By Tim Linden
Several past chairmen of the Western Grower Board of Directors who are still serving the association as members of the board wholeheartedly support the decision to extend current Chairman Ryan Talley’s leadership for an extra year.
In separate interviews, each of the chairmen noted that the Western Growers system of having their future top volunteer leader go through a multi-year process to rise to that level greatly benefits the association while offering personal and professional growth for each chairman. They believe the unique situation that was 2020 robbed the association of profiting from Talley’s wisdom gained through ascending the ranks and prevented him from reaping the benefits of the full experience.
Tom Deardorff II, president of Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, CA, (WG chairman 2011) noted that the chairmanship of Western Growers is largely about building relationships across the supply chain for the betterment of the industry and the association’s membership. “A lot of what we do (as the chairman) is work together with others to represent our industry. In a perfect year, Ryan would have gone to all the conventions representing the association and would have represented us in the political arena.”
Deardorff noted that he was surprised during his term at the level of access afforded the Western Growers chairman by virtue of the position. “You are talking to the most important people in the industry and in government. Sure, Ryan missed the opportunity to experience that, but we missed the opportunity to have him as our champion. He was and is the perfect guy for the job.”
Sammy Duda of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc., in Salinas (WG chairman, 2017) made a very similar point. “Ryan is a very good intelligent thinker. When you get on the chairman track, it is a five-year process and you prepare for it diligently during the final two years. For your year, you are the face of the organization. It is a unique opportunity to engage with some very important people and help them understand our industry and in a small way influence their decisions. Not being from California or Arizona, it was a humbling and gratifying honor for me to represent Western Growers.”
He said this past year the opportunity for that engagement with face-to-face encounters was shortened by the pandemic. He believes the association will be served well by having Ryan in the top post for another year.
Ron Ratto, president of Ratto Bros., Modesto and WG chairman in 2019, echoed the comments of the others with regard to the chairman’s standing as the front person for Western Growers. He also specifically noted the role the chairman plays as the liaison between the membership and the Western Growers staff. “The value of the position takes several forms,” he said. “It is the highest-level volunteer position and provides a direct conduit to the professional staff that run the organization. It is important to the membership that there is direct access to top-level professional staff so that membership point of view on issues can be directly communicated.”
He said the term aspect of the position allows for a succession of individuals to provide a constant stream of new input for the professional staff. He said that because of the lack of in-person staff interactions this past year with most people working at home, the staff lost the opportunity to experience the wisdom of Talley’s counsel. Ratto indicated that with a change in staff leadership in 2020, with Dave Puglia taking over the president/CEO role, that interaction with staff would have been a major component of Talley’s year in office. Ratto added that an emphasis on the WG staff was also a major emphasis during his year as well because a good portion of his effort was centered around choosing a successor for longtime WG CEO Tom Nassif.
John D’Arrigo, president of D’Arrigo Bros. of California and 2004 chairman of the board, focused his comments on what a great experience being chairman was for him and how happy he is that Ryan Talley gets a do-over so to speak. “For me it was a priceless experience,” he said. “I had so many experiences that I never would have had if I wasn’t chairman of the board.”
Like the others, D’Arrigo marveled at the prestige that the position garners within the industry and the government. He noted that he attended the inauguration of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and got to meet President George W. Bush, which he called a personal highlight. “I will always cherish the photos I received from that meeting.”
He added that he was involved in many high-levels meetings with government officials and had the opportunity to discuss very important issues. “I got to meet with the U.S. Special Trade Representative Allen Johnson. The idea that I got to discuss agricultural trade policy with our top agricultural trade negotiator was amazing.”
D’Arrigo said his term in office featured many important political elements including the negotiations of a bill for the specialty crop industry, which he said Nassif championed for the entire industry.
“I’m sure Chairman Talley did the best he could do under the circumstance, but it’s not the same working from home and conducting these meetings by Zoom,” he said.
Like the others, D’Arrigo noted that it is a process to become chairman and if Talley is willing to devote another year to the effort it is well worth it for him and the association. “It is admirable and commendable that he is willing to devote another year. Being chairman is really time consuming and does take you away from running your own business.”
D’Arrigo added that among the professional and personal growth experiences for him was the improvement of his public speaking skills and a huge gain in confidence.
In the disruptive year the nation has had, Duda harkened back to one of the highlights of his year and expressed hope that Talley could have a similar experience. Duda served in 2017 and as such went to the inauguration of President Donald Trump as the Western Growers Chairman of the Board. “Witnessing the peaceful transfer of power made me proud to be an American,” he said. “The Bushes were there and the Clintons, including Hillary who had just lost. And the Obamas were there. Each of them came up and congratulated the new president. That doesn’t happen in lot of places. It seemed like a very American thing to do.”
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