Gordon Bacon, Pulse Industry Champion, Steps Down as CEO of Pulse Canada
GPC members reflect on Gordon’s legacy of leadership and wish him well as he moves on.
What makes a great leader? Some may debate the precise definition, but vision and the ability to rally people are unarguably two of the key traits. Gordon Bacon, over the course of his long and distinguished career, has demonstrated he has both in spades.
“Gordon is one of the most brilliant strategic thought leaders in the global pulse industry,” GPC President Cindy Brown says of him. “He saw the opportunity to use pulses as ingredients long before the rest of us and it was his vision for pulse crops that helped Canada become the powerhouse it is today.”
Lee Moats, a former chair of the Pulse Canada board of directors and someone who has known Gordon since his college days at the University of Saskatchewan, echoes the sentiment, but puts the emphasis on his ability to forge partnerships: “Gordon is a gifted strategic thinker and a passionate advocate for the collaboration of the willing. He has this ability to bring people together to find and work on common goals.”
For the past 16 years, AGT Food and Ingredients president and CEO Murad Al-Katib worked closely with Gordon and attributes a big part of his success to his ability to connect with people.
“As a person who grew up in a farming community in Saskatchewan, Gordon has a unique ability to talk as easily to a farmer as he would a multinational food company executive or a Prime Minister of a government,” he says.
An effective leader not only pulls people together, but also guides them in the right direction, and in this respect Allison Ammeter, another former chair of Pulse Canada’s board of directors, ascribes farsighted powers to Gordon.
“Working with Gordon was like getting a peek into the future. He gets you to see what is coming down the pipe and how to best take advantage of it. His keen ability to think strategically as a visionary is what sets him apart among leaders,” she says.
Now, after nearly a quarter century at the helm of the national pulse industry association of the world’s top pulse exporter, Gordon is stepping down as the first and only CEO Pulse Canada has known. He is succeeded by Greg Cherewyk, and the story of Greg’s own career is perhaps the greatest testament to Gordon’s almost clairvoyant ability to recognize potential.
“I was Gordon’s first hire at Pulse Canada,” Greg recalls. “I came on as a summer student in 1998 and worked alongside Gordon as he embarked on the journey to establish the Canadian brand in pulse markets around the world.”
Save for a brief stint with government, Greg was with Pulse Canada throughout Gordon’s career. From his perspective, Greg says Gordon’s greatest contribution to the pulse industry is not any one single success story, but rather the foundation he lay at the organization he led. He started by building a team that could resolve barriers and create market knowledge around pulses. The team produced information on pulses and health, nutrition, functionality and sustainability, and then shared it across the value chain to generate interest and excitement and build partnerships.
“With each passing year and every action plan executed, his pulse team made advances that the Canadian and global pulse industry are benefitting from today,” Greg says.
At the risk of doing a disservice to Gordon’s storied career in the pulse industry, here are but a few of its highlights, as told by people from all around the world who have come to respect and admire him.
Putting Canada on the Map
It was in the 1990s, recalls Carl Potts, executive director of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, when Gordon, “ … got Canada on the map as a new and emerging supplier of pulses.”
Lee Moats, the former Pulse Canada board chair and college classmate, recalls that back then “ … we measured pulse exports in millions of dollars. Today we measure it in billions. Over the last 25 years pulses have become the most important crop on our farm, and this is true of many farms in Western Canada. Canada is now the largest supplier of the most affordable source of protein for hundreds of millions of consumers around the world. While this sea change resulted from the work of many parties, Gordon Bacon was no small part of the effort.”
Carl adds that today Gordon can be rightfully proud “ … of having shaped a new future for pulses in addressing key global challenges such as nutrition and sustainability.” These accomplishments, he states, are thanks to the well-earned respect Gordon built among customers, farmers, traders and governments in every corner of the globe.
It was his small-town roots and his start in agriculture as a district agriculturalist in a small farming community that gave him what Allison, former chair of Pulse Canada’s board of directors, calls “acre cred.”
“Perhaps what really sets him apart is his willingness to be inclusive,” adds Lee. “From plant breeders, to farmers like myself, to international grain traders, the Canadian pulse industry has become united in our efforts to develop pulse crops and Gordon has brought this same approach to the entire global pulse community.”
International Pulse Champion
Gordon’s efforts to increase pulse consumption and production didn’t stop at the Canadian border. GPC president Cindy Brown recalls when she first met Gordon.
“It was when he approached the USA Beans for Health organization. Beans for Health was organizing clinical health trials to research how bean consumption affected various disease issues and Gordon saw an opportunity for partnership.”
This, she points out, was at a time when parochialism and competition marked the relationship between the two countries. Gordon overcame them by pointing out the benefits of working together and partnering to leverage scarce resources.
