IRRI leadership changes hands during stirring turnover ceremony

 Gene Hettel   |  
         Incoming Director General Matthew Morell proudly waves the IRRI flag after receiving it from outgoing
Director General Robert Zeigler and IRRI Board Chair Emerlinda Roman.  

In stirring rites held early Friday afternoon at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Matthew Morell took over the reins as the institute’s ninth director general (DG). Outgoing DG Robert Zeigler presented Morell with the IRRI charter and flag during the turnover ceremony.

Just prior to handing over the tokens of leadership to his successor, Zeigler said (video clip), “My special thanks goes to IRRI staff  all around the world for their tremendous dedication and contribution to what IRRI does, what IRRI is, and how IRRI is seen. It makes me tremendously proud to reflect on what it has meant to me to have the great fortune of being at the helm as director general.”

Zeigler went on to say that “as the world changes, challenges change, opportunities change, and leaders change. An institution such as IRRI, which is driven by a clear vision and mandate and retains its value, will continue to grow and develop—and that is what change is all about. I am absolutely certain that Matthew is the right person for the job as he understands and fully absorbs the importance of what we do.”

Following the turnover, Morell said (video clip), “We stand on the shoulders of giants, so when you reflect on the directors general of IRRI—from Robert Chandler, Jr. (1960-72) to Robert Zeigler—it is striking how each director general took an individual approach to leading the development of the organization and shepherding the delivery of its mandate through their terms. I want to pay particular tribute to Bob for being at the helm during one of the most successful periods in IRRI’s history.”

“IRRI has a mandate that is completely compelling; that is, improving a product—rice—that is not only a commodity but a way of life,” Morell continued. “We are not just on a journey of technology, but of humanity. Whatever role you play at IRRI, it is an unbelievable honor and privilege to be an integral part of the delivery of rice science for a better world.”

Zeigler, an internationally respected plant pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in agricultural research in the developing world, was IRRI’s DG for a little more than 10 years—the second longest tenure after the institute’s founding DG, Chandler.

As DG, Zeigler set the institute’s strategic direction and was a passionate spokesperson on a wide range of issues that affect rice growers and consumers worldwide.

Morell, who has been IRRI’s deputy director general for research since February 2014, has shown effective strategic leadership of the institute. He brings to IRRI decades of experience, driven by great enthusiasm for scientific excellence and a sound capacity for stakeholder engagement. Prior to his arrival at IRRI, Morell worked for 16 years at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Also sharing their thoughts and hopes during the turnover were Emerlinda Roman, chair of the IRRI Board of Trustees; J.K. Ladha, representing IRRI’s senior scientists; Amelia Henry, representing IRRI’s young scientists; Joseph Sandro, representing the IRRI Filipino Scientists Association; Casiano Estrella, Jr., representing rice farmers around the world; Councilor Jaime Jimenez, representing the local government of Bay; and Serlie Jamias, vice chancellor for community affairs of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Following the ceremony at the Havener Auditorium in IRRI, the audience of visiting dignitaries and IRRI staff moved across the street to a newly constructed observation deck overlooking the institute’s 209-hectare experiment station. In a brief dedication ceremony (video above), the expanse was dedicated as the Zeigler Experiment Station. A plaque stating such was unveiled in front of a surprised and visibly touched Zeigler by his wife Crissan, and BOT Chair Roman.

Access 17-video playlist of the day’s speakers and events on YouTube.

     Flanked by Roman (left) and Morell, Zeigler and wife Crissan look at their personal version of
the plaque designating the IRRI  research farm as the Zeigler Experiment Station. 

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