I have discovered that as I near retirement, I have become more introspective. The song, “Seasons of Love,” asks a thoughtful question: “How do you measure a year?” Lately, I have found myself asking a similar philosophical question: “How do you measure a career?”
On February 1, 2020, I will step down as president and the chief executive officer of Western Growers. The date will mark 18 years of service to the fresh produce industry, in what has been a fitting capstone to a God-inspired career that has taken me from the green fields of the Imperial Valley to the hallowed halls of the Reagan White House to the exotic shores of North Africa, and back again.
Every decision I have made in my career has been prayerfully considered by my loving wife and me, and I have always been driven by the desire to impact the lives of others. Like the multi-generational farming families I have been honored to represent for the past 18 years, my intention has always been to leave a lasting legacy for the next generation, to make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.
Practically speaking, during my tenure at Western Growers, my focus has been on enhancing the competitiveness and profitability of our member companies, ensuring that we have a viable industry capable of thriving for decades to come.
Achieving this goal has required strengthening the capacity of our association to serve our members. Western Growers was founded nearly a century ago on the concept of strength in numbers, and over the years has played a significant role in shaping the fresh produce landscape. Since taking over in 2002, my motivation has been to build on this tradition and solidify Western Growers’ position as one of the leading grower-based trade associations in the country.
Today, Western Growers is a leader in food safety, labor and immigration, water, business insurance and employee benefits, technology and innovation, and in many other areas. Our organization is politically influential, financially resilient, and poised to achieve even greater gains for the industry. I am proud of our accomplishments as an association and confident in our future.
To what do I attribute such success, and why do I view our outlook with such certainty? The answer to both questions is the same: our staff and board. The enduring greatness of Western Growers stems from our deeply knowledgeable, extremely passionate, highly motivated staff and an equally impressive and committed board.
Our board of directors is unparalleled in the industry in that it is comprised almost exclusively of decision-makers, which means we can address any matter in any board meeting and walk out of the room ready to act. Simply put, the makeup of our board gives us clout.
However, as you can imagine with a room full of owners and CEOs, there are many strong personalities involved. I have often been asked if I would prefer to lead an army of generals or soldiers, to which I unequivocally answer: “Generals.” Recall that both Presidents Eisenhower and Lincoln assembled war councils made up of strategic-minded and battle-hardened generals committed to the successful conclusion of World War II and the Civil War. What better leaders to emulate?
Similarly, one of our greatest assets as an association is the strength of our board; we have talented men and women who set aside their personal interests to serve as dedicated advocates for our industry and faithful stewards of our members’ resources.
Make no mistake, we are fighting a war. Everyday, we go into battle against adversaries who seek to restrict, eliminate even, our ability to operate at a profit. Without the collective engagement of the generals on our board, success would be elusive for Western Growers and the fresh produce industry.
Beyond the service of our board members, Western Growers has been blessed with the visionary leadership of a number of five-star generals, our board chairs. Ninety-four individuals have taken up the mantle since the founding of our association, each one standing on the shoulders of the giants who have come before them. Over the years, our chairmen have helped to chart the course of our association and deserve to be recognized for their unique contributions. In particular, I owe a debt of gratitude to each of the 18 chairmen I have worked with as president & CEO, all of whom I hold in the highest professional regard, many of whom I call close personal friends.
This atmosphere of respect and camaraderie defines the Western Growers family, which is what we are at the end of the day, part of the same family. Our membership is made up of family businesses, and our mission at Western Growers is to help our members pass their farming legacies down to the next generation.
Here is where my optimism comes in. Nothing is more inspiring than to observe the pool of talented young family members rising through the ranks of our member companies. Nine years ago, we set out to identify the next generation of leaders in our membership and prepare them for potential service on the board. Now, six graduates of our Future Volunteer Leaders Program sit on the board, in addition to several other “next generation” board members. The fresh perspectives these younger board members bring to the table will ensure that our association stays ahead of the curve and our members remain competitive and profitable for years to come.
I still don’t know if I have an answer to the question of how to measure a career. But I do know for certain that the state of our association is strong and the future of our industry is in good hands, which gives me great satisfaction and comfort as I turn over the reins at Western Growers.