The Leaders by Ivey
The Leaders by Ivey

Episode · 2 years ago

Supporting local matters


A transition thirty years in the making. This is Mark Whitmore’s story from the consulting field to the farmer’s field. No longer wearing a suit and tie, Whitmore, MBA ’91, speaks passionately about cultivating his land, supporting his local community and advocating for greater self-sufficiency in agriculture and food processing in Canada.

Insights and wisdom lie within every business decision. Welcome to the leaders by Ivy podcast, where we discover hidden narratives and unlock key learnings for our own leadership and career journeys. Hey, welcome to our second episode. I'm Matt Quinn. Today's guest is Mark Whitmore. Mark is founder and CEO of the Great Canadian hops Company, which is a family owned agricultural business that grows hops for Canadian and global craft beer producers. Mark Discusses His journey from the Board Room to farmers field, the importance of supporting local economies and appreciating the contributions of rural communities in Canada. Mark is a graduate of Ivy's NBA Program Class of Nineteen Ninety one. Today he joined us from Turkey point in southwestern Ontario. Let's get started. Welcome to the PODCAST, Mark. Let's start with a little bit about who you are, what you do and what's your relation to Ivy. Great thanks for having and thanks for having me on the on the podcast. So I went to ivy and graduated from the NBA Program in Nineteen Ninety one. I graduated, went there to work for delight. Will come back to that. In a sect, but I married Patty in nineteen ninety five, so this year was our twenty five anniversaries. That was special and we have, of three kids. Grant just finished first year at Ivy, Erica just finished first year engineering at Western and also as IV aeo status, and I'll just graduated from high school and is accepted to go to medical sciences at Western and also has aeostats ievy. So there's a chance that we could be three four three with our kids at IV if they all follow through that. I worked at toloit for thirty three years. I was a partner in the consulting practice and I left there a year ago to start up a family business focused on agriculture and food processing and our main focus was first of all, was on the farm and we grow hops for the craft beer industry or Hazel nuts for the confectionery business and we grow hey for livestock. And we closed our next deal, which we bought Dennisis Horse Radish, which is a manufacturer of prepared Horse Rotish. Over the last couple of months, obviously we've been going through a lot of disruption. What has been the biggest challenge for you and have there been some different two different challenges between the Hazel Nut and the hops. That what have you noticed as far as challenges and changes? There's a whole bunch of challenges. And Egg Culture, first of all. I cariculture was deemed essential. So we were fortunate that way that we were able to keep working through through the situation. But you know, probably there would be a number of challenges and I can think of three. So first of all, was a disruption with the the sales channels, so people would know about the issues with dairy and potatoes and how they they were disrupted. And certainly there are a number of other sectors. You know. For us...

...the disruption is with the craft beer brewing industry. A lot of them were switching their production to be sold through their own top rooms, in addition to bars and restaurants and Lcbo and on online, and all the top rooms were shut down and so that was a huge issue for all of them and and so that's going to impact the hop sales when it comes to selling the next set of crop. Next issue would be around Labor, in particular. Here in Norfolk county where we farm, we produce a lot of produce and that requires offshore labor and that's been a significant issue on a number of fronts. You'll fortunately for us in horse riders we partnered with a smaller producer who had had their offshore already here, the met x farm based out of the Teeterville and so we were fortunate with that. But there's other growers around here, like the sea blocks in the process and the Chevaturs, who got like one third to one half of the workforce, and so that's kind of downstream impact on the produce that will be available. And then the final issue would be around supplies. It hasn't been as big of an issue or concerned as it was at the start of the challenge, but in hops a key component for us is what's called coconut core and it's a string made from a natural product, is it's a waste byproduct from coconut processing. But that product comes out of Sri Lanka and India, and so there were a lot of concerns about those, particularly India was very disrupted channel. We were fortunate enough that we purchase all of our supplies a year in advance so that even when the crisis hit we were able to work through it. But what a whole lot of people may not appreciate with agriculture, unlike other industries, is that there's a very narrow window and if you miss it, you miss it for the whole year. So you know, unlike car manufacturing, you know if we shut down for April and May and we start up again in June, you know it's unfortunate, but we can start up again. That's not the case in agriculture. If we had missed that window and hops it's and it's a two week window and that's it. If you miss it, then you lose the crop for the whole year and you can't say I'll started in August or start again in November, like you're done until until the next year. So it's a number window. It was critical and we were forcedent. We were able to go to work through it. Can you think of some other things that, looking forward, you hope that the industry keeps or that you're going to keep some learnings to again insulate yourself from other challenges or ensure that the industry evolves? I think for me, one of the biggest lessons learned and it's applicable to agriculture and food processing, but I think it is true for a lot of industries is the whole concept of a business. Mall diversity, right, and you know so I've been in business now, whatever you call forty five years of my life and we've had what we called two block Swat events in the last twelve years. You know, we had the two thousand and eight financial crisis. We had this thing in two thousand and twenty. Yes, there's going to be another one in who knows, eight to ten years time. And when we think back to two thousand and eight, we think about to this one, companies that had diversity and supply chains and customer segments and sales channels and a number of things. That's what's going to help you get through these blocks onawn event. So I look at companies and you particularly go back to my my perspiraity. My look at craft brewers, who are...

