Seed World

Glyn Chancey, Seeds Canada and the Serendipity Effect

The outgoing executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association reveals what he says is the secret to prosperity and success for our seed sector in a bold new marketplace.

Five years ago, Glyn Chancey was hired to be the executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association. He brought to CSGA a wealth of experience in various government positions.

Over the previous 30 years, he held executive positions with a number of government departments and agencies, including the Market and Industry Services Branch of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, the Plant Health and Biosecurity Directorate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Red Tape Reduction Commission Secretariat at the Treasury Board Secretariat, and the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council Secretariat at the Privy Council Office.

He stepped into CSGA at a time of major change in the seed sector. Alternative Service Delivery (ASD) of seed crop inspection was beginning, as was the Seed Synergy conversation — an effort to develop a common vision for the seed sector. This year, the sector’s five national seed associations decided to endorse amalgamation to form a National Seed Organization (NSO).

Known as Seeds Canada, the NSO agreement was officially announced in June 2020. After much hard work to help make it a reality, Chancey will depart CSGA effective Feb. 1, 2021. We sat down with him to talk about why he didn’t think he’d get the job back in 2015, how CSGA staff and board helped make him successful in his role, and why he thinks becoming part of Seeds Canada is a good move for seed growers.

What made early next year the right time for you to depart as CSGA executive director?

Our (CSGA) expectations, as recently as March 2020, were that the amalgamation process would run well into 2021, and I would need to stick around until then. However, negotiations took a positive turn in April and May, and a Summer 2020 vote suddenly seemed within reach. So, I had a discussion with my board, and we agreed that it was the right time for me to go, whether the amalgamation went through or not. CSGA staff competencies and leadership potential had matured to the point where flight risk was real and concerning. Ultimately, to retain good staff who are constantly in demand elsewhere, you have to offer them a path forward. We said, “Now is the time to pass the torch. The next generation of leaders are ready, so let’s not delay.”

As we have this discussion, voting on the merger is still going on. Whether or not CSGA members vote to join Seeds Canada, is it “mission accomplished” for you?

Yes. It is time to turn the page. I have been doing this for a living for a quarter-century. As CSGA executive director, I started with a change objective and worked with others to build consensus. That is a big part of working in government as well. Every four or five years there is a new government or minister or both, a new consensus to be built and new files to be moved ahead. In the past 25 years, there has been a change in direction almost every time the government changes. So, I had lots of practice. Coming into the job at CSGA, I assessed whether the conditions for success were there. It was apparent right off the bat that they were, so I took the plunge.

How so?

My predecessor Dale Adolphe agreed to stay on for several months after I assumed the ED role to ensure the day-to-day tasks got done while I learned the ropes and focussed on strategic direction. Dale’s last five years were some of the most challenging CSGA had gone through, thanks to alternative service delivery, the shift to electronic platforms and going from one service provider (CFIA) to a combination of CFIA and 25 separate providers. It got complex fast.

Fortunately for me, Dale and his team, [CSGA Certification & Technology Services Managing Director] Doug Miller, [Communications & Client Services Managing Director] Caroline Lafontaine, and others at CSGA and CFIA did the heavy lifting before I arrived. They had solved most of the ASD development problems at a practical level and operationally, things were going smoothly.

Soon after I joined, Mike Scheffel became available and came on as our managing director of policy and standards. He and our other “seed sage” Randy Preater (a former policy manager and currently senior advisor) added world-class expertise and leadership to the team. The CSGA board was hungry to move forward. They wanted to get out ahead of the treadmill they had been on for a long time, where government springs a decision on you, and you are left scrambling.

“It is time to turn the page. I have been doing this for a living for a quarter-century.”

After you took the reins, CSGA came out with its five-year strategic plan, which surprised some people since the Seed Synergy project had already been announced. What was your thinking there?

We undertook a very comprehensive strategic planning process that helped give us all a sense of where the membership was ready to go and where the challenges would be. Basically, this served to validate the essential elements of the Seed Synergy proposition from a seed grower perspective and gave us the confidence to move ahead aggressively. Leading us through this phase was Monty Doyle. He was the consummate professional strategist and organizational change specialist, one of the best in the business with a soft spot for the seed industry. He brought in Jeremy Latta, who had just left the government and was starting his consulting career. Jeremy penned the Strategic Plan document and would go on to work with two other A-listers like the accomplished facilitator Warren Wilson and the consummate project manager Julie Fillion, to develop and pen the Seed Synergy Green Paper and the White Paper. When I look back, there were a lot of things like that, which paved the way to where we are now as an industry. There’s a domino effect to everything, and the right dominoes were falling at the right point in time.

Like what?

Like the CSGA Board’s decision to pick someone with more government than industry experience when conventional wisdom might have suggested another direction. It was a strategic choice, and fortunately for me, my board kept making the right ones at every step, getting stronger from Day 1.

Every year since then, I have witnessed a new side of our Board. They are a quiet, soft-spoken collection of individuals, but they are as committed to transforming this sector, and as driven, as any group I know. They have considered the risks and opportunities at every crossroads and consistently opted for growth and, more often, the “road less travelled” to borrow from Robert Frost’s 1916 poem.

In the beginning, there was Norm Lyster. He was in the second year of his presidency, and he was the perfect person to have as a first president. He knew everything and everyone and understood how things really worked, to a greater degree of detail than anyone else. I was coming in with a fairly high-level strategic mindset and was not fully aware of which details were important and which were not. He was the opposite, thank heaven, and ensured that I was making the right day-to-day decisions, or at least not making really bad ones. That allowed me to play to my strengths.

My next president, Kevin Runnalls, was the opposite. He was the long-term strategic thinker and had no fear when it came to expounding on where he thought we should go. More than anyone else, except perhaps for Roy Klym, he made the National Seed Organization concept a legitimate option for seed growers.

