactics, and helps ensure that society as a whole understands the value of an industry that feeds us. At the same time, giving them the opportunity to work with and care for animals builds an incredible sense of strength and confidence that carries over into all they do.

Engaging with Cornell Students Is Energizing and Enlightening

Richards: Becoming and staying engaged in the Cornell community has been an honor, and one I hope I can continue to earn. I’ve been invited to lecture in some of the animal sciences classes for several years now—usually two or three times a year—and those are some of my favorite days of the year. Engaging with students always gives me a new perspective and renews my energy and excitement for the future of the industry.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be involved with the Smith Family Business Initiative, recruiting panelists and facilitating sessions for their annual conference. In addition to on-campus involvement, I really enjoy supporting extension programming through Cornell Cooperative Extension as a presenter and sponsor.

The Magic of Cornell

Q. What drives your continued engagement with and contribution to the Cornell community?

Richards: Cornell has been such an influence on my career and personal development, both before and after my MBA experience. I was fortunate not only to have attended Cornell, but to have had the opportunity to work there at the same time. Even before coming to work for the university, I attended the Dairy Executive Program and participated in LEAD NY, both Cornell-based professional development programs, and found them to be some of the most influential experiences of my professional life.

The magic of Cornell, for me, was that at any given time you could walk down the hall or across campus and meet someone, by chance, who would change your perspective, your career path, and your life. If I can have just a fraction of that impact on someone else, I consider myself to have been successful.

Q. What does being selected for the Johnson 10 Under 10 Notable Alumni list mean to you?

Richards: To be recognized among such a high-caliber group of alumni is an honor that I have a hard time putting into words. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend Cornell as an undergrad, and for most of my life believed it was unattainable for me. I hope I can inspire just one kid who feels their dreams are out of reach to dig in, get gritty, and push themselves out of their comfort zone.

Key Learning: Challenges and Business Principles Are the Same for Agriculture as for Other Industries

Q. What are the most valuable things you learned at Johnson that have helped you in your career?

Richards: The technical skills learned throughout the MBA program certainly had value, perhaps more than I realized as I venture now through entrepreneurship and find myself referencing them. Far greater in value, however, were two profound realizations I had during my time there. One was that agriculture as an industry was no different in its challenges and business principles than any other industry, and that there was great opportunity as a consultant to broaden my horizons and think outside the industry norms to find solutions for my clients. The second was that I was no different than my classmates, and that these truly were my peers. Despite our differences in backgrounds, education, and experiences, I found the confidence to sit alongside them as equals.

Q. Did any particular faculty member(s) influence you on your chosen career path?

Richards: While there’s an extensive list of Cornell faculty that have influenced my path, there are two in particular that stand out. The first is Dr. Michael Van Amburgh, professor of animal science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who encouraged me to pursue the MBA, and gave me the opportunity to come back and lecture in his class. His dedication to the dairy industry, his students, and their futures is second to none, and it is my admiration for him and what he contributes to the world that inspired me to do more.

The second is Daniel Van Der Vliet, the executive director of the Smith Family Business Initiative. Taking his family business class opened my eyes to the similarities across industries and made me realize the value of broadening my experience to other industries. Ultimately, it influenced my decision to pursue an MBA rather than a master’s specific to agriculture. 

Transforming Nay-Sayers’ Doubts into Inspiration

Q. Describe a challenge you encountered as you built your career and how you overcame it.

Richards: Throughout my life I’ve been inundated with bad advice that could have derailed my career. I had recently married and was pregnant with my first child when I was considering making the move to Cornell. A manager at my company at the time told me, “Don’t make any career decisions until after you’ve had the baby; your husband may not even want you to work.” Another consultant I worked with told me it wouldn’t be possible to get an advanced degree if I was going to work full time and have a family. An advisor warned me I wouldn’t get accepted into a Cornell master’s program with the undergraduate degree I held.

When I launched this business, another industry professional warned me not to hire young women, because I would “invest time and money into training them just to have them go off and get married or have kids.” Instead of letting their doubts discourage me, I turned them into inspiration. Two MBAs and two children later, I proudly employ eight other women, all younger than myself.

In My Daughter’s World, Mothers Get MBAs and Haul Livestock

Anna Richards standing next to and holding her horse's reins with her young daughter sitting in the saddle. They are in a green field, in the shade under a tree
Anna Richards with her horse, Shorty, and her three-year-old daughter

Q. What is the proudest moment of your career or of your personal life?

Richards: Our original graduation ceremony couldn’t be held in person due to COVID, so they held a celebration for us via Zoom instead. At the same time on that day, a friend needed some animals hauled—so I loaded up the truck and trailer and headed out. As I was driving down the highway, with our Zoom celebration coming over my truck audio, my three-year-old daughter in the back seat, what struck me was that for her, there was nothing special about that moment. In her world, it is normal for mothers to get MBAs and haul livestock. That’s part of what’s so great about being in agriculture—my daughters are surrounded by women who run companies and equipment every day, and I take an immeasurable sense of pride in that.

An Energizing Network for Life: Ambitious, Intelligent, and Savvy Cornell Classmates

Q. What do you do to recharge?

Richards: I’m highly competitive, and an extrovert, so I thrive on momentum. For me, it’s all about surrounding myself with the right people. When I feel myself starting to get burnt out, it’s almost always because I’ve lost sight of the big picture, or I’m letting a wave of imposter syndrome creep in. Fortunately, I have a few key friends I can call, mostly classmates from Cornell whose ambition, intelligence, and business savvy I really respect. Talking to them always helps me regain perspective, restore my own drive and confidence, and get reenergized. Having that kind of support is absolutely critical, and I am so grateful to now have a carefully curated group of incredibly high-caliber people to reach out to.

Q. What do you wish you’d known as a Johnson student and what advice would you give to Johnson students today?

Richards: It sounds cliché, but—it goes so fast. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of getting assignments done and juggling academics, career, and family. Then one day you wake up and realize the people you were surrounded by during your time here may never all be in the same room together again. Spend the extra time to get to know your classmates and professors, nurture those relationships, and you may find them to be among the most valuable connections in your life.

Anna Richards walking away from the camera side by side with her 3-year-old daughter and horse and carrying her infant
Anna Richards with her horse, Shorty, and her daughters