...our main customers, and they only had one sales channel, which is your tap room. Like they're done, they're shut down right and it's very difficult now to try to get into the LCBO. And we look at our specific business. One of the things that we were thinking about over the last year. I wouldn't say we put a lot of attention to it is the home brewer segment and that's been interesting to watch that develop over the last four or five months as people have been been at home. You'll pulling out the old home brew kids and think about how to get supplies. It is a very different segment for us, but but again it gives us diversity in addition to the craft brewers, who I'm confident will come back, but we also need to diversify into the homebrewer segment because it gives us a different way to push our product. So you've mentioned homebrew, you've talked about the craft brewers. Can you think of other industries or other businesses that have done a really good job of this, of diversifying where you could go? Maybe the listener could look at to get some inspiration from along with those brewers in the homebrew industry? Yeah, you know a guy that I would really call out one of my suppliers, would be a Tony Gang out of superior glove. They're a second generation family business that manufacturers gloves for a number of industries and they supplied gloves for us, for the agriculture to say they supply gloves for a for a automotive and it's been interesting to watch them. I would almost call it a bit of a pivot, right. And so they they had to with the automotive a lot of their almort guy shouldn't down. They had to ask themselves, you know, what can we do? And they look at their business ago. Innovation is a key part of ours. We got a manufacturing base. How do we diversifying other things? So they they pivoted and started making face shields, face masks hand sanitizers, which they're selling to a lot of customer base, but also some new bases as well too. But again it's I think this is one of the things that Tony has been to acknowledges that you're being singularly focused on gloves was good and and that, but now having other products in their product line. As automotive comes back, as other comes back, I think they're going to continue to do face shields and face masks and hence sanitizers in addition to gloves and that. But I was really impressed with Tony and how his team pivoted so quickly and had new products in the mark place that quickly. Yeah, it sounds like he and his team were not only able to pivot but willing to and have that mindset of willing to try out some new things, experiment, maybe fail in a few which I've seen businesses willing to fail and trying to have that mindset. Yeah, but that was always, you know, key part of their culture. When you talk to Tony and he asked about his values, innovation is one of them and they they pride themselves because the glove industries are very tough industry. There's a a lot of commodity gloves and they focus on specialty gloves, very niche protective gear for very specific things. So, like you chicken processing handling and Aaron are air gun nailer protection type stuff, and and so they draw... upon that, that innovation culture, to say how can we quickly pivot into making face shields, which they've never done before. So that's an important part of their cultures, innovation. One thing that you touched upon earlier is, you know, you're doing the call from Turkey point and for those of you that aren't familiar with where Turkey point is, Google it. Check it out down along the down along the lake there. We've talked about how this is impacting industry and businesses. How have you noticed it impacting the community, because there's a very strong sense of community there. What have you noticed? People pulling together? What are some initiatives that they're doing? I think it's interesting also here about what's happening in the small towns and the community. Yeah, without a doubt it would impact farm community and the small towns around is just as much as it would in the big cities. I think the we see the lineups at the stores, we see the shortages of the products. What you would also notice to those that you mean, there is a strong sense of communities. See a lot of science and support and so on for that. But but in some ways too, because a big part of our community has been deemed essential right like there's a lot of you know, a lot of law high percentage of the people other work in the culture industry or work in the food processing industry and there's her number of people that commute to be part of the healthcare sector. So in some ways it's been heads down for a lot of people that way, and I is disruptive a little bit more so if you're in the have your manufacturing like like automotive, but again down here in Norfolk or nearby and halt of been a lot of agriculture. There's a refinery here as well. To that in the steel mill that had to keep going. So so in some ways it's been heads down and keep keep going that way. Do you have something you like to share with the audience or an ask that you like our listeners to go and do or check out an initiative that you're passionate about or really supporting as an individual or as a family? Yeah, and that's that's a great question, and so this would be the topic that I would like you people to pay attention to. There's been a lot of discussion of late around the topic of self sufficiency for Canada, and particularly in the area of healthcare and healthcare supplies. So we think about all the masks and the ventilators in the springes that we're having to bring into the country and there's a level of concern about you know, are we two dependent on other countries for that? You know, I would argue that that same conversation has to happen in agriculture and food processing. A couple of facts for you. So Canada imports thirty percent of the food that it consumes and that number has doubled in the last fifteen years. The second is that we are a net importer of food products into this country. So those are a couple of concerning facts, particularly in a time when global supply chains are strained and and at risk now, as you can tell them at I'm a big supporter of Canadian agriculture in food processing and believe that we can be successful. But Canada really needs growth oriented companies, and particularly growth oriented companies...

