Henry Ford once said, "I'm looking for a lot of people who have an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done."

It's doubtful the automotive pioneer ever envisioned his company aligned with import automakers. Nor did he foresee shared platforms between Ford products and those sold under other brand names.

It's unlikely, however, he would have ruled out the possibilities.

There are plenty of folks in the beef industry who don't know what can't be done. And more of them are stepping up to the plate every day - a lot of them new industry players.

Entrepreneurs Will Lead These entrepreneurs are creating new products for today's customers - 31 so far, and new marketing pipelines for producers. And, every possibility is being considered. We see producers and feeders aligned with organizations that just a few months ago wouldn't be considered essential for business survival.

Developing new products and marketing methods isn't necessarily easy, glamorous or exciting. Frankly, it's tedious work that involves the best planning, financing, and a lot of trial and error. Best-laid plans can go awry at the whim of customers or with sudden loss of financial backing. Conversely, market research, combined with a well-executed development plan can bring success.

The number of beef-based convenience foods is growing quickly. In February's BEEF Feeder, Oklahoma State University's Don Gill suggested there are innumerable opportunities for those within the beef industry to come up with new products and new ways of doing business.

Granted, we don't know the specific segments that will create these combinations yet, but Gill's prediction can be proven again and again. If entrepreneurs from within our industry don't do it, someone from outside the industry will. And the profits they generate will leave the industry.

Undoubtedly, we're going to create a few "beef Edsels" along the way. But, with cooperation, vision and courage we'll create some consumer home runs that'll be as commonplace as some of the product successes leaving Ford plants.

What Will Be Done In our Management Matters column on the facing page, Ed McMillan emphasizes opportunities the changing beef industry offers. He also says feeders will be the ones developing relationships within a market for products.

By seizing these opportunities, we'll create partnerships with organizations we've yet to hear about and those we thought we'd never have reason to meet. New players will arrive. Old ones will move to other venues.

But as with the auto industry evolution, ensuing beef industry bloodbaths will result in loss of current positions, closing of some existing businesses and departure of long-time associates and friends to other industries. This is the painful part. If we act quickly, it may be short-lived.

Auto industry leaders continually seize the opportunities that change creates. Daimler-Chrysler now enjoys superior engineering positioning combined with successful mass-market products.

Ford still doesn't know what can't be done. Its recent acquisition of Volvo strengthens its worldwide presence and presents the challenge of combining American and Swedish business cultures.

Each revision of the auto industry creates opportunities for new product offerings and new relationships. New designs are required, new blood is brought in and existing players learn new roles.

Similar experiences are occurring in the beef industry. As we get to know our customers, develop innovative products and embrace the dramatic change-driven opportunities they offer us, beef can stand up to other proteins. Who knows, we might be packaging a beef product specifically for minivan microwaves.

It can't not be done.