or some, a passion for produce was not born in us, but a siren call. Cory Reinle followed that call from his high school agriculture class to the University of Florida, where he studied Ag Business and fell into his future.
“My then high school ag teacher, Dr. Stacy Vincent, ignited my passion for agriculture and agribusiness,” Cory tells me of where his produce path started. “Dr. Vincent is a master of networking, knowing people all throughout the country relating to agriculture education and agribusiness. I learned a ton from him about how to meet new people, strike up conversations, and how to work hard in order to get ahead in my career.”
This, I learned in my conversations with Cory, became something of a compass to that career. And a push off the social cliff didn’t hurt either.
“I remember multiple times during conferences and meetings where Stacy wouldn’t let me shy away from a group conversation,” Cory recalls. “He would always make sure that I was engaged and a part of the conversation when meeting new people.”
It’s this fervor that likely made an impression at Cory’s first annual PMA Fresh Summit in Orlando, which Cory’s advisor at the University of Florida recommended he attend.
“He told me he thought this would be a good opportunity, and it was at that first show that I got involved with the PMA Center for Growing Talent,” Cory shares.
And this produce leader-in-training was hooked. While there, he was first introduced to one of the men he now credits with a great deal of how much he’s thrived: Hurley Neer. Just how much of an impression he made, however, comes later in this story.
Young Cory, still about to embark on his final year in college, first found himself in need of a summer job. His connections made at that first Fresh Summit and, to my immense amusement, a little millennial networking via Twitter landed him an internship with Duda Farm Fresh Foods.
“I sent out a Tweet to the Foundation for Industry Talent asking for pointers on an internship, and they retweeted it saying ‘Who wants this rock star,’” Cory laughs as he remembers the 2011 Internet encounter. “Duda was one of the responders.”
After what he looks on fondly as both a fun and informative experience, he returned to the University of Florida to finish out his degree. Then, it was social media again that helped him find his professional foothold. This time, via Facebook, he messaged a grad school friend who gave him a tip that retailer Winn-Dixie was looking for produce buyers.
I laugh when he tells me that he started on the buy-side right out of college. “I know, I worked my way backwards,” he says, without any need for explanation. “I started in retail and worked my way back as a replenishment buyer, and then came into my own when working in the middle of the supply chain.”
His next stop, and next key impression, was Pero Family Farms. There he worked with Jeff Shills, who helped Cory cross the bridge over to the supply-side.
“Jeff helped me transition from a retail buyer atmosphere to working on the grower/shipper side of the produce industry,” Cory shares. “He was always willing to teach me new things about how a grower/shipper operates, and consistently gave as much responsibility as I was willing to take on. It was during my time working with Jeff that I became a true manager…he let me run my desk as its own business. I grew a lot professionally under his mentorship.”
As many of us in the industry know, there is no clock to punch in and out of in produce, which Cory says is why many key relationships are personal as well as professional. His connection with Jeff too became a friendship as the mentor helped him navigate and find a balance.
“Jeff understood that produce is a 24/7 industry, and understood my goals both professionally and personally. He always did his best to set me up for success in the long run,” Cory shares.
And then, as life often does, circumstances swept Cory up again, moving him to a new state and calling again to the web for assistance.
“For a third time, my contacts and my start at that first PMA Fresh Summit helped me find my place,” he says. “I had met John Oxford of L&M at my first show, and I reached out with an email to see if he might have a spot for me.”
The journey might have brought him to a new zip code, but in his career it brought him full circle in working for the next person he credits his success with: his PMA Center for Growing Talent mentor, now-boss, Hurley Neer.
“It’s crazy looking back now that I’ve ended up here, that I would be working for Hurley,” Cory marvels, explaining that Hurley, like himself, was not with L&M when their paths first crossed. “I love working with Hurley at L&M. We have developed a very candid and honest professional relationship. Hurley challenges me with strategy, management, and becoming an all-around better produce professional. He allows me to take part in training opportunities, conferences/expos, etc., which allows me to be engaged with others throughout the industry. In turn, I gain insights that can be brought back to L&M. Like Jeff, Hurley understands my current strengths and weaknesses as a young manager and is mentoring me for long term success in the industry.”