...that could be successful on global scale, and we need them to create jobs, to support our communities, to pay taxes so we can pay for the healthcare and the education, the infrastructure that we all need it as Canadians, and I think that the made in Canada brand offers Canadian agriculture and food prosers that opportunity to be able to compete and succeed at a global level. Let's really change in the pandemic. In my mind, though, is that this whole topic has evolved from an economic opportunity to an economic opportunity and a risk factor Canada's food SUP food supply chain. We cannot take that for granted in it and we got to make sure that it doesn't get compromised. And so I think as we think about self sufficiency, I think we also have to think about Canadian a culture and food processing so that we can continue, in times of crisis like this, to be able to produce the food that Canadians need and, like you said, so many of them have been deemed essential. So there's there's opportunity there. But that you've mentioned some of the risk factors about supply chain, employees coming in to help harvest, etcetera, in that short window that you talked about. So are there places where the audience can go to learn more about the industry, about the Canadian industry, to just get up to speed on it? If there're maybe not as familiar with the industry? Where do you go? Well, I walk up my door and and I go into the fields and check it out. But it was, for example, a real kind of fun one that I have is at Charlotte field brewing and they're based just, Oh, two concessions away. I don't nurser how far that is away from me, but Tim and Melanie, you know, they were had set up a tap room and when I got shut down they quickly converted online and and and I think there's thousands of stories like that of small craft brewers and small food processors and small farm operations that I have to go online, so it wouldn't be difficult for people to Google and to look up local. Local is important because one of the things that people have to appreciate to that culture and food processing is that it's a long lead time. Right. So, for example, and hops, I can't just say I want to be at hops next year and all of hops next year. It takes a year to put up in your infrastructure, a year to put your plants in. It takes three to four years for the for the for the plans to mature to be able to produce a crop. And same with hazelnuts. It takes five six years before you get your first crop. So if we want to have you a Canadian food source, if we want to have Canadian craft brewers, you got US support them today, because it takes a long lead time and he can't just say, okay, we're going to start making masks tomorrow. You know, Tony was fortunately had a great team and was able to start doing it. But if somebody community came to mean to said Mark, I need just are growing asparagus, I would say it's going to take me two three years before I have the infrastructure in place, I have the water in place, I have the workforce in place, I have the rooting place, and so that's why it's important to support Canadian Food and agriculture now so that when we need it next year, in the year after the year after, it's all their raised support Canadians. That's great and Tim does a great job with the brewing company with his social media.

