Seed World

After it Began on the Back of a Napkin, Gordon Butcher has Turned AgCall into a Major Player

The role of the modern CEO has evolved to encompass a wide range of responsibilities that extend beyond traditional business functions. A CEO is now expected to be a visionary, a crisis manager, an innovator and a leader. Seed World Canada has selected six CEOs for our list of the top boardroom leaders of the year. Here’s the final entry.

In 1987, Gordon Butcher left the chemical industry and immediately delved into consulting work within the crop protection sector. His next big business venture began during a casual lunch with a colleague, where the idea of providing temporary help in the agricultural realm, particularly in the agrology side of things, came up.

“It was one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments, and we couldn’t stop discussing it. I scribbled some notes on the back of a napkin and, that very evening, I started putting the entire plan into motion,” Butcher says.

“Within a week, I had a name for the venture, and I’d even set up a corporation. Remarkably, within a month, we secured our first project.”

As the months passed, AgCall’s work expanded rapidly. Within a year, it was tackling more projects, and a major client from the crop protection sector approached them. By the fall of 1988 and 1989, AgCall had between 30 and 40 people out in the field, up from just three at the beginning.

AgCall’s impressive 35-year journey in providing solutions to the agriculture industry is characterized by several key milestones and accomplishments. It started with direct contact with growers, conducting field trials in crop protection and the seed industry. Large-scale field trials with farmers were challenging but incredibly effective at the farm level.

“We developed a rigorous program for achieving this, focusing initially on the West, where most of the agricultural industry was concentrated, and expanding to the East as our client base grew.”

The team venture into markets like corn and soybeans, recognizing the importance of local knowledge and language skills in different regions.

“Interacting with farmers revealed that we could have a more significant influence by following up with the individuals we contacted. This led to the development of a comprehensive package for our clients, which involved not only making sales calls but also ensuring the sale was closed by the retailer or the client’s sales reps,” Butcher says.

AgCall introduced digital components for follow-up, including fax reminders and, eventually, extensive data collection and integration with client databases.

In 1997, AgCall proved itself a true first mover when it ventured into the digital space, particularly in assessing crop growth staging to assist with herbicide crop stage timing, showcasing its ability to adapt to emerging trends and technologies.

It would soon make its first entry into the U.S. market with 80 field associates in 22 states, focusing on the animal health field. Over three years, the client’s product grew its market share from 12% to an impressive 42%.

Qualifications as a Top CEO:

  1. He’s adept at customizing and adapting. His leadership at AgCall is marked by a commitment to adaptability and customization. He instills a culture of tailoring solutions to meet the unique needs of each client. This approach has solidified AgCall’s reputation as a flexible and invaluable partner.
  2. He takes a results-oriented approach. Under Butcher’s guidance, AgCall has consistently delivered impressive returns on investment. His focus on measuring and reporting results underscores his commitment to accountability and excellence.
  3. He excels at resource management. Butcher recognizes the importance of key resources in projects’ success. He oversees the development and deployment of essential resources within AgCall, including project managers, technology solutions, and skilled associates. These resources play a pivotal role in the successful execution of projects.
  4. He’s a master at problem-solving. Butcher’s leadership is characterized by an ability to navigate complex projects. He demonstrates exceptional problem-solving skills and adaptability, particularly in managing intricate projects involving data sharing with competitors and implementing digital platforms for tracking seed purchases.