As Canada commemorates its sesquicentennial this year, there is much to celebrate. Of course, there are also areas of ongoing concern—and this is true for the fresh produce industry as well. For this year’s True North supplement, we departed from our usual coverage to talk with 14 business leaders who have had a sustained impact on the Canadian fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain.
Among the common characteristics of these influential leaders are their acute vision and ability to juggle personal and professional lives. All are supreme multi-taskers. For most, it’s not enough to lead large companies and develop innovative programs and practices; they are also heavily involved in industry organizations as founders, board members, educators, and advocates.
As you will read, a background in produce is not a prerequisite for a successful career in buying or selling fruits and vegetables. But all of these individuals share a curiosity, enthusiasm, and passion for the produce industry, imbuing their respective companies with fresh insights and, perhaps most importantly, a positive outlook to inspire those around them.
Name: John Russell
Company: J.E. Russell Produce Ltd.
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Some people find their way into the produce industry by chance; others intentionally seek it out. John Russell, the president, owner (with his wife), and chief executive officer of Toronto’s J.E. Russell Produce Ltd., was literally born into it. “My father, Harry, following his service in the Royal Canadian Air Force overseas in World War II, spent the next 35 years in the produce industry,” he explains.
“My career path was destined from the age of sixteen, when I started on the docks of the Ontario Food Terminal in 1967.” That’s where the company named for him still operates today, occupying four stalls in Canada’s largest wholesale shipping facility, where it services independent retailers, chain stores, and foodservice companies across the nation.
When asked about the top attributes or background for thriving in the perishables industry, Russell cites desire, attitude, and an ability to think on one’s feet as ideal training for the job, rather than any specific field of education.
Russell founded his eponymously named-company only ten years after that first day he spent on the terminal docks as a teenager. His father instilled him with the values of honesty, integrity, respect, and hard work—all of which have driven the company’s leader ever since. Additionally, Russell has acted as a former director of the terminal market’s board and of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, and is current director of the Toronto Wholesale Produce Association.