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Center for Growing Talent-Looking Forward Not Backward

How can we attract, develop, and retain talent in the produce industry? Ten years ago, with that question in mind, Produce Marketing Association set out on its mission to build the Center for Growing Talent. Created by our industry, for our industry, the Center for Growing Talent by PMA (CGTbyPMA) has grown from that mission statement to a multi-faceted organization, now boasting a 65 percent retention rate of Career Pathways students staying in the industry, and four leadership development programs that span across the entire continuum of careers in produce. 

Margi Prueitt, Executive Director, with Dick Spezzano, Board of Directors Chairman.So how is this invaluable resource celebrating its ten years of rapid success and dedication to the produce industry? I spoke with the organization’s Board of Directors Chairman, Dick Spezzano, and Executive Director, Margi Prueitt, who assured me that this decade of growth can only be honored by looking forward, not looking back.

“I have been involved with this group from its beginning, I’m very proud of how far we’ve come,” shares Spezzano, who, after a nearly two-decade long career in produce and floral at retailer Vons, started his own consulting firm, aptly named Spezzano Consulting Services. “Frankly, we had only a rough idea of what we wanted to do when we started fundraising to create this group in 2006."

"It’s astonishing to now see what we’ve become—from a start-up to a robust, multi-faceted organization in only ten years.”

And it is truly astonishing to step back and look at how CGTbyPMA has expanded on that initial strategy to entice the most talented university students looking for a career, to help industry talent at all career stages to be the best versions of themselves they can be. Spezzano tells me that even in the down economy of five years ago, the organization’s capital fund successfully raised $4.7 million. It’s clear the industry values CGTbyPMA—and for good reason.

“Some companies in our industry have the HR depth to effectively operate ‘strategic’ human resources programs like recruiting, leadership development, and employee engagement. For everyone else, we can provide many turnkey services,” Prueitt explains to me when I ask her why she thinks the organization’s role in the industry is so important.

“Even those companies that have more sophisticated capabilities can’t do what we do."

"CGTbyPMA can augment those existing capabilities because we can bring together participants from across the supply chain. The diverse exchange of ideas, and the business connections, can’t be replicated with in-house programs.”

Along with the aforementioned Career Pathways programs, CGTbyPMA operates an Emerging Leaders Program, a High Performance Management Conference, an Executive Leadership Symposium, and most recently, Women’s Fresh Perspectives. On a mission to cultivate the potential of our industry’s women, the Women’s Fresh Perspectives programs bring women in our industry together under the common cause of educating, motivating, and propelling professionals in our industry onward and upward.

Top left: Cathy Burns, Alex Jackson, Margi Prueitt, Jill Overdorf; Top right: Salome Mashilo, Jay Pack; Bottom left: Jan DeLyser; Bottom middle: Julie DeWolf, Gina Davis, Elizabeth Fagundes; Bottom right: John Oxford

“The companies that perform the best financially have the most women in leadership roles,” Prueitt contends, citing a 2014 survey from The Conference Board and the HR consulting firm DDI. “That should be all the justification our industry needs to hire women and advance their careers.”

CGTbyPMA hosts networking receptions for Women’s Fresh Perspectives at major industry events, and a Leadership Breakfast at Fresh Summit, but the centerpiece of the portfolio is the Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference, Prueitt explains. Each event combines networking and motivation with best-in-class leadership development, building on each other over the course of the year.

2014 Emerging Leaders Program Class“We’ve hit on a great model that’s working well, so our goal is to not break it,” Prueitt laughs. “Rather, we want to expand it. We’re looking for more women who want long and successful careers in our industry–and for companies that want to embrace more diverse leadership skills.”

It’s no doubt this organization’s future is a bright one, especially with its uncompromising commitment with continuing to look for new ways to grow. This retrospective on ten years of success has not been cause to take it easy for either Prueitt or Spezzano, it seems.

“We celebrated our anniversary in an unusual way: We engaged in strategic planning! That’s what generated the name change to Center for Growing Talent by PMA – it better communicates what we do, and our relationship with PMA,” Spezzano closes. “We’re also stepping up our programming for the future, and leaning into our industry’s most important talent priorities. We are very much looking forward, not back.” 

And with Spezzano and Prueitt at the helm, it’s hard not to look forward to seeing CGTbyPMA’s programs and partnerships continue to flourish for decades to come.