Murad al Katib: Entrepreneur of the Year

By Shlomo Maital

 Murad al Katib

   Financial Times chose as its Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Murad al Katib, who hails from my home town, Regina, Saskatchewan (Canada).   Al Katib grew up in a small farm town, Davidson, Sask., population 1,000.   Here is his story: (according to Ashley Robinson, writing in the Regina Leader-Post):

   “The dinner time discussion at the Al-Katib household in Davidson would always centre around one thing — how do you create jobs on Main Street? It was a sentiment Murad Al-Katib kept with him over the years.   His parents were community pillars in Davidson. The Al-Katibs immigrated to Canada in 1965 from Turkey and in 1975 settled in Davidson. His father, Fatih, was the local doctor and his mother, Feyhan, was a municipal councillor and later mayor of Davidson.”

       In 2001, Katib sat in the basement of his home, in Regina, at a time when his wife was expecting the birth of their twins. He recounts that he saw that the world’s hungry billions would need a cheap source of protein, and it could not come from meat or poultry. It had to come from vegetable protein, e.g. lentils, chick peas, etc. He wrote the words Saskatchewan and Canada, formed the hybrid SaskCan – and started SaskCan Pulse Trading, a facility to clean and process crops grown in Saskatchewan before sale overseas.

   Pulses are dried peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas, high in protein, low in fat. Katib used contacts in Turkey to sell his pulses. The company grew rapidly – in 2007 it changes its name to Alliance Grain Traders, and then, in 2014, to AGT Food and Ingredients. The goal: always: Feed the world, and create opportunities and jobs for Saskatchewan. The company today is valued at $900 m., and has 41 manufacturing plants on five continents, emplying 2,200 (of whom 650 are based in Saskatchewan). Katib travels the globe, but still resides with his family in Regina.

       Murad al-Katib studied at U. of Sask. and in Arizona, worked at the Canadian embassy in Washington – and in desperation, wrote a letter to then-Sask. premier Roy Romanow. He wrote how he felt that international emerging markets was where Sask.’s future lies, and the province should focus efforts on trade development. Deputy Prime Minister Frank Hart read the letter, and hired al-Katib, bringing him home. At the time, a socialist NDP govt. had just been elected, in 1991, and Saskatchewan was undergoing hard times (partly due to the 1990-2 recession).   In 2001 Katib quit his government job, and started a pulse processing company based in Regina.  And the rest is history.

     Katib’s twins Tariq and Serra now study at Campbell Collegiate, which has a unique business program Katib helped build.

     Lentils are not high-tech. But they are highly nutritious, and can feed a hungry world in a healthy manner.

      It is no accident that Katib’s parents were immigrants. Memo to President Trump: Canada has incredible energy, driven by its immigrants. My parents were immigrants.   America too was built by immigrants. History will remember your folly.