Tim McGreevy, CEO of the American Pulse Association and the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, recalls when he met Gordon in 1998 at an international pulse conference organized by the GPC, then known as CICILS/IPTIC. At the time, Tim was less than impressed with the international association, but Gordon recognized its potential and convinced Tim to stick with it.
“He saw the need for and power of an international coalition to solve problems and grow the industry,” Tim says. “He began the hard work of rebuilding this small international club into the inclusive and respected Global Pulse Confederation of today.”
“Gordon has shown tremendous dedication and put in exceptional effort to further the pulse industry in Canada and beyond,” says Lee Moats, pointing to the 1 million miles that his friend has flown as proof.
Rome and Geneva were two of his frequent destinations, recalls GAFTA’s head of policy June Arnold, where he worked unceasingly to muster United Nations support for pulses.
“He advocated tirelessly about the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses, the need to promote sustainability and, most importantly, to ensure food security and nutrition for everyone everywhere,” she says.
Gordon worked closely with June and others at GAFTA to champion the important role the private sector can play in furthering the world’s sustainable development agenda, as well as the need to eliminate barriers to trade and promote market access.
Over in India, Anurag Tulshan of Esarco Exim Pvt. Ltd., describes Gordon as a selfless champion of the global pulse trade.
“He has always gone out of the way to help me in times of need,” says Anurag. “He has been fiercely propagating Canadian pulse exports the world over, with special emphasis on India, as India has in the past been the biggest importer of Canadian pulses. Hence, my special relation with Gordon. At the GPC as well, Gordon has been one of the most active board members, bestowing us with his deep insights and wisdom for many years.”
Murad at AGT traveled with Gordon several times over the years and recalls that Gordon was always the first awake and at work no matter the time zone. But he also took the time to savor new experiences, especially when pulses were involved.
Following the GPC’s 2016 convention in Mersin, Turkey, for instance, Murad and his family had the pleasure of hosting Gordon at their home.
“He joined my wife, Michelle, and our twins, Tariq and Serra. Gordon finished one day meeting with senior government officials and the next day he was the traveling companion of two 11-year-old kids, walking thousands of steps at a monument called ‘Heaven and Hell’ in Mersin. Almost a decade later, my kids still fondly look back at the trip and muse that Gordon ‘loved the lentil soup.’ That’s the thing with Gordon, he loved pulses and especially loved pulses cooked traditionally.”
The International Year of Pulses
In 2012, Tim McGreevy relates, the late Hakan Bahceci, then president of the GPC, floated the big idea of pursuing a yearlong global celebration of pulses. By the following year, the global pulse industry had succeeded in having the United Nations declare 2016 the International Year of Pulses.
As Canadian chair of the IYP 2016 committees, Allison Ammeter began working with Gordon in the lead up to the International Year of Pulses and recalls the excitement that ran through the pulse world as it capitalized on the UN declaration and used that momentum to catapult pulses into the plant protein trend.
“Gordon was a leader through every step of this, both in Canada and in the GPC,” she recalls.
Tim remembers that soon after the UN declaration, Gordon reached out to organize a meeting between their two associations.
“Gordon led the charge to work on a pre-competitive North American marketing and research campaign,” Tim relates. “This collaborative effort ultimately re-positioned pulse crops as ‘good for your health and good for the planet’ in the minds of consumers. The IYP marketing campaign put pulse crops at the very center of the emerging plant forward movement and helped kick-off explosive growth in food innovation and technology as consumers continue to increase their consumption of plant-based foods.”
“I would say that Gordon’s leadership in Canada in the implementation of IYP events and activities was a huge success that culminated in a dramatic increase in the awareness and affinity of pulses in the North American food and retail industry, an effort that will certainly pay dividends for decades to come,” says Murad of AGT Food and Ingredients.
“He literally brought the whole pulse world together,” says Lee Moats, who was the chair of the Pulse Canada board of directors during IYP in 2016.
About a decade ago, Lee remembers Gordon coining a phrase to describe the value of pulse crops: Healthy people, healthy planet.
The success of the International Year of Pulses led to the designation of February 10th as World Pulses Day, an annual celebration of these superfoods. This year’s slogan: Pulses for a healthy diet and planet.
“Today that phrase has become the quintessential description of pulse crops,” says Lee. “They are a means to address global society’s needs for healthy, nutritious, environmentally sustainable foods that can be produced without exhausting the earth’s capacity to produce them.
“Gordon was instrumental in ensuring the success of the International Year of Pulses and in securing World Pulses Day at the FAO,” says June at GAFTA. “He used those occasions to tirelessly promote the value of pulses in terms of healthy, sustainable and functional food products, and also encouraging innovation.”
