The CAAR Communicator recently sat down with Stu Rasmussen with Blair’s Family of Companies and Stewart Whillans with J.R. Simplot to learn about their careers in the agriculture industry as well as their journey and leadership in ag retailer and their roles on the CAAR Board.
Q: What is your current role in the ag retail sector?
Stewart Whillans: Market Manager Western Canada with J.R. Simplot Company.
Stu Rasmussen: I am currently the General Manager for a large agricultural retailer known as Blair’s Family of Companies. I have been with them for the past seven years.
Q: Can you give us some background on your ag retail journey?
SW: My journey has been a long one. I started in the industry with the Alberta wheat pool as an elevator assistant in southern Alberta. I was with them for 18 years. In that time AWP and Manitoba Pool merged to form Agricore and they then merged with UGG to become Agricore United. My last position with them was General Manager at Grassy Lake.
I left to return to university where I finished my undergrad degree in finance and then MSc Management, as well as an Accounting Designation. I returned to agriculture as Vice President of Operations for Green Prairie International. I also had a short stint with Alberta health services. I moved to UFA Co-operative as Location and Area Manager, followed by a time with Parrish and Heimbecker as General Manager, Wilson Siding, and then on to my current position with Simplot.
SR: I have been around agriculture all my life. I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan and have worked in ag ever since. For the first 22 years of my career, I work on the supply side with crop protection companies. Then a customer approached me one day to work in the retail side of the business and I have been working in retail ever since.
Retail is the place to be in agriculture. Working in retail you see every aspect of the ag business, it’s a great place to really learn about the business.
Q: What does working in the agriculture sector mean to you personally?
SW: Working in ag means I get to work with the grass root producers that make agriculture and this country great. I also get to be a part of helping to feed the world.
SR: Working in ag is cool – you know you are helping feed the world. We are stewards of the land. I understand agriculture, the business. Making sure our customers are doing well, help your customer to grow as many bushels as they can, they will do well, you will do well, and we can feed the world.
Q: If you had the power to change one thing about agriculture in Canada, no questions asked, what would it be?
SR: Nothing really, sure there are day to day frustrations, but I love agriculture. Of course, with CAAR there are always policy and regulations to advance, but nothing I would change about the business of the agriculture industry.
Q: From your perspective, what is the role of CAAR in today's agriculture environment?
SW: To be the voice and support of independent retail in Canada alone or in partnership.
SR: CAAR’s role is to be the voice of agriculture retailers. To push policy and regulation changes that will help the industry and make it better. To liaise between the different groups and government to make the industry better. Our role is to understand and support the industry.
Q: Why did you join the CAAR board and how do you apply your industry expertise to the work you do with the board?
SW: Simplot has had representation on the CAAR board for a number of years. When the past Simplot rep was given additional responsibilities in the company, he needed someone else to step up to represent the company, and I volunteered.
I’m pretty new to the board and trying to use my experience where needed, but it has been a challenge as I joined the board right when the pandemic hit last year and we have had limited face-to-face interactions ever since.
SR: With my experience on both sides of the table (as a supplier and now as a retailer), I understand both points of view, and I understand how the industry works. All the stakeholders are important. The importance of suppliers and retailers is important. I believe if we act as partners and build alliances, the industry overall will benefit.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your role on the board?
SW: I hope to help in anyway I can to establish where CAAR can best serve agricultural retail.
SR: Membership. I believe in this association and the association’s role, and I know many people in the industry. So, I feel I can make a difference with regarding to building the CAAR membership. I am on the membership committee, and by helping potential members understand the benefits of what we do, I believe we can grow the membership.
Q: Outside of your work in agriculture, what are you passionate about?
SW: Outside of work I’m passionate for projects. home improvement, building, and landscaping.
SR: I am passionate about the outdoors. I own a hunting and fishing business with my son. I was up north fishing on the weekend. I caught and ate some fish. Enjoying the outdoors, and spending time with my family makes me happy.
Q: Do you have any other personal details you would like to share with your fellow members – family, fun facts, etc.?
SW: I have been married for 30 years. I have two young adult children, both girls, aged 18 and 21. The youngest is in pre-law and the eldest just finished her nursing degree. She is currently working on the pediatric floor of the regional hospital. My wife is a CPA and controller for an engineering company in Lethbridge.
SR: My passion for the ag retail section is the most important thing.
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