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Good Company: Needing and being a mentor

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When it comes to embracing the next generation, female produce industry leaders have plenty to say.

“This industry is incredibly welcoming—and complex,” says Cathy Burns, CEO of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). “My advice to a newcomer would be to listen, really listen. By choosing to be open to the people and personalities you’ll encounter and adopt a mindset of continuous learning about the innovations throughout our global community.”

“No matter how long you’re in the industry,” says Suzanne Wolter, Keyes Packaging Group, Inc.’s vice president of sales and marketing, BB #:339773 “give yourself the flexibility to learn and make mistakes. Don’t expect to have all the answers right away; you’ll gain more respect by asking for assistance. Keep in touch with the people you meet along your career path and continue to network. The professionals in this industry love people and enjoy helping others achieve success, so search out mentors to help you.”

“Dive right in,” says Julie Lucido, president of Marketing Plus, “and network, network, network. Volunteer if you’re able, attend as many industry events or trade shows as you can, and know this is an industry about relationships—so take the time now to build them.”

Lisa Strube, treasurer of Strube Celery & Vegetable Company, Chicago, BB #:102030 concurs. “Get involved—ask questions, attend meetings, talk to anyone who is willing to talk to you. While I was lucky enough to work with so many industry icons, I was also incredibly lucky to serve on committees and boards with extremely helpful and encouraging men and women.”

“Meet people,” agrees Kristen Reid, executive vice president and partner at Mixtec Group BB #:152072 in La Crescenta, CA. “Meet people with similar goals and circumstances, who can give you a different perspective, and who have accomplished what you hope to accomplish. Meet people who strive to accomplish what you already have—and especially meet people who will challenge you.

“Nurture the best relationships carefully,” Kristen continues. “Utilize your network, be vulnerable, tell them what you dream of, what you’re struggling with, etc. Having a great network to help you navigate unchartered waters is invaluable. And, if you make sure those relationships are a two-way street, you never know when you might be critical in helping someone else on their journey.”

Mentors and Mentoring
All the women participating in this series believe in the power of mentoring. Many found guidance and support through trade organizations, both general business and industry specific.

Stellar female-centric events and workshops from PMA, United Fresh, Southeast Produce Council, and others are making their mark, and the Texas International Produce Association recently joined the ranks with In Bloom. When it comes to individual mentors, here is a sampling…

Rosie Cornelius of MAS Melons & Grapes LLC in Nogales, AZ BB #:158291 cites several including Roy Lundstrom and Alberto Maldonado at G.A.C. Produce. Her mentoring from “Alberto, our general manager, who was a walking encyclopedia, was priceless.”

Lisa Strube says, “I was extremely lucky to work side by side with two industry icons—Robert Strube Sr. and Janet Fleming. I honestly never felt my path was blocked and had incredible support from both, as well as the rest of the Strube and Fleming families.” She also considers Lisa McNeece, Ron Carkoski, and Sam Maglio as instrumental in her success.

Suzanne Wolter credits Pat Small at Tom Lange Company for her initial foray into the industry, but many others contributed along the way including Kevin Fiori; Bill Zirkle; and Welcome Sauer, who she says is still one of her greatest advocates.

United Fresh Produce Association’s BB #:145458 Miriam Wolk mentions a who’s who of female leaders including Jackie Caplan Wiggins and Lisa Strube, as well as Julie DeWolf, Jenny Maloney, Lisa Overman, Shannon Mikulskis, and Loretta Radanovic. “I appreciate how dedicated all these women are to their companies and to the produce industry, and I’ve learned a lot from them personally too.”

Kristen Reid says, “Being able to buy into my business and become a partner is my greatest professional accomplishment. While I worked really hard, I was also very fortunate to have some incredible sponsors who guided me and helped me advocate for myself. They gave me the confidence to ask for what I wanted and to stretch what I thought I could achieve. I am so grateful that my former boss and my current business partner saw so much potential in me.”

This is a multi-part series adapted from a profile in the March/April 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints. 


Taryn Pfalzgraf is Senior Editorial Manager for Produce Blueprints