It might be hard to imagine that splitting lentils in Saskatchewan could turn a young man with an idea into a rock star in the business world. Then again, that’s what entrepreneurs do — they dare to dream.
But not even Murad Al-Katib envisioned being named EY World Entrepreneur of the Year one day, and yet that’s exactly what happened on a stage in Monte Carlo, Monaco last June, in a glitzy ceremony to rival any Hollywood show.
The prestigious program to honour entrepreneurs was created over 30 years ago by EY (formerly Ernst & Young) in the United States. In 2018, the program celebrates 25 years in Canada, and has been operating on a global level since 2001. Past winners read like a who’s who of successful entrepreneurs associated with companies like Amazon, Starbucks and Google.
Al-Katib, the enterprising founder of Regina-based AGT Food and Ingredients, formerly known as Alliance Grain Traders, was selected out of 59 national winners from 49 countries vying for the global title.
“Any time you have an opportunity to be recognized representing your country at a global competition, there’s a sense of pride,” says Al-Katib. “To win the title on Canada’s 150th anniversary was a humbling, emotional experience. ”
Al-Katib’s success story is impressive. From the launch of his company in 2001 with just an idea, a blank sheet of paper and a wife who was six months pregnant with twins, to the full realization of his vision for a global processing infrastructure for pulse crops, AGT is now the world’s largest vertically integrated supply chains for lentils, chickpeas and peas. After going public in 2007, the company now has more to exports nearly a quarter of the world’s trade in lentils to more than 120 countries.
In Canada, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year contest gets close to 500 nominations annually. Winners are determined at each of five regional programs across the country, and in a number of categories. From there, one winner is chosen at a national event to represent the country in the global competition. The independent judging panels at all levels are made up of entrepreneurs.
Francois Tellier is the National Director of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program in Canada, and the EY crew was excited to see the global award come back to Canada for only the second time — the first was in 2007 to Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté.
“Murad’s story is absolutely fantastic,” says Tellier. “In 15 years, he went from starting a business in a basement to consolidating a global pulse industry — zero to two billion dollars, 15 acquisitions.
At 44 years old, he’s accomplished what many never accomplish,” adds Tellier.
“He had all the elements to be able to win on a global scale — a great financial story, a great personal story, a great impact on his community, a sense of purpose, a vision for continued growth and significant impact on the global stage,” says Tellier.
Jim Nixon, Chairman and CEO of Nixon Energy Investments and chair of the EY World Entrepreneur of The Year judging panel says: “The judging panel, with broad geographical and industry perspective, came to a unanimous decision after a vigorous, balanced and informed debate. Murad is an incredible entrepreneur who has demonstrated outstanding value creation, organizational reach and expansion. Through sustainable agricultural practices, he is making a positive impact on the global environment. ”
Allison Ammeter is a farmer from Sylvan Lake, Alberta and vice-chair of the Pulse Canada board, on which Al-Katib also sits. “He enjoys talking to people about the pulse industry, about his opportunities, about the things he’s doing,” she says. “He’s always talking about ‘this is my idea for two years from now!’ He’s never stuck in ‘we’re going to do it the way we’ve always done it. ‘ He’s always looking at something new. ”
Despite all his global business activities, Al-Katib remains active in agriculture industry groups and issues as well as economic development efforts.”
He recognizes his business is not just within his walls, but outside his walls,” says Ammeter.
The global award has given a boost to Al-Katib’s passion for encouraging other entrepreneurs through judging the EY contest, coaching and even helping a campaign in his hometown to promote and develop entrepreneurs.
“I always say to entrepreneurs I have no fear,” says Al-Katib. “That’s not because I have such a high risk tolerance — it’s because I do my homework. Fear comes from the unknown. If I do my homework and can try and predict the outcome, why would I be afraid?”
That fits well with another piece of advice Al-Katib loves to share with entrepreneurs, about being passionate about your business idea.
“I said at the EY Strategic Growth Forum, have passion. Follow your heart, but don’t forget your head. At the end of the day, it still has to make sense. You’ve got to do your work, and you’ve got to use good judgement. If you follow your heart blindly, passion has led to many, many failures in business.
“Do your homework, take calculated, bold risks and have no fear,” he says. “That’s the progression of the philosophy I’m trying to take to the world entrepreneur platform I’ve been afforded now with the win. “