The Future of Food
Plant-based food products had a breakthrough year in 2019. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, U.S. retail sales alone grew by 11.4%, elevating the market value of the segment to $5 billion. That same year, Beyond Meat became the first alt meat company to go public and its share price shot up in the first day of trading, from an initial offering of $25 to $65 by the closing bell, making it the biggest-popping U.S. IPO since 2000. And despite the general economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the momentum actually accelerated in 2020, with just the plant-based meat category seeing a 46% increase in sales.
This may have surprised many, but not Gordon. Quinton Stewart, president of the Canadian Special Crops Association’s board of directors, interacted with Gordon over the past decade, especially in Gordon’s role as the CEO of the CSCA, and admired his passion and drive for pulses.
“Gordon pushed for more research on pulse nutrition and displayed a willingness to promote that research around the world in order to increase consumption globally,” says Quinton. “Gordon was pushing in this area long before most. He spent the majority of the latter half of his career pushing for the diversification of uses and markets for pulses.”
His previously mentioned partnership with USA Beans for Health was part of that effort.
“Both of our groups were able to leverage scarce resources to develop the scientific information needed for government health claims,” says Cindy. She credits Gordon for having coined the slogan: The future of food.
“It was amazing to watch how IYP catapulted pulses into the plant protein trend,” says Allison. “Gordon was a leader through every step of this, both in Canada and in the GPC.”
Tim, his counterpart in the U.S., agrees: “Gordon has been a leader in supporting food innovation research and expanding pulse crops as a food ingredient.”
As more and more pulse processing plants open across the Western Prairies of his native Canada, and as new pulse-based food products become available around the world, Gordon can be rightfully proud. His vision has materialized. The future of pulses is upon us.
Farewell for Now
As Gordon steps away from Pulse Canada, an organization he forged into a major force in the promotion of pulse crops and into a powerful advocate for the pulse trade, the many friends he has made along the way wish him well. But, at the same time, many suspect and hope this is only a farewell for now.
Tim at the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council says, “I have known and worked with Gordon for over 22 years. Day after day I have watched him rise to meet every challenge and relentlessly pursue his goals and objectives. He has demonstrated his leadership skills on the global stage. His clear vision and laser focused tenacity have advanced an entire agriculture industry. He will always have my respect, admiration and friendship.”
His lifelong friend and colleague Lee says, “Without a doubt, Gordon Bacon is an impact player. Our farm and the farms right across Canada are the benefactors of his ideas, strategies, tenacity, foresight and incredible dedication. He continues to take agriculture to new heights by solving societal challenges like non-communicable disease related to nutrition and our need to produce food for the billions of people on this earth in a sustainable way. I am confident that his abilities will serve our industry well as we navigate the challenges brought on by Covid-19.”
At the Canadian Special Crops Association, Quinton says: “It is with mixed emotions that we will see Gordon Bacon take a step back from the pulse industry after so many years of service and devotion to the sector. Gordon put everything into his position, and we will miss him dearly going forward as he looks to finally take some well-deserved time for himself. Knowing his personality, I know that he will be deep into his projects and taking little time for actual rest!”
At AGT Food and Ingredients, Murad also does not see Gordon slowing down: “In the world, there are only a few people who think of pulses when they first wake up and again as they drift off to sleep. Gordon is one of those people. He has tirelessly worked to grow the industry in Canada and the world. A passionate advocate, a committed voice for market access and a driver of innovation. We have all benefited from the work that Gordon did over the years. He may be stepping down, but I know that he will never step away from his love of pulses.”
Over at Esarco Exim Pvt. Ltd., Anurag also hints at Gordon’s all-consuming interest in pulses: “I do wish Gordon the very best in the days and years to come and hope that he takes time out to fulfil his other interests and passions, too.”
At GAFTA, June says, “Gordon’s energy, passion and dedication for everything pulses have been very inspiring. We will all miss him and wish him well for the next exciting chapter! Hopefully, our paths will cross again.”
And at Pulse Canada, Greg strikes a nostalgic note, but also expresses optimism that this is only farewell for now: “Gordon has been my mentor for 17 years. There really are no words to explain how important he's been to me as a professional in pulse industry or as a leader within our organization. Our relationship has matured over the years, but there was never a time when I thought about it ending when he steps back from the role of CEO. And that's because it won't; it'll simply continue to evolve and I, the staff at Pulse Canada, our board, our member organizations and partners at home and around the world will continue to benefit from his passion and energy. It'll just come to us in new ways, expressed in different forms and channeled through new champions. I fully expect that we'll simply begin to experience his leadership in new and even more impactful ways. There's no limit to his passion for pulses and I look forward to tapping into that energy as we continue to push boundaries and create new opportunities for the industry.”