Beef industry advocacy is not new to McCan. Both his great-uncle and grandfather served as president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), as did he; his father was also active in the organization. “Our family has been active in advocacy groups for cattlemen for a long time,” he says. “So I grew up in that environment.”

That early exposure to those who understood the important role that associations play in ranch life left an imprint. “Those guys, the leaders of our industry, they were my icons, my idols; they were my mentors,” he says. “So it just naturally sent me in the direction of preparing myself to be part of the advocacy for our industry, to give back to our industry.”

It was through the leadership ranks of TSCRA that McCan spent many years honing his leadership skills. Those skills will be crucial in the coming year as NCBA works to better represent all participants and all segments of the beef industry, says Matt Brockman, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, TX.

Brockman, who was TSCRA executive vice president during McCan’s leadership years there, says the rancher has a realistic vision for NCBA and how it can benefit the beef industry. He also has a style that can turn realism into action.

“Bob has always found a way to effectively communicate with the diverse mindsets and cultures within the cattle business,” Brockman says. “The glass is always half-full with Bob, and he has a personality and a mindset, and just a way about him, that gets people to trust him and converse with him. If the industry is ready to come together and truly address critical issues, Bob is a man who can get the sides together and find common ground. And that can lead to some good things.”

That history of industry advocacy and those finely honed leadership skills will be necessary as McCan works to help a sometimes splintered industry find its unity and its path forward.

“I am optimistic,” he says of the industry and its future. “We’ve got a lot of challenges, but we’ve got just as many opportunities, if not more. It’s going to be a good time to make some progress in the industry and move the needle to make things better for our producers.”

All for one and one for all

One challenge where McCan sees a lot of opportunity is a growing acknowledgement among producers regarding the importance of industry unity. Industry organizations have come through a difficult and divisive time, he says, “But I think people are realizing that unity is extremely, extremely important for this industry right now.”

Given his years in the leadership trenches both at the state and national levels, he’s not naive about cattlemen’s natures. “We’re going to have differences,” he says. “But if we obsess too much on the differences, it will split us. If we can work on getting those differences worked out within the industry for the betterment of everybody, it’s going to be really good for the industry. We’ve got to concentrate on the things that will help our industry and move our industry forward.”

Industry unity is important for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that an industry working against itself isn’t working for or with consumers. To that end, one of his goals is to up the octane in the industry’s “gate-to-plate” efforts. For years, producers viewed packers and retailers as antagonists, when in fact the end game — providing a product that consumers will buy again and again — is everyone’s goal.

McCan has always believed that you get more done working with others rather than against them, and he applies that philosophy to packers and retailers. “We’ve worked really hard to get in alignment with all sectors of the industry, from the cow-calf guy to stockers and feeders, packers and retailers. I think that’s very important.”

He’s fully aware that the concept has generated plenty of discussion and disagreement, and that it will continue to do so. “But I think we’ve got to be in alignment with the folks who help us in the production chain.”

It can be done, he believes, because he’s seen it happen before. “Just in my career in the advocacy world, I’ve seen different cattlemen’s groups that used to fight like cats and dogs kind of come together. With that unified vision, we’re way better off,” he says.