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January 16, 2020

From One Very Interesting Year to Another

As I complete my 15th year with Western Growers, I am filled with gratitude and anticipation. On February 1, I take over as President and CEO. In just about every way possible, 2020 will be an unusually interesting year, and I am eager to jump in.

The last year was also unusually interesting, as I had the honor of being considered for this responsibility by a search committee comprised of 12 WG directors and Tom Nassif, our retiring President and CEO. To say that your elected directors took this duty seriously is an understatement, certainly from my perspective as a candidate. It was a grueling process, for all the right reasons. In this as in all things, your board of directors served the industry with integrity, sophistication and energy.

Elsewhere in this edition, you can learn a bit more about me. I have had the pleasure of meeting many WG members through the years, and I look forward to many more interactions in the months and years to come. Growing up in the suburbs, the only fields I knew as a kid were for baseball and football, so every visit to your farms and facilities brings invaluable new learning and relationships. Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” I intend to stay young.

This column allows me to share my perspective on important industry issues, challenges and trends, the good work of the professional Western Growers staff and the many contributions of our members. I hope to also spark you to contribute; to weigh in so that my colleagues and I can benefit from your experience, knowledge and views. Below this column is an email address; I’ll check it frequently.

Many people have asked about my priorities. Chief among them is advocacy. Western Growers was founded for that purpose, and the need for WG’s strong, unrelenting and effective voice in the public policy arena has only grown more critical. Certainly under Tom Nassif’s leadership, Western Growers has attained a high level of influence and accomplishment as the industry’s advocate, across dozens of diverse issues. Yet we must confront the reality that in too many issue areas, our industry is increasingly defensive and losing ground (literally and figuratively). We must rethink everything we do in our advocacy as we grapple not only with the urban domination of our legislatures, but also environmental and labor organizations whose vast resources and activist-driven agendas give them outsized influence over legislatures and regulatory agencies alike.

There will be much more to say on this, but be assured that the mission of advocacy is and always will be at the center of my focus and energies.

Another high priority is delivering the highest quality business support to our members, and pushing ourselves to evolve as our members’ needs change. As with advocacy, the business and consultative services Western Growers provides its members are aligned with our mission: To enhance the competitiveness and profitability of our members. These services were created to respond to the needs of our members, and every time a member chooses Western Growers—whether for health benefits, commercial insurance, workforce training, retirement planning and investment, H-2A assistance or our other services—that member is investing in the whole of Western Growers, from advocacy and food safety to trade practices, technology solutions and much more.

The Western Growers Family of Companies has grown considerably in just the 15 years that I’ve been part of it, now employing about 450 dedicated professionals. With our mission in mind, there is much to be proud of in this array of member-focused businesses, but I am highly attuned to the risks that come with such growth and success. No one in the Western Growers Family of Companies is resting on laurels, but even as we push ourselves to execute exceptionally well in our existing services, we must also stretch to see around the corner; to anticipate tomorrow’s problems and help our members find the best solutions. That sort of anticipation and responsiveness was the genesis of our investment in the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, which is delivering practical solutions to industry challenges with increasing speed.

This is an incredibly exciting time to be part of agriculture, and I share with so many the zeal to concentrate our minds and labors to realize the future we know this industry deserves.

Before 2005, I would have never imagined that I would dedicate myself so completely to the fresh produce industry. But isn’t that how it goes for so many? We make plans, and plans change.

As I embark on this most important journey in my career, perhaps this was the plan all along. All that I have experienced seems to have led me to readiness for this greatest challenge and opportunity. Indeed, I am incredibly fortunate to have found my home in the agriculture industry, and not whatever would have emerged from “the plan” of a young political operative from the suburbs.

Now, let’s get on with the work ahead.

To weigh in on issues of importance to your business and the fresh produce industry, please contact Dave Puglia at [email protected].