David Long, the new CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, cooked all over the world before moving into the boardroom for the first time in 2005
GORDON MCINTYRE Updated: March 11, 2019
From serving the Princess Royal and her entourage to seeing that 27,000 people in Metro Vancouver get food each week, David Long‘s journey from County Down to recently named CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank has been an adventure.
“My claim to fame is Rory McIlroy and I are from the same little town, Holywood in Northern Ireland, and went to the same school,” Long said. “He was far smarter than I am because I played rugby and he played golf.”
Before he transitioned to the boardroom, Long was a globe-trotting chef, cooking in Switzerland, London, Dublin, Melbourne, long before the celebrity-chef thing took off.
“I knew at a pretty early age I wanted to be a chef,” the 54-year-old said. “When I was 16, 17, that’s what I wanted to be. My dad was an architect and I think that was the biggest argument we had all those years ago: He wanted me to be an architect, I said, ‘No, no, no. This is something I really want to do.
“I think I was vindicated about 10 or 15 years later when all of a sudden chefs became sort of rock stars.”
By the age of 22, Long had returned home, where he led the Irish team that won a coveted Hotelympia gold medal at the hotel and restaurant industry’s massive annual expo in London.
It was good practice for being under the microscope as a future CEO.
The five-member cook teams had to make lunch for 120 to 140 people as an à la carte service — appetizer, main course, dessert — with judges looking over their shoulders the whole time.
“They’d take a plate off the pass to taste it and judge it, and they’d watch how you cope with getting that table out, seeing it’s missing one of the main courses or whatever that they’ve taken.
“It was a lot of fun, we had a great team, we went there on a shoe-string budget and we won a gold medal. We were so excited.”
Excitement, fun. Long seems to spread each like contagions everywhere he has been.
If there’s a theme linking his varied job postings — running an exclusive club, a waste-management startup, a private winter club, a security firm — it’s leadership.
The Vancouver odyssey began during a vacation in which Long met the Pan Pacific’s Ernst Dorfler, renown chef to royalty — both the European and Hollywood kind. Dorfler, now owner of Five Sails with his wife Gerry Sayers, told Long over coffee that his executive sous chef was leaving and offered him the job. “I went back to Ireland, sold my house and car, and moved to Canada,” Long said. “I’ve been here ever since.”
It was while Long was executive chef at the Terminal City Club that he made the cross-over from the kitchen to the boardroom. After five years of working as executive chef, Long decided to throw his toque blanche into the ring with the other 80 or so hats of people applying to be the new CEO.
“I knew the club, I knew the membership, I knew the board members a little bit,” Long said. “I thought to myself in a crazy moment, ‘You know what? I think I can run this place.’”
He survived to the list of 15 finalists. He chuckled at that.
Then he made the cut for the final four.
“Reality kind of set in. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do if they actually choose me?’”
He spent the next five years guiding Terminal City through a $6-million renovation, negotiations with the provincial and federal governments leading to the 2010 Olympics, then hosting all sorts of VIPs during the Games such as Princess Anne.
After 10 fond years at Terminal City, Long set out on a new adventure, co-founding Daedal Energy. It was a great idea, to recycle waste cooking oil into biofuel. A great idea, that is, when oil was $100 US a barrel, not so great when the price fell to $50.
He took over as general manager at the North Shore Winter Club, where he has more fond memories, and then, for something completely different, he became vice-president of operations at Securiguard Services, before being hired by the Food Bank as COO in May, 2018.
“What’s interesting … I think you’re right, I think it’s all leadership-transferable skills,” Long said. “Steve Jobs nailed it when he said you can connect the dots looking backwards, you can’t connect the dots looking forward.”
He arrived at the Food Bank at an interesting time. It moves this summer from its cramped quarters in Strathcona to almost 40,000 square feet of space in Burnaby, with double the refrigeration capacity.
“We’re no longer handing out plastic bags with Kraft Dinner and a bent can of peas or beans in it,” he said. “The quality of what we’re distributing is amazing and I see the results of those things, on a daily basis. I can see first-hand the difference we’re already making.
“I feel like I’ve gone full circle. I feel I’ve come home.
“I feel like, and I don’t want to be corny about it, but I just feel like I’ve got so much to give back to this organization.”