Focus on Demand: NCBA’s Frazier recalls BSE scare, more
After 34 years with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), and the last four as the CEO, Kendal Frazier has announced his plans for retirement.
NCBA is actively seeking a new CEO, and Frazier will continue working in his position until Dec. 31, 2019 in order to assist with the transition process.
Looking back on his lifetime spent working on behalf of America’s farmers and ranchers, Frazier’s career stemmed from his experiences growing up on the family’s diversified cattle and grain operation near Wichita, Kans.
After high school, Frazier attended Kansas State University where he graduated with a degree in agricultural economics in 1973.
He began his career as a farm broadcaster in Kansas, where he also served as the director of communications for the Kansas Livestock Association. In 1985, Frazier took a job with the National Cattlemen’s Association (now NCBA) in Denver, Colo., where he spent more than three decades guiding the industry through market woes, animal health crises, consumer misconceptions, activist threats and more.
“As producers, we face many tough issues, and having somebody like Kendal who is not afraid to tackle these challenges and who knows how to best approach these issues without creating more controversy and chaos has been incredibly valuable to our organization,” said Craig Uden, a cattle feeder and 2018 NCBA president.
“The wealth of knowledge that he has based on the changes and evolution he’s seen in the industry over the last 40 years has been a valuable resource. He leads with a quiet, steady hand, and he’s been very adept at putting the right people on his team to make the organization efficient and effective in responding to issues,” says Uden, from Elwood, Nebraska.
Uden recalls working with Frazier when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that beef was carcinogenic.
“Thanks to Kendal’s leadership, we were ready for the WHO report that erroneously claimed that beef caused cancer,” said Uden. “We often said that this issue could have been even more damaging to the industry than the first case of BSE, but we had websites ready, people prepared to visit with the media and a strategic approach in place to combat the misconceptions. And it was because of Kendal’s previous experiences dealing with this type of scenario that allowed us to be successful in facing this issue head on.”
For Frazier, handling the media frenzy following the first case of “Mad Cow Disease,” was a standout moment in his career.
“When the first case of BSE hit the United States in 2003 just before Christmas, we were ready,” said Frazier. “We had been watching this disease in Europe and worked closely with the USDA and the Clinton Administration to put together a plan for if it ever happened in the United States. The day the case broke, we had a dark website already created that we immediately launched. We held a news conference and connected with 100 national broadcast and print news media reporters. We started to tell the story that the American beef supply was safe, and our internal team, along with efforts from our state beef associations, worked for 11 straight days to share this message. We worked on Christmas Day and New Years Day to manage this issue, and through consumer surveys, we discovered that confidence in beef never faltered. That’s one incident that we helped to manage that I feel really good about.”
Working for NCBA, Frazier always kept a sharp focus on consumer demand and what drives it.
“From a historical standpoint, the beef industry experienced a series of shocks in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Frazier. “In 1973, consumers boycotted beef because of high prices, and the industry was totally unprepared. In 1977, a set of dietary guidelines were issued with the recommendation to eat less beef; this rippled through the nutritional and health community. In 1993, we had an E. coli outbreak at a Jack In The Box, where several kids died, and the industry had to navigate through that and did poorly at it. At the same time, our beef product was not very consumer friendly. Folks didn’t know how to cook it, the quality was inconsistent, and it was inconvenient; and as a result, beef demand was cut in half. This put tremendous stress on our industry.”
That’s what spurred the industry’s first ever Long Range Planning Committee, which came together in 1994. Frazier said this committee took a hard look at what the industry needed to regain consumer confidence and boost beef sales.
“At the same time the first Long Range Plan was released in 1994, we needed to change some industry organization structures, and that’s when NCBA was formed,” said Frazier. “As a result, we really got focused on beef demand and what drives it.”
During his tenure at NCBA, Frazier helped to secure the passage of the Beef Checkoff referendum and was instrumental in developing resources for the first checkoff-funded public relations and issues management work conducted by NCBA as a contractor of the Beef Checkoff in 1998.
“I believe leveraging checkoff dollars against these big demand drivers helped our industry tremendously,” said Frazier. “For example, we invested Beef Checkoff dollars on nutrition, so we could go to health professionals and discuss how beef fits in the diet. We invested in food safety research to tackle the issues of E. coli. We focused on quality with the National Beef Quality Audit. My point is, that’s where the Beef Checkoff started to drive against those demand issues. Decline in beef demand stopped and started to increase and has been on an upward trend ever since. That’s what I’ve experienced in my career, and it’s exciting to now be at a place where we are producing record supplies of beef and have strong domestic and international demand for our product.”
“For more than three decades, the beef industry has benefitted from Kendal’s vision and leadership. There is no doubt in my mind that he has played a major role in ensuring the success of our industry today,” said NCBA President Jennifer Houston. “It has been my pleasure to work closely with Kendal for many years and I can say without a doubt that we are far better off because of his service to cattlemen and cattlewomen.”
“Words really can’t express the industry’s appreciation for Kendal’s leadership on so many significant industry issues,” said Ross Wilson, CEO of Texas Cattle Feeders Association. “His steady hand and thoughtful leadership have been a key part of so many opportunities and challenges that have shaped the beef industry now and literally for the past few decades. We truly are a better industry because of Kendal Frazier.”
As NCBA seeks to fill Frazier’s role as CEO, he leaves big shoes to fill. For Frazier, he’s looking forward to spending more time with Cindy, his wife of 44 years, and reconnecting with old friends. Looking back on his time working for NCBA, Frazier says it’s been a wonderful journey.
“I’ve been so fortunate to work around such incredible cattlemen and women throughout my career,” he said. “It’s been so rewarding to work with folks who are independent business people. The beef industry is one of the last segment of American business that still operates with transparency, honesty and the handshake mentality. I’m leaving with our organization and our industry in a good place, so it’s a good time for somebody new to step in and take NCBA to a new level and to continue to push the industry forward.”