By my third year, I had a good handle on the day-to-day and on what needed to be improved upon within CSGA. Then I inherited Jonathan Nyborg, who was a real star. He could find common ground and bring people together with an unequalled commitment to doing the right thing for both the industry and his members.

If it had happened in a different order, it could have been a different outcome. Ultimately, there was serendipity in terms of what was happening around me and those who came into my life.

During your tenure, CSGA began working more closely with the Canadian Seed Trade Association than it ever had. What role did that play?

If CSTA hadn’t embraced the Seed Synergy concept, things would have been very different. Again, a series of strong and dedicated presidents during the formative stages of the Seed Synergy project laid the foundation with their CSGA counterparts, starting with Scott Horner (who subsequently joined CSGA’s Board), then Brent Derkatch and Dan Wright.

The turning point, however, came when Jonathan and [CSTA president at the time] Todd Hyra agreed on the blueprint for the first truly integrated annual meeting of our associations in Whistler, B.C., in 2019. Its success was proof that at one level at least, amalgamation was a viable concept that could add value for all. While Jonathan and Todd made it possible, it was CSTA and CSGA staff working together that made it happen, most notably Kristen Hendricks and Caroline Lafontaine.

At a higher level, Dave Carey, who was CSTA executive director at the time, deserves much of the credit for pulling us together. He was a great partner to work with and a difference-maker. For a moment, after his departure in 2019, I thought we might be in trouble. But then along came Tyler McCann, who brought new energy, focus and skills and in the end, was instrumental in finding the common ground we needed to reach a ratification agreement.

The central importance of the CSTA-CSGA relationship notwithstanding, the other partners’ contribution was a critical success factor. The quiet but competent Roy Van Wyk, his board, and his team at CSI; the intellectual property expertise and passion that Lorne Hadley and the CPTA Board leadership brought to the discussion; the unique insights that Krista Erickson and CSAAC brought to every key decision; and the important contributions and support that came from CropLife Canada throughout the process, beginning with Stephen Yarrow and continuing with Pierre Petelle, Ian Affleck, and David Hansen.

Finally, Shawn Brook and Germination have been with us every step of the way. Whenever we have needed support, you have been there. Whenever there was an issue that needed airing and light shone on it, Germination was there.

Thanks for your kind words Glyn! That brings us to where we are today. When this interview comes out in print, voting will be over, but as we talk right now, we do not know if CSGA members will vote to amalgamate. What do you see the future holding?

In my mind there is no other option but to come together in some form, be it now or later. Regardless of what that timeline looks like, we have to ensure that members remain engaged and committed to a shared vision for sector change. In the event of a “No” vote, it will become painfully evident what the costs of an opportunity missed are as the government forges ahead with seed regulatory modernization, with or without the benefit of a national seed organization and a strong seed sector voice. Independent small and medium-sized seed businesses stand to reap the greatest benefits from the Seeds Canada project if it is successful and the greatest opportunity costs if it is not, and that’s what I consider CSGA members to be — seed businesses.

“In the event of a “No” vote, it will become painfully evident what the costs of an opportunity missed are as the government forges ahead with seed regulatory modernization, with or without the benefit of a national seed organization and a strong seed sector voice.”

Is it key to have that mindset to be successful in the seed sector of the future?

I had a previous life working on regulatory modernization with the fresh produce sector, which is very dynamic and as diverse as the seed sector, but more mature from a regulatory perspective and with more experience working together. They, too, have CFIA-administered regulations with delegated authorities to industry to operate quality assurance as well as commercial dispute resolution programs. They, too, have major differences in enterprise size among their membership and significant international trade flows.

But despite many differences, they have forged ahead together nonetheless, to develop common approaches and commonly managed “industry-led, government enabled” regulatory systems that instil confidence in the market and attract investment. They have achieved this through a relentless commitment to building consensus around a shared set of business development principles and objectives.

We need to think more like that in seed. Right now, we have two main organizations — CSGA and CSTA — and their vocations are dominated by regulation. [Former CSTA chief executive] Patty Townsend was on a podcast recently reminiscing on what CSTA was like when she arrived. She said it was focused almost entirely on regulation until she pressed for a stronger policy and advocacy focus. I can attest to that because I was one of the regulators back then and experienced the change firsthand. It was a shift that added value to members and the ag sector. Seeds Canada is the opportunity for more shifts that add value.

Seed regulation is important, but it should not be the driver for a seed grower/business organization’s existence. From a public policy perspective, regulation is a response to market failure or fear thereof. Where is the discussion about the market and the business environment? And whether, and in what form, intervention is required? What will fail if regulation is no longer there or takes a back seat to other priorities? My hope for the seed sector is that Seeds Canada’s formation coincides with the beginning of that discussion among all concerned, under the same roof.

That business-focused mindset, is that the future?

That is the direction of the culture change I have observed in CSGA members and staff over the last 20 years, from the outside and, more recently, the inside. But it did not happen fast enough and was constrained by CSGA’s focus on seed certification and limited interest and ability to provide other services.

Turning the NSO concept into a reality that makes everyone’s life better is going to be challenging, but it will also be exciting and motivating. We have extremely competent and highly professional staff at the CSGA and the partner organizations who already work closely together. There will almost certainly be new additions over time. CSGA leaders like Caroline Lafontaine and Doug Miller will have the opportunity to bring their considerable vision and expertise to a much larger playing field for the benefit of all, as will other CSGA staff and their counterparts in the partner organizations. All understand seed regulation, but all are thinking well beyond it.

With a future Seeds Canada Board that is focused on creating business opportunities, innovation and growth, there is reason for optimism.