Immediately after the party celebrating his promotion to president and chief executive of Crop Genetics International Corp. last month, Joseph Kelly found himself alone in the office, doing what CEOs rarely do: answering phones.

Last week, Kelly traveled up and down the East Coast in search of a corporate partner willing to work with the Hanover, Md.-based agricultural biotechnology firm when it puts its first products on the market.

The 45-year-old executive said it is precisely this combination of the mundane and the exciting that lured him away from a partnership in a major accounting firm to join Crop Genetics in 1984 as chief financial officer.

"It was my job to find young, high-tech companies to bring in as clients" for the accounting firm Deloitte Haskins & Sells, Kelly said. "I just loved the {biotech} environment. I realized that these companies were the ones who were going to add to the economy, not the Big Eight firms."

Much has changed since the days in 1982 when Kelly helped Crop Genetics founders John Henry and Peter Carlson keep accurate financial records in the once-abandoned warehouse that doubled as office and laboratory.

The company now employs 110 people and its two main products, a plant vaccine and an environmentally safe weed control system that could replace chemical herbicides, are just three years from market-readiness, said Henry, who is chairman of the company.

Crop Genetics raised $14 million in venture capital drives from 1981 to 1985, sold $23 million worth of stock when it went public in 1987 and just completed its second public offering, selling 2.7 million shares of convertible preferred stock at $10 a share, to bolster its bank account to $30 million.

Kelly's career evolved as Crop Genetics did. He became chief financial officer in 1984, was promoted to chief operating officer in 1988 and now sits on the company's five-member board of directors in addition to overseeing day-to-day operations as president and chief executive.

Kelly, who spent 17 years with Deloitte Haskins & Sells and two years with a small computer firm before joining Crop Genetics, said he has never regretted switching from big business to the often uncertain world of agricultural biotechnology.

"I was more of a scorekeeper than a player {as an accountant}," he said. "Now, I'm on the leading edge. We are changing the way things will be done 10 years from now."

In his new position, Kelly will share responsibility with Henry for finding a large company interested in investing in Crop Genetics within the next year.

Finding such a partner, Henry said, would allow the company to continue developing both its vaccine and herbicide products without depleting all its capital. "The whole idea behind raising this $27 million was to get enough capital so we could get good terms," Henry said.

Last week, Kelly visited several companies that he said were potential partners. He declined to identify them, but said Crop Genetics will look at a wide range of chemical, biotechnical and agricultural companies, focusing on each organization's environmental reputation.

"We are a company that's devoted to producing environmentally safe pesticides, so we'd like to find a partner with the same goals and ambitions," he said. "We have a good relationship with environmental groups and agencies that we don't want to jeopardize."