Grain equipment maker CEO Rob Stenson, 44

Rob Stenson, who gathered a clutch of Prairie manufacturers into a “single-stop supplier” for grain handling equipment internationally, died Friday morning of complications from cancer.

The founder of Winnipeg’s Ag Growth International had publicly announced six weeks earlier that he had cancer and would undergo treatments, but would continue in his roles and responsibilities.

“Rob’s accomplishment in growing AGI from very modest beginnings is a great Canadian success story,” company chairman Bill Lambert said in a release Friday.

“Rob is irreplaceable both as friend and business colleague, but he leaves AGI with a clear strategic direction and a deep and capable management team led by his co-founder Gary Anderson.”

Anderson, the company’s president and chief operating officer, has been named Ag Growth’s interim CEO effective immediately, the company said.

The company’s businesses include portable and stationary grain handling, storage and conditioning equipment such as augers, belt conveyors, grain storage bins, grain handling accessories and grain aeration equipment, distributed in nine provinces, 48 U.S. states and overseas.

Its holdings on the Canadian Prairies include grain auger makers Westfield and Wheatheart; conveyor maker Batco; grain bin manufacturer Twister Pipe; and the Edwards Group, a grain dryer company.

Stenson was part of the group that saw Batco, a Swift Current, Sask. maker of belt conveyor equipment to handle more fragile specialty crops, through its startup in the mid-1990s. Ag Growth was formed and engineered a reverse takeover of Batco in 1996.

“Continued progress”

As Stenson said in 2004, Ag Growth set itself up with a platform to “grow organically while also attracting new investment to acquire additional product lines” that clicked with the company’s own offerings.

For example, it bought Saskatoon’s Wheatheart in 1998, followed by Westfield of Rosenort, Man., in 2000. By 2004 Ag Growth had gone public on the TSX as an income trust and set up its headquarters in Winnipeg.

Following the federal government’s decision to tax income trusts starting in 2007, Ag Growth reached a deal in 2009 to assume the tax losses of a defunct Toronto diamond mining company and take on the mining firm’s corporate status.

The new corporation renamed itself Ag Growth International and began trading on the TSX last year under the symbol AFN.

The company now runs 10 manufacturing divisions in Canada, the U.S. and Finland. Its most recent acquisition, late last month, was Winnipeg custom parts maker Franklin Enterprises.

Stenson said in early September that the time he could devote to his management duties would be “somewhat limited” as he dealt with his health issues.

However, he added in a release, “I am confident that any distraction arising from my personal situation will have no impact on the continued progress of our strategic plan.”

Details of a memorial for Stenson weren’t available Friday afternoon. The Canadian Press news agency on Friday reported he was 44 at the time of his death.

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