As Cory walks me through this journey and how far it’s taken him in our industry, we talk about how consistently maintaining relationships seems to be a theme in his growth.
“Absolutely,” he says, telling me that the catalyst to his future, that same high school agriculture teacher, now a professor at the University of Kentucky, also attended his wedding in May. “I realize more and more each day the value of staying in touch with people. The longer I’ve stayed in the industry, my contacts have become more and more important, and more and more personal.”
It’s a lesson Cory is trying hard to make sure gets passed on to other sprouting industry influencers, remaining involved not only with the Center for Growing Talent, but also going back to his home in Kentucky to judge the state FFA competition.
“It’s so interesting to hear the new ideas surrounding fresh produce, and every year it seems to diversify more,” Cory says excitedly.
Clearly, there is a lot more to see from this mentor-in-the-making. With a contagious passion spanning both sides of the industry, and an eagerness to share with the incoming generation what he himself has fallen in love with, I have a feeling his journey in produce is just beginning.
Here is what they have to say about Cory Reinle...
"Cory was a student of mine when I was still teaching high school agriculture back in the day. He was a joy to teach, and there was never a day that he wasn’t making his classmates laugh. There was never a time where I or anyone I saw had a dispute with him. He’s a brilliant mind, and a selfless mind that will find humor in any situation. A talent of Cory’s was always being able to see the bigger picture. For example, he now lives in North Carolina and still comes to Kentucky to help teach youths in the events and competitions he was very passionate about. These are the events that I would say inspired him to pursue the career he is in now, and he comes back to pass that on.
When it comes to how he stands out as a leader, Cory is a creative mind—a big thinker whose enthusiasm is addictive to those around him. These are qualities that young middle and high schoolers are drawn to. He’s a good mentor that is young, vibrant, with so much to come, and his energy level, as many who have met him can attest, is through the roof.
I have no problem seeing him be a mentor to youths and even those starting in their produce careers for years to come. I think the absolute world of him and his new bride. I’m very excited to see where this road takes him."
"Cory Reinle and I originally met when we were paired up together in the PMA Career pathways while he was finishing up his Master’s degree at the University of Florida. I was immediately impressed with his maturity, character, energy, and excited interest about joining the industry—characteristics we certainly hope to see from students enrolled in the PMA program. Last year, Cory and I were reunited at L&M Companies where we now work together daily, and he still exudes that same passion for the industry. He has many strengths, but I’m most impressed with his ability to keep an even temperament in stressful circumstances. It’s that maturity and clear-headed thought process that will enable him to continue to learn, grow, and develop into a leader within our company here at L&M, and within the industry, hopefully for many years to come."
"I was immediately impressed with Cory when he came into the interview at Pero Family Farms. From day one he was very eager to learn and his skills were strong in most aspects behind the desk. He came in with many ideas, some that worked and some that didn’t, but he was always willing to try something new for the better of the customer.
I trained him in a very difficult category in which Pero was quickly growing by leaps and bounds, and we became a solid procurement team. In any team situation there will be strengths and weakness on both sides. Part of turning these into a success is to be able to play off of those to make the most efficient outcome for your customers. In the end, I feel that Cory’s and my chemistry accomplished this task. Through early morning calls, running production numbers, navigating complex situations—Cory adapted well and took it all in stride.
In one of the most exciting and fast-paced industries around, Cory is able to form relationships quickly and is never afraid to pursue information. Produce is comprised of, at times, an intimidating pool of personalities; from 30-plus year industry vets to high-intensity college grads; but Cory will always dive right in and find a common ground to forge a relationship. Quite simply, he is a go-getter.
Inside and out of work, he is a great guy and a tremendous leader—I have truly enjoyed seeing him grow into a well-rounded man. It was not just a working relationship but a friendship that will undoubtedly last for a long time to come."