Updated: Mar 19
When it comes to narrowing down Jennifer Wood’s agricultural career title, it can be tricky—along with co-operating her family’s cattle ranch with her husband, she is a professional agrologist who also consults agribusinesses, consistently looks for new entrepreneurial endeavours in agriculture, and is also an active board member on multiple governance boards.
Summing up all of her experiences, Wood just might be the “Jen-of-all-trades” when it comes to agriculture business.
As the recipient of many awards such as the Women of Distinction Award, Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Report on Business’ Top 40 Under 40, and the University of Alberta’s Alumni Horizon Award, Wood’s career has gained national recognition. She also starred on the first season of CBC’s Dragons’ Den as one of the prominent investors.
Among her numerous accomplishments and accolades, Wood attributes her success to three different milestones in her professional journey: her education, her work in board governance, and her passion for entrepreneurship.
“I started to see three pivot points [in my career]—one is education. We learn to think and solve problems in university and I think that's really key,” says Wood.
It was also during her post-secondary education at the University of Alberta that Wood was able to combine the aspects of business and agriculture.
“I saw lots of opportunity in agriculture, but I also believed that finance would be my path through to it,” says Wood.
At first, Wood’s studies focused primarily on business, until one day the Faculty of Agriculture approached her. The faculty proposed a pilot program connecting both business and agriculture.
“When this pilot project came about from the University of Alberta and asked if I would [take] part—there were three of us who participated in the pilot program—I jumped at the opportunity because it just seemed like such a natural fit,” says Wood.
Today, the original pilot program that helped launch Wood’s career still exists today. It is now a bachelor’s degree provided by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences.
Later in her career, Wood took a liking to board governance work. Most recently she was the outgoing board chair at Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), an organization dedicated to providing financial support services to agribusinesses.
“AFSC is such an important organization to agriculture and agribusinesses in Alberta. I've always explained that AFSC has three lines of business: lending, insurance, and stability programs,” Wood says.
With over 80 years of service, AFSC has helped Albertan farmers and businesses grow, and when Wood took over as board chair back in 2017, she continued to deliver on that promise.
Working with the agriculture sector and the government while also listening to producer concerns, Wood and AFSC board members recognized the need to update the lending mandate. During her term as board chair, AFSC was able to increase the borrowing limit from 5 million to 15 million.
“As a producer and [as a] rancher, we definitely see value in AFSC. The importance of having not only the lending, but various insurance programs are instrumental to the agriculture sector—without that, it would be very difficult for us or for other producers to mitigate our risks,” says Wood.
When reflecting on the challenges in her career, Wood’s outlook is quite optimistic. Where some people see obstacles, she reframes the situation, views it from an entrepreneurial perspective, and finds opportunities.
“I actually see challenges as opportunities and a way to think outside the box sometimes—to figure out how best to move forward,” Wood says.
With one of the latest challenges facing our world today, industries including the agriculture sector are taking a hard hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. But with an understanding of agriculture’s overall role on a global scale, Wood sees a silver lining.
“What the pandemic has shown to consumers is the importance of our food supply—and I think what it's allowed people now to understand, who may not have been close to agriculture, is to recognize that Canadian agriculture is very important,” says Wood.
Despite the challenges the pandemic presented, opportunity lies within how she and other agricultural players can contribute value to the sector. From Wood’s perspective, this global crisis demonstrated to the public the industry’s resilience as well as the importance of creating sustainable value-added agriculture systems.
“If we don’t look at it in a sustainable manner and maintain our environment and everything else—we don’t have a business,” says Wood.
“[People] are starting to recognize, ‘we are good stewards of our land. We are caretakers of livestock. We do produce good quality feed sources.’ Everybody kind of forgot about that and now I think it’s more front and centre.”
As Wood moves forward to the next stages in her career, she is not slowing down any time soon. Building on that momentum, she is continuously finding ways to connect business and agriculture.
One way Wood continues to add value to the agriculture sector is through her mentorship work. Alongside two programs, Creative Destruction Labs (CDL) in the Ag Stream and University of Alberta’s ThresholdImpact Venture Mentoring Services (VMS), Wood is an active mentor to promising entrepreneurs in agribusinesses.
Through her mentorship work, she is able to consult emerging businesses and provide guidance into which direction a business should grow.
“I love looking for opportunity and using my skillset and the skillset of others to sort of figure out problems. Especially when it comes to organizations and boards, I'm able to communicate and really look at that long-term vision or needs of an organization,” says Wood.
“To me, it's an interest and passion in moving something forward.”