No ordinary apple.

Amy Gates' New Venture Targets Back-of-House Operations

Amy Gates' New Venture Targets Back-of-House Operations

One of my first takeaways when I met Amy Gates was the profound belief she would leap into the trenches with anyone on her team to dig alongside them, simply for the camaraderie and the joy of a challenge.

With a proven skill set spanning more than 25 years in fresh produce ranging from private to public, domestic to international, supply-side to finance and software solutions, her portfolio is a rare cheat code to the operations of the supply chain. Yet, despite roles from Operations Manager and Chief Operations Officer to Vice President and President, she will be the first to celebrate the back-of-house. The supporters. The wizards behind the curtain. Now she is offering her precious mix of inside knowledge to companies as a nomadic operations expert, here to help bring our industry into a new phase of business execution.

MELISSA DE LEON CHAVEZ: Amy, the produce consulting space is an increasingly competitive one, but this is a unique corner your venture is digging into. Can you tell me about the gap you are filling?

Amy Gates: The consulting space has expanded so much, but I noticed a gap in targeting the back end of the business. With increased price pressures, labor costs, and input costs in every market today, businesses need to look to their internal and full supply chain operation to drive out costs to stay competitive. But while it seems obvious that it would be crucial to operate effectively, internal focus can lose out to driving revenue because few have the tools to see these are two sides of the same coin.

I have led a company through a full restructuring and repositioning when many thought it wasn't possible. I fight for what I believe and have persevered through the most difficult times—in fact, I love a challenge! And rather than keep internal operation expertise to myself, I want to teach every company I can all that I know to further push our industry forward as a whole.


MDC: Can you tell me more about that restructure journey and how that experience can benefit those who might work with you?

AG: Several things happened at once that led to dramatic changes overnight for the produce company I was working for. Through no fault of the company, we saw a 50 percent cut in profits that demanded an overhaul in our business plan and a restructuring. Simultaneously a lawsuit was applying additional pressure, all of which I had to help take charge of and navigate.

Many don’t have to deal with a significant loss of company assets, or a lawsuit, or a restructure in their entire career. I had to face all three in six months, and we came out of the other side more profitable and more successful than when we went in. Now, having navigated some of the most critical incidents a business could face to a true comeback story, setting the company up not just to survive but succeed, I would love to ensure others don’t have to go into survival mode while also assuring them they can and will be okay, because I have and am.

MDC: What is the advantage of a short-term investment in your expertise versus the long-term investment of a COO for the company?

AG: My goal is to help get businesses positioned to weather future storms and be the best operators they can be in this highly competitive marketplace. To that end, I am completely transparent about my methods, so long as it doesn’t violate the confidentiality necessary to protect any proprietary information I might be privy to. I want to give leaders my cheat code while ensuring they feel secure. Then they can decide if the business requires a permanent executive once our project is finished, if they want to bring me back periodically as needed, or if it is maintainable as a shared position among their already trusted team.

It's expensive to hire a COO as a full-time employee—a full-time COO can cost almost $489,000 annually, versus a fractional COO costs an average of $130,000 annually*. A company may only have one major operational objective it needs to be realized, or need a few years of maintenance rather than a permanent officer. That is where I come in: I can take on and see the project through to a sustainable point, then turn it back over to your capable staff.


MDC: This reminds me of your experience in produce software—designing a system that is crafted toward any company’s individualism.

AG: That’s true—my first roots in the industry were in produce software, so that might be where that stems from. It was a great foundation that allowed me to speak more than one language of the produce business. Beyond the production and supply chain arenas, I am well versed and skilled in marketing, human resources, finance and grower accounting, IT/IS and ERP setup and fine-tuning, quality assurance and control, and I am PCQI certified to set up FSVP systems for food safety compliance and FSMA. All have helped my fluency in whatever operational issues might be occurring, so I am a hell of a translator!

MDC: How does a company know it is in need of operational assistance, especially when many don't know how others operate? What would you say to those who think they are excluded from needing operations assistance?

AG: You don’t know what you don’t know, so often the best way is to reach out for a quick conversation. But, I can say, if you took a pause on any of the acronyms I rattled off in Question 4, we should probably talk!

Every business has some unique challenges, but the bottom line is getting the right products to the right customer in the most efficient way possible. I can work with companies' unique challenges and help them navigate the best solution for them specifically, leveraging systems and technology, drafting compliance plans, developing incentive plans, streamlining supply chains, and anything else they might need.


MDC: And now you find yourself in a new chapter of your tenured produce career. Earlier, Amy, you touched on steps forward not just for yourself but for produce businesses as a whole. How does this new venture also help the produce industry into the next iteration of how to operate?

AG: I want to give back to the industry that I love so much. I have a unique slate of experiences and proven skill sets that could help many stay in business and even grow in spite of the pressures we face today.

I have had the fortunate opportunity to work with people from all walks of life all over the globe, so I have a proven history of being able to connect with anyone and quickly gain their respect. This trait allows me to easily work with any team's members to get a project completed.

I have been in this industry since a college internship in 1998, and I want to help provide a much-needed service to keep the wonderful fresh produce we provide continuing for years and years to come.

The back of house is a mysterious space shrouded in complexity, yet it is what holds everything together. Rather than a peek behind the curtain at the true Wizard of Oz, this new venture offers having the Wizard work the magic behind your curtain, and leaving you with the bag of tricks when they go.

For myself, the hook in our conversation was when Amy said her joy is in helping as many companies as she can. To share her knowledge and tactics is to help both herself and her clients succeed, crystallizing this complicated space and building a strong foundation for generations to come. The truest of win-wins.