Seed World

Wayne Gale Sees Work as a Giant Puzzle That Keeps Him Moving Forward

Wayne Gale is the owner of Stokes Seeds.

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Wayne Gale has a long reach. His company, Stokes Seeds, is the largest distributor of vegetable seed to commercial growers in Canada. The company, based in Thorold, Ont., also operates on the other side of the border, making it one of the few independent vegetable seed companies to operate in both Canada and the United States.

Gale has served as president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, and in two years he’ll become the president of the CSTA’s American counterpart — which will make him the first person in history to have led the boards of both organizations.

“I see my work as a giant puzzle or game in which you have to keep moving forward to be successful, while still dealing with all the different issues thrown at you every day — whether it’s a leaky roof or government putting new restrictions on agricultural products or what have you,” Gale says.

Gale started his career off in the computer world, and originally had no intention of getting involved in Stokes Seeds, which has been a family business since its founding in 1881.

“Entering the family business was always an option for me, but I’d seen family business problems between my dad and grandfather and uncle, and working at Stokes Seeds wasn’t my first priority,” Gale says.

After graduation, he was working as a data processing consultant in Ottawa, but was getting tired of it and looking for another challenge. He came onboard at Stokes Seeds somewhat reluctantly.

“I told my dad, ‘Look, I love you as a father, and I don’t need to work for the family business. If we get along and it works out, fine. If not, I’ll go back to working with computers.'”

Gale worked his way through the company on the accounting and order processing side. His late father’s talents lay more on the horticultural side, but Gale learned fast. As time went on he took on more responsibilities.

At the same time he got involved in the Canadian Association of Family Enterprises, taking seminars on how to survive and thrive while working in a family business. In fact, he now teaches seminars on that very subject.

“They were a saviour for us, and through them I learned a lot about family succession and linked into some good resources to help us develop as a family business and grow the business from there,” Gale says.

Today he leads a company known for caring as much about its employees as it does its customers, and his education in family business dynamics has a lot to do with that.

“One of the core values my father had is that our employees are the most important part of our business,” he says. “We’re a community here — we’re a family that deals with family issues. Everyone has unique problems and we try and adapt to those issues as they come along.”

Taking that approach, he says, ensures Stokes Seeds offers its clients the best service possible.

“We have an obligation to our customers to have a company that can give them a reliable delivery system for vegetable seed, so they themselves can remain employed and put food on their tables.”

In an ironic twist to a fascinating family history, Gale — now 62 — looks poised to eventually pass the Stokes Seeds business on to someone outside the Gale clan. His daughter has embarked on a different career path and his son, while he does work in the family business, doesn’t want to take on his dad’s role.

“I’d much rather pass it on to someone outside the family who really wants to lead it, as opposed to someone in the family who really isn’t interested. There’s no use forcing my children into that situation,” he adds.

“We’re always being complimented by our customers and suppliers on how we work with them in trying to find mutual success, rather than being successful at the expense of others, which happens often in the business world. That’s what we’re all about — helping everyone succeed in a role they really want to be in.”