Fred Webber enjoys helping warring factions find peace.
“I have always enjoyed dispute resolution,” Webber said. “I am one of those geeky guys. When I lived in a Chicago suburb I was on the school board, and I was always the guy who was first to volunteer to do the union negotiation,” he said. “It was fun, and we never had a strike.”
Webber, chief executive officer and president of the Ottawa, Ontario-based Fruit and Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp., said there is nothing more rewarding than helping people talk through their problems.
“Most people want to do the right thing, and most of the time it is not (about) the money,” Webber said.
From grower-shippers to transporters to end-users, Webber wants to do the right thing for everybody in the supply chain, said Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers and chairman of the Dispute Resolution Corp.
Webber brings a passion for industry in trying to improve processes, he said.
“What impresses me about Fred is that he is really all about making it collectively better for industry so that ease of trading produce can be enhanced,” he said.
McInerney said Webber has been an invaluable resource for the DRC but, more importantly for the overall industry, identifying challenges and issues and possible solutions.
Webber, on the brink of his 58th birthday, is a strong, open communicator who works networks well with other Canadian trade organizations and trade groups throughout North America, said Luc Mougeot, vice president of the DRC.
Webber plays a key role in the ongoing talks of the Regulatory Cooperation Council, with the centerpiece goal of establishing financial risk mitigation in Canada, working with the government and the Canadian Horticultural Council of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association to make sure things are still on track and moving forward, Mougeot said.
“His U.S. experience working at (Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act enforcement), at the Blue Book and other places has been a great benefit to that process,” Mougeot said.
“The Canadian government and even some in the industry didn’t know really what financial risk mitigation tools are in the U.S. and how they really work,” he said. “He has done a great job explaining it,” he said.
Webber said that Illinois Sen. Paul Simon connected Webber with an opportunity at the Chicago field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s PACA branch 1986 because Simon was upset about some issues related to the program. Webber worked with the PACA for three years, until 1989.
At that point, an opportunity to advance his career came when Webber was approached by The Produce Reporting Co. (Blue Book), Carol Stream, Ill.
Webber helped set up the Trading Assistance Department at the Blue Book and helped Blue Book members resolve issues without necessarily taking them to PACA.
When the DRC was being formed, Webber was on the task force to create it. Webber was instrumental, along with Blue Book’s Jim Carr, in the founding of the Dispute Resolution Corporation in 1997.
The DRC asked the Blue Book to handle dispute resolution functions for the DRC. For the first six years of the DRC, Webber’s staff at the Blue Book handled both the Blue Book disputes and the DRC disputes.
In 2005, Webber left Blue Book to work full time at the Dispute Resolution Corp. until he ascended to the presidency of the DRC in the last year, succeeding the esteemed Stephen Whitney.
While filling those big shoes, Webber said one of the biggest challenges he faces now is to train and empower his staff at the DRC so they are ready for what the future holds.
“I’m always urging them to get people talking,” he said, asking questions such as, “Why do you think it happened? Why do you think he did that to you? What did he have to gain?”
Getting people to answer those questions often uncovers the answer to the problem, he said.