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DRC’s Stephen Whitney announces retirement plans

Stephen Whitney, who has served as the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian-based Dispute Resolution Corp. since its inception in 1999, has announced his retirement effective Dec. 31, 2011.

Mr. Whitney recently shared his plans with the DRC board of directors in order to provide the board with sufficient opportunity to establish a process to search for his replacement. DRC board Chairman Matt McInerney, who is also the executive vice president of the Western Growers Association in Irvine, CA, said that the board has appointed an executive search committee made up of board members from Canada, the United States and Mexico, the three countries served by DRC.

“We expect to conduct a thorough search and hope to have a new executive in place by the fall to work with Stephen as he transitions out of the position,” said Mr. McInerney. “The search will be an open and transparent process and we welcome applications from throughout the industry. We expect the winning candidate will have some dispute resolution experience as well as experience in our industry.”

Mr. McInerney praised Mr. Whitney’s service to the industry during his 30-year career. Prior to joining the DRC, he worked for the Canadian Produce Marketing Association and the Canadian Horticultural Council for 18 years as assistant executive vice-president for both organizations.

Mr. Whitney told The Produce News that he grew up on an apple farm and operated an apple operation before joining CPMA.

“We had an apple operation and sold it and then I moved to Ottawa for what I thought would be a three-month position, and I never left,” he said.

Mr. McInerney said that Mr. Whitney is leaving the DRC in very good shape. He said that membership is at an all-time high and the industry organization is in excellent financial condition. DRC is a membership organization designed to offer dispute resolution on shipments to Canada in much that same way that PACA operates in the United States.

“Working for the DRC has been a wonderful and rewarding experience,” Mr. Whitney said in a press release announcing his retirement. “It has been an amazing journey and I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity to be part of the team that designed and built this organization which is the apex of my career. I loved every minute of it and I cannot begin to thank the many people and organizations in both industry and government who made my job easier. Any success the DRC has achieved over time is a direct result of ongoing collaborative efforts between industry and governments from Canada, the United States of America and Mexico. It is a model that others could learn from.”

In a June 14 interview with The Produce News, he elaborated, stating that the DRC has been able to reach most of the goals that it established for itself at the outset.

“Overall I am quite pleased with how we have evolved over the years,” he said. “I am pleased with our growth over those 11 years though there are a few things left to be done.”

He said that when the DRC was established, it had some primary goals, including reaching 1,500 members, resolving disputes within Canada and resolving disputes between U.S. and Mexican shippers and Canadian receivers. Additionally, the DRC was hopeful that it could serve as the dispute resolution group for domestic shipments within Mexico as well as shipments from Canada and the United States to Mexico.

With regard to membership, Mr. Whitney said that the goal of 800 Canadian members has been exceeded, as the vast majority of the Canadian produce industry has utilized DRC as its dispute-governing agency of choice. DRC has been used extensively by Canadian receivers and shippers on both domestic and international produce shipments.

In fact, Mr. Whitney said that the DRC is even being used to solve disputes between shippers and receivers within the same Canadian province, a benefit that was not anticipated 11 years ago.

While U.S. membership has fallen just a bit short of the target of 500 companies, Mr. Whitney said that many U.S. companies that export to Canada are members and use the DRC on an as-needed basis to solve issues related to problem shipments to their northern neighbor just as diagrammed when the corporation was formed.

The Mexican piece of the pie, he said, has not worked as originally envisioned. With the aid of some funding from the Mexican government, the DRC had an office in Mexico for a time early in its existence and signed up many members. However, because Mexico has no destination inspection system, it has been difficult to establish a dispute resolution process on loads received in Mexico from any point of origin, domestic or otherwise.

Mr. Whitney said that the establishment of standards and a destination inspection system is necessary if the DRC is to ever reach the goal of offering its services on those types of loads. Currently, a couple of dozen Mexican shippers who ship to Canada are members of the DRC and use services when needed on those loads. There are also produce shippers from other countries of origin that are members of the DRC and can use the dispute resolution services on shipments into Canada.

Looking forward, Mr. Whitney said another missing element that the DRC would like to see implemented is a PACA Trust type of program in Canada. The PACA Trust gives a priority position to produce shipments when a U.S. receiver goes into bankruptcy. No such provision is currently in place in Canada.

Mr. Whitney said that he has been involved in discussions with Canadian regulators to establish a regulation or law that would be similar to the PACA Trust rules. He said that those talks have continued over the years with both gains and setbacks. Currently, a report is due in the fall from a broad-based committee that includes officials from Agriculture Canada, and he is hopeful that it will include a recommendation for such legislation.

Mr. Whitney characterized his pending retirement as the opportunity to move to another stage in his life that will give him time to accomplish some enjoyable pursuits, such as a return to farming and traveling. He has bought a farm in Canada and planted a wheat crop. He said he will stick with the grains and oil seed crops, as he does not want to compete with the people he has been representing for all of these years.

“Also I’d like to grow crops that are not too labor-intensive and I would like to do some traveling,” he said.

Mr. McInerney said that the DRC executive will be missed but reiterated that his service has been invaluable.

“Stephen was instrumental in the success of the DRC by ensuring that the DRC remained focused on its core activities of providing dispute prevention and resolution services in a cost-effective and timely manner,” said Mr. McInerney. “On behalf of the board and all of our members I want to thank him for his tireless efforts for industry throughout his illustrious career and wish him well.”

The Dispute Resolution Corp. is a private, non-profit organization of companies that trade or transport fresh produce in North America. It was established under Article 707 of NAFTA with the support and endorsement of the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican governments. It is dedicated to providing fair, efficient, affordable and enforceable dispute resolution services.