NWTF Names CEO to Replace Keck, Faces Lawsuit

New NWTF CEO George C. Thornton

While the National Wild Turkey Federation braces for a lawsuit filed by two of its former highest officers, the agency named a respected agri-business leader to head the second-largest single-species conservation organization in North America.

George C. Thornton was named CEO of the NWTF on June 3 and replaced long-time leader of the organization, Rob Keck, whose resignation took effect June 1.

Thornton was named CEO following a search and several interviews by the organization’s board.

Thornton recently served as president and chief executive officer of Agriliance, LLC, a large North American agricultural distributor that provides retailers and producers with crop nutrients, crop protection products, seed and equipment. He retired from the company last August.

The National Agri-Marketing Association named him Agri-business Leader of the Year in 2006. Thornton also has served in various positions with American Cyanamid, ICI Americas, ICI Australia PLC, Griffin/Dupont, LLC and AgWeb.com. He also has served on the Minnesota Zoo’s board of directors.

“We are thrilled to have George leading this organization,” said Jere Peak, NWTF chairman of the board. “His background heading up Agriliance, which became the largest agricultural products distributor in North America under his leadership, and his commitment to the same conservation principles and hunting heritage values that the NWTF family holds dear, makes him a perfect fit to take us to the next level.”

Several of the companies Thornton has worked for have been financial supporters of the NWTF’s efforts.

Thornton, who begins work immediately, will attempt to fill the void left by Keck, who directed the NWTF for nearly 30 years. Keck was the face of the NWTF through its rise from a conservation group representing a relatively small band of turkey hunters in the late 1970s to more than 500,000 hunters and conservationists.

Keck announced his resignation following the controversial firing of the organization’s chief operating officer, Carl Brown, and Dick Rosenlieb, senior vice president of sales and marketing, during March. Brown and Rosenlieb have filed suit against the NWTF, charging their jobs were wrongfully ended.

NWTF advertising director Danny Young is serving as interim replacement for sales and marketing, while no replacement has been named for the COO position.

Now that the task of naming a new leader has been completed, one of Thornton’s first duties will be to fill those positions.

The task will be daunting as NWTF battles controversy and potential lawsuits surrounding the firings of the other executives, plus the economy’s downturn.

The NWTF also is attempting to redefine its direction, more geared toward working on behalf of hunter access and rights. NWTF originally was concerned with working with state and federal governments to restore wild turkeys to suitable habitats (that goal largely has been met.)

Keck’s future job status is uncertain, although he has close ties to Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops.

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