When it comes to opportunity in the produce industry, many women had to fight for jobs generally reserved for men. Others seized the day and never looked back.
After five years in accounts receivable, inventory, and helping train several salesmen at G.A.C. Produce, Rosie Cornelius, says the sales manager mentioned “he would have given me the sales position but was afraid I was going to get married and leave. I pointed out there had been at least three men in the position—they were gone, and I was still there—so he gave me the opportunity the following season.”
She worked sales in the mornings and early afternoon, then fulfilled her accounting and inventory duties at night. When she finally transitioned to sales full time, she was warned the produce industry was “a man’s world and it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Suzanne Wolter was an intern at Tom Lange Company in Salinas, while attending Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. After graduation, she joined the company full-time as a broker trainee. “It was a great experience and provided me with a very well-rounded education on many different segments of the industry covering people, products, and customer types.”
Today, she’s on the service side of the industry as vice president of sales and marketing at Keyes Packaging Group, Inc. Wenatchee, WA BB #:339773
“We have a great team, working toward a very focused common goal of developing sustainable packaging solutions as the industry moves away from plastics,” Suzanne adds. “Our CEO is very positive and supportive; he advocates a one team, one goal philosophy.” Better yet, she adds, “He respects our experience and trusts our decisions to help move the company forward.”
For Celida Gotsis Fujiwara, president of Omega Produce Company, BB #:104667 inspiration was always nearby: her aunt, Emilia Gotsis, who founded Omega Produce in Nogales, AZ.
“My aunt was a woman ahead of her time; she was the epitome of hard work and class, and it was her wit and grace that helped grow Omega into a reputable company. What I admire the most about her was that she always had a seat at the table. My Aunt Emilia immersed herself into a male-dominated industry and was successful in forging her own path.”
Natalia Gamarra, manager of international member relations at United Fresh Produce Association, BB #:145458 was a newcomer with no contacts in the industry. “As a young Latina with no American family or business connections, I had to kick down doors with my size five stilettos to get a chance,” she recalls. “Nineteen years ago when my career began, some employers didn’t know how to integrate Hispanic employees, especially female ones, and it was hard to get the opportunity to shine with the right role and level of accountability.”
Natalia decided to invest in herself, hiring an executive coach “to understand how I was perceived by others, especially my superiors.” It wasn’t easy, but she persevered. “It seemed out of reach for so long,” she admits. “But over time, I earned my opportunities and am incredibly appreciative of all the people along the way who supported me.”
Julie Lucido, president of Marketing Plus, acknowledges her journey was different. “I was fortunate to grow up in a family business and eventually, the door opened for me to take the helm,” she says. But what really inspired her were the people. “The people I’ve met and worked with are some of the hardest working, focused, honest people—and the women I’ve had the privilege to meet set the bar even higher. This industry keeps it real and keeps moving forward through adversity.”
This is a multi-part series adapted from a profile in the March/April 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.