Following an extensive global search, two internationally recognized leaders with deep understanding of agricultural research and innovation have been named to the top leadership posts of the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).
Dr. Steven Webb (PhD), a visionary and strategic research leader with more than 20 years of expertise in developing and managing multidisciplinary enterprises and new research and business opportunities, has been chosen as the executive director and chief executive officer of GIFS, effective in July 1.
Stephen Visscher CBE, who received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) honor from the Queen in 2013 for his outstanding work in support of scientific research in the U.K., will become director of strategic partnerships and chief operating officer, effective July 1.
“This internationally recognized duo will take this unique public-private partnership to new levels, advancing innovative multi-disciplinary research, training and technology development to improve sustainable crop production and help feed a hungry world,” said Karen Chad, USask vice-president research.
“Their outstanding leadership skills and experience will complement one another, providing strong leadership for GIFS and enhancing our world-class biosciences cluster through growth and links with public and private sector partners.”
Founded in 2012, GIFS is a partnership of Nutrien, the Government of Saskatchewan and USask focussed on research and technology development to improve agriculture in support of global food and nutritional security in both the developed and developing world.
As GIFS’ executive director and CEO, Webb will develop long-term strategies for growth and foster strong working relationships with scientific, agricultural and agri-food business communities in Canada and around the world.
“Steve’s established record of achievement in research and R&D and his international reputation for scientific excellence made him a stellar choice to lead GIFS forward,” said Alanna Koch, chair of the GIFS board of directors.
“His world-class career and track record of accomplishments in the areas of precision transformation and genome editing platforms for canola, corn, soybean and wheat have earned him the respect and international recognition of the agricultural industry, academia and the public sector.”
With graduate degrees from the University of Guelph, Webb has worked for many years as a research scientist and has held numerous international roles in the areas of cell biology, animal health and nutrition. He has more than 60 publications and 16 patents.
For the past two years, Webb has been R&D director of external technology at Corteva Agriscience in Indianapolis, U.S. where he led many research collaborations with private sector companies, research institutes, and universities. He led the successful design and building of the company’s Omega 9 Health Canola business. He has also developed and deployed Corteva’s external innovation partnership process for driving new products and technologies to accelerate innovation across the seed, crop protection and digital platforms.
Prior to that, he was the global leader of external technology, intellectual property development and early stage commercial assessment for Dow AgroSciences’ crop protection and seeds global businesses in Indianapolis. He led the design and development of the company’s EXZACT™ precision technology transformation and genome editing platforms for canola, corn, soybean and wheat.
As a board member for Ag-West Bio since 2016, Webb has a strong understanding of Saskatchewan’s historic role in innovation of food production and technology. He serves on other research institute boards such as the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute board and the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute’s scientific advisory board, and will serve as a non-voting member of the GIFS board.
“GIFS is a magnet for outstanding researchers and graduate students, making it a focal point for innovative, trans-disciplinary research in the agriculture and agri-food sector,” said Webb. “I look forward to working with our many partners to strategically build upon that research success and engaging with companies and others to develop and transfer technologies that will benefit farmers and foster economic and societal growth.”
Originally recruited as a GIFS board member in 2015, Visscher has served as interim executive director and CEO of GIFS since November of 2018.
“During the past seven months, Steve Visscher has proven his ability in forging new research partnerships and links with funders of food security research around the world, and in bringing together diverse teams in institutional, national and international partnerships,” said Koch. “The value he has brought and will continue to bring to GIFS is immeasurable.”
Previously, Visscher held several executive positions at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and various board positions linked to research in the United Kingdom for more than 20 years. As the organization’s deputy chief executive, he led international activities and global partnerships, including leading the U.K. delegation to G20 meetings of agricultural chief scientists in six countries including Russia, Australia, China, and Germany.
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, and the Institute of Internal Auditors, Visscher has held many prominent roles, including chair of the G20-sponsored Global Wheat Initiative’s institutions’ co-ordination committee.
Visscher will serve as deputy CEO of GIFS and as a non-voting executive member of the GIFS board.
“I look forward to working closely with GIFS colleagues and collaborating with partners in the Saskatoon biocluster and in developing new worldwide research links,” said Visscher. “There is considerable opportunity to build on the excellent work achieved in GIFS’ founding years and assisting the organization in its vital mission to develop new approaches for sustainable agriculture in Canada and through supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the developing world.”
For more information about GIFS, visit: www.gifs.ca