Local boy leads Bayer CropScience Canada

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ITS HISTORY, Bayer CropScience Canada has a local at its helm. Al Driver, a Quebec native, took over as President and CEO at the beginning of the year, bringing with him 30 years of experience with the company.

“This is the job I’ve always aspired to and I think having a Canadian in the position sends an outstanding message to those within this country’s business community,” says Driver. “You can achieve your goals through successful performance and a career of growth in business.

“I’ve had a great career in the country I call home — I have never had a job I didn’t like,” he adds. “Today I am able to continue to work with a great leadership team that I know well, and we can achieve great things for this company.”

Originally from Quebec, Driver was raised in Ontario, one step removed from farming. While his immediate family had moved away from the farm, he had close ties to his grandfather who was a dairy farmer in Quebec. From a very early age he was fascinated by agriculture — dairy farming in particular. At a time when most boys his age were focused on their friends rather than their future, Driver asked his dad to help him become a farmer.

“When I was 12 years old, my dad had a friend who was a young dairy farmer with a wife and baby of his own, who was willing to take on this kid who wanted to be a farmer,” says Driver. “Almost every summer after that, with the exception of a couple of years in university, I would move in with this family for 10 weeks, leaving my family and friends behind for room and board, some pocket money and hands-on experience with farming.”

Driver went to the University of Guelph to learn more about cropping. With enough dairy farming experience under his belt he wanted to learn about the grain side of the business. He also kept in shape playing varsity football as captain for the Guelph Gryphons. Driver finished his degree just as quota prices went up substantially in the dairy industry. So he decided to put that crop science degree to work.

“I started as a sales rep with Bayer (at that time known as Hoechst) on April 1, 1985,” says Driver. “Everyone knew I had always planned to be a dairy farmer so they thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke. But I decided to use both what I learned in school and all those years on the dairy farm and make my career in agri-business.”

Arriving at work on his first day, Driver was given a territory map and a partial dealer list and told to go out and meet people. At the time, that was the extent of his training before jumping into the job.

This is just one aspect of the business that has changed during the past 30 years, he says. Today, territory reps with Bayer CropScience are well trained. And before heading into the field, they’re supplied with all the necessary tech and information to take good care of their customers. “But the people part hasn’t changed at all… working with growers is the heart of the job,” he says. “While it was fun to learn as I went along, today there is a lot more technology to understand and we make sure our reps are experts on our products.”

Driver worked his way up through the company as it underwent different name changes — from Hoechst, to AgrEvo, to Aventis and now to Bayer CropScience. He moved from Ontario to Alberta, back to Ontario, back to Alberta, then to Saskatchewan, and finally to Alberta again. Along the way he married and had three children — two daughters and a son. He worked as a sales rep, was a regional manager in the west, a portfolio manager for cereals, and then head of sales and marketing before taking on his current role as President and CEO.

During all of that, he finally got the chance to farm. “I figured I had all this knowledge in my head and I wanted the chance to put it to use. So when we lived in Regina we farmed a halfsection of land,” he says. “I was able to get my hands and feet dirty and I learned more than I ever thought I could about agriculture.”

While he hung up his farmer’s hat when the family moved back to Alberta, he says that move was ideal for him both professionally and personally. In the past few years he has travelled throughout the world learning more about Bayer’s global business, while at the same time gaining a deeper understanding of Bayer’s changing technology.

Living in the shadow of the Rockies, Driver was able to indulge his other passion — skiing. “For me, if you get to the top of the mountain and can’t look straight down to the bottom, it’s not steep enough,” he says. “My family spends every free moment skiing. It is the perfect way to carve out family time in the middle of a busy career.”

In his role as Vice-President of Marketing, Driver worked to help develop Bayer CropScience Canada’s current strategy for growth and says he’s committed to seeing that strategy through. And with its investment in technology, Driver says Bayer is well on its way to reaching its targeted sales goals. “Last year we committed 30 million dollars toward capital projects and we continue to invest in the latest production technologies, such as hybrid wheat.”

Bayer’s focus on people helps set it apart from the competition — just one aspect of the company Driver hopes to see continue. “In many ways agriculture is fully employed — we continue to look for people with technical expertise as this business becomes more and more technology-focused. This year alone we are hiring 180 summer students and all these students have the potential to become Bayer employees.”

Driver has seen agriculture change beyond anything he imagined 30 years ago, with a focus on solid business practices that use the latest technology to remain profitable. “A big part of Bayer’s success is that we have been able to keep in front of technological changes needed in agriculture today,” he says. “Growers want their seed to yield higher, their fungicides to offer better control and their herbicides to stop weeds from becoming a problem. We have been fortunate to have a pipeline of innovative products that continue to exceed the needs of growers.”

Farmers expect crop input technology to evolve with their business, concludes Driver, and sees it as his job to help make sure Bayer exceeds its customers’ expectations. Like the industry itself, he has seen Bayer grow faster and farther than anyone dreamed, and looks forward to leading the Canadian operation into the future. FF