I've had a chance to meet him and work with him before and it's an interesting to watch how they're diversive finding their communications with great stories, interesting videos and pictures that show that process of getting ready to brew. The whole industry and what they've set up at the farm is really cool to follow into watch. So for the listeners, go and check that out on facebook. Do a really nice job of telling the story. Mark, you've talked about the changes in industry and you've talked about the changes you've seen on your farm. Talk a little bit more about the change that you went through from going from the board room to the farm. What were some key skills that you use to make that change easier, or were there's or was it easy? Was it an easy transition. What did you find? Well, and in some ways this is a transition that I've been planning for probably thirty years. In fact, it was a reason I went back down Ivy, because I've always wanted to have my own business it I didn't not necessarily it was going to be an egg culture and food but you over the years when I was at de Lloyd, luckily towards the end of my career, I was able to work with a lot of private clients and saw family businesses and saw the fun that they were having and and and also to the the the commitment to to Canada and the contribution that small businesses and family businesses made. So it towards the tail end of my career at Deloit, you I kind of had an idea this is the direction I wanted to go and it took me a while to kind of get my head around farming and around food processing and would be these be the places I want to do it. But I really wanted to do something that I could think about the next generation, for my kids, and I wanted to get into a family business and I thought food processing was another one that took the box on something that would allow us to compete on a global level. And what my dream would be that did in ten years time, after my kids have gone to school for five years and have worked for somebody else for five years, that one or all of them will come back to family business and say, you know, this is something out where I think I can contribute to society and build something with. So you know, I didn't have that opportunity as a kid. I went right from from university into the corporate world and I don't work at it. It was it was it was fun, but I also really love what I'm doing today and I really am passionate about but agriculture, a passion to Voute, food processing, passionate book Canada, and so I couldn't be in a better place. And I think back to your point around you, I v again. I just go back to the general your leadership skills, the diversity of the cases that we work through, because, you know, I'm having to do stuff I wouldn't have done even like two years ago. So, for example, something as small as you know I've got to do. I got to repair thirty motors every year, right, and so every winter or I'm up to my elbows in oil and Greece and and rapping my knuckles because, you know, the wrench slipped and stuff like that. And but it's fun, right. It's something different. It's a new skill and it's something I probably should have learned when I was eighteen to nineteen, but didn't. But what IV teaches you is it teaches you the confidence to get into a new area...

...and so you can figure it out. Now a little secret these days is you to holy smokes man, if you want to learn anything about oil changes or part changes, you can go to you do these days. So it's a lot easier, but it's still it's the confidency ability to say, you know what, I've got to change out. You know that electrode on my sprayer. So go to Youtube, look at it, watch him do it. So if you find out ripped apart and change it and you do it right. So again I'm pulling on my IV experience every day. I wondered, you know, given your experience with Ivy a number of years ago and then seeing your kids go through it, has there been anything that you've been really interested in or a change at the school or an evolution they've gotten that that's really cool. I like that or wow, what a difference, or if there have been themes that have stayed consistent over the years. I just think it's interesting to get that that bit of a change and what you're witnessing from your perspective. Yeah, I would give you two things that haven't changed and one thing that will change. So what hasn't changed is ivys focus on general leadership in general management, right, so it's not just honed in on finance or honed in on one particular area, and I think that's selfishly. For me that's been very helpful, as you know, as I've pivoted from from deloit now to farming and then went and bought Dennis. You know, I'm having to look at all aspects of those of those businesses and so having a general background from my view, was very helpful. That way the case methodology. That hasn't changed and it can't change me. That is absolutely critical. people go to IV and it just reinforces it's it's close as you can get to to you being in a real business situations. But what you know, I was a change junky. You guys are all change Junki's. We like to change all the time. So it was nice to change with every case. New Industry, new challenges, new geographies and all that kind of stuff. But you know that that change and diversity, a diversity of cases, really helps you as a leader grow and get a broad set of exposure. So that that I don't think it's going to change. I think what it of course, is going to change to the whole onar component, and I think this is not unique to ivy or it's going to be in the whole higher Ed. In fact, all education is. You know, how do we shift from a very in person, hands on experience to still getting that rich aspect? And I think you when I think back to my time at I v, the classroom was a big component of it, but there's other things that were quite helpful in my development. So things like field trips, things like clubs, things like guest speakers. So you know some of them we could pivot to an online so it's you you can fact do more speakers, but you know, same things like the clubs and stuff like that. That's I'll be interesting to see how we work through that. So with an I do that's going to be a big change for Ivy, but I'm confident that I was going to Tacole it head on and find a way to work through it. As we look to wrap up here today, anywhere else that you'd like to have the listeners go and check out, or businesses to support, or any final thoughts that you'd like to leave or calls to action for...

...the audience? Yeah, the the final call I would just make is just about supporting local. It's very easy to do, no matter where you live, where they live in Toronto or live in Turkey. Point, when you go into a grocery store, you have choices to make and those choices have a downstream impact on the Canadian agriculture and food processing industry. So you'll make your choices. You look for look for products that are grown in Canada, that are made in candidate's very easy to do and and that's going to have a longstterm support for all of us. Top going, going downstream. Thanks to mark Whitmore NBA Ninety one for joining us on the leaders by Ivy podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to join US next time when we speak with Ian Rosen hba eleven from Harry Rosen Incorporated, like what you heard on today's episode, subscribe to the leaders by Ivy podcast. HAVE ANY FEEDBACK? Send us an email at podcast at IV Dota. Until then, be well.

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