An Interview with Rene Van Acker, Dean of Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph – Ontario, Canada
Agriculture is unquestionably one of the largest and most important industries in today’s world. Like many industries, the agricultural sector is in the midst of major disruption. The challenges are unprecedented, and include a rapidly growing world population in which 793 million people lack sufficient nourishment* coupled with increasing consumer demands for food transparency that have only been heightened by the prevalence of social media.
To rise to these challenges, there is a growing need for the sector to reinvent itself in a way that represents a distinct break from the past.
Vanto Group sat down with Rene Van Acker – the Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph, and a respected authority in the agricultural sector – to discuss these challenges and to get his perspective on how Vanto Group’s unique methodology for transforming organizations could make a substantial difference in the sector’s ability to evolve and thrive.
Q: What do you see are the main challenges the agricultural sector is currently facing?
A: The number and the extent of challenges in our industry is greater than ever before. One of the critical issues today that is getting a lot of attention is a rapidly growing world population, which directly impacts the drastically escalating demand for food. The output challenges are further challenged by growing expectations of society for sustainability, authenticity requirements for food products, as well as expectations of transparency in care for animals and the environment.
Speaking about the expectations of society relating to the entire food production process, I believe that the overall mentality of people has shifted from “good to eat" to “good to think.” And while this without a doubt is a great step forward, it also poses serious challenges and places a greater responsibility on the agricultural sector.
Another important reality of today worth mentioning is social media. While many of these topics have been discussed since the early 1960s, the emergence of social media has created an “explosion” in the agriculture sector in terms of the demand for accountability and transparency.
Q: Based on your experience with Vanto Group at George Mason University, what kind of impact do you see Vanto Group’s methodology making to address these challenges?
A: I believe that the challenges faced by the agriculture sector today are unprecedented. Without an effective process that goes beyond traditional change management, without creating a new future, a new vision, which is a break from the past, I think the industry will have a very difficult time facing these challenges.
When I was a participant in this program, for the first time in my life I felt like someone was thinking about the process of creating the future in an organized, structured, methodological manner. I’ll give you an example of a breakthrough I had there - to establish how to get to the desired future, you first need to acknowledge who you have been in the past. This further leads to distinguishing that you won’t be able to craft the future you are looking for if you continue acting like you did in the past.
Another critical piece of the puzzle that I got is the need for space, it’s necessary for creation of the future. In other words, to create a masterpiece painting, you first need a blank canvas.
Q: What does the agricultural industry need to acknowledge and take responsibility for to move on from its past and create a new future?
A: This is one of the most important questions we need to answer. In the past, no one talked about good animal care, no one questioned what is going on at the farm and everyone assumed that the farmer is good to the animals because that’s what a farmer does. This mentality is now in the past. On the contrary, in the future, consumers want to know about good animal care and will hold the industry accountable.
We can see this already beginning to happen as we speak. In 2016, the Egg Farmers of Canada made a declaration to go cage-free by 2036 – even 5 or 7 years ago, I did not believe this was possible. These are the kind of unprecedented futures that must be created by major industry players if we want to see any kind of breakthroughs in the agricultural industry worldwide.
Q: What would you say to your colleagues about your experience of Vanto Group’s methodology?
A: Vanto Group was able to cause a fundamental shift in my personal perception and of who I am in creating future opportunities. Vanto Group’s core competency is to work with groups and organizations to create unprecedented declarations and goals, which lead to creating truly new futures for these groups and organizations. Through my experience with Vanto Group, we are now committed to create a new future for Guelph University. I must say, without Vanto Group, I don’t know how I would have done it.
Q: Anything else you would like to share?
A: What surprised me the most is the deep change which occurred for me personally. Through a process that deeply challenged me, who I have been in the past, I was able to determine what elements from my past are impediments in creating a new future. Now, I am committed to help create this type of a breakthrough for the agricultural industry. Thank you for the work that you do.
*Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Statistical Pocketbook, World food & agriculture, 2015; http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4691e.pdf
Vanto Group is a global consulting firm distinguished by the extraordinary track record of our clients. We partner with clients from the private, public and non-profit sectors to address their most critical challenges and transform their organizations.
Our customized and proprietary approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of high performance with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. We embed the desired and necessary behaviors, processes and practices with our clients’ organizations, enabling them to achieve unprecedented levels of results with coordinated action, commitment and velocity. These new levels of performance and competitive advantage are both unprecedented and sustainable. Founded in 1992, Vanto Group is a private company with 16 offices in 9 countries.