New investment leads to new chief at Morris

A major cash infusion from a pair of Calgary private investment firms, among others, has put new hands at the helm of farm equipment maker Morris Industries.

Morris on Tuesday announced its president, Ben Voss — a Saskatoon engineer and farmer, and one of the players in the new investment group — has also been named CEO, replacing Casey Davis.

Davis, who until now was also Morris’ majority shareholder, will remain a minority shareholder and a member of the company’s board of directors, moving to an “advisory” role.

Morris, founded by George Morris as Morris Rod-Weeder in 1929, is based in Saskatoon and also has manufacturing plants at Yorkton, Sask. and Minnedosa, Man. The company’s product lines today include air seeders, air carts, air drills, press drills, harrow bars and bale carriers.

Morris’ president since 2015, Voss came to the company from a stint as CEO for MLTC Resource Development, a private-equity partnership owned by the nine Meadow Lake First Nations in northwestern Saskatchewan. Voss also owns a fourth-generation grain farm at Spiritwood, Sask., about 150 km southeast of Meadow Lake.

Voss and Davis, Morris said, made a “joint decision” to transition majority ownership to the investor group, led by Voss and including Calgary investment firms Avrio Capital and Lamont Brown Group.

The sizes of the various players’ new investments in Morris weren’t disclosed Tuesday.

For Avrio, whose partners Aki Georgacacos and Steven Leakos also now join Morris’ board, the Morris stake is billed as one of its “largest investments to date.”

Avrio, in a separate release Tuesday, said its stake is part of a $20 million deployment it made across three companies, also including mushroom producer M2 and plant genetics firm Phytelligence. Of that amount, Avrio said it had committed $6 million to Phytelligence.

“We are delighted to have attracted Avrio to lead the recapitalization of our company,” Voss said in Avrio’s release, citing its “depth of food and agriculture expertise and track record.”

“With its strong market position and a renewed commitment to the company’s core values of innovation and service that has built the Morris legacy, we believe the opportunities to grow this business are limitless,” Leakos said in the same release.

Lamont Brown Group is billed as a “family office” set up by businessman Keith Brown, who launched Saskatchewan trailer manufacturer Trailtech and also operates a farmland investment company.

“(W)e are all together today launching the next generation of Morris,” Brown said Tuesday in Morris’ release, noting “we know Morris, Ben Voss and Avrio and we couldn’t be happier that all these ingredients are combined in this very exciting business opportunity.”

Morris on Tuesday billed the new investment overall as “a significant commitment to growth and re-investment in the company” and said it will be “undertaking an ambitious and exciting plan as a market leader, playing a key role in the future of farming around the world.”

“There are existing and evolving market opportunities that will continue to allow Morris to grow,” said Davis, who had been Morris’ CEO since 2001 and bought control of the company from Wendy Morris in 2007. — AGCanada.com Network

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