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Past Meets Present: 25 Years of Leadership

Past Meets Present: 25 Years of Leadership

For students, graduation marks the culmination of hard work and dedication. For the fellows and alumni of United Fresh’s Produce Industry Leadership Program, the same rings true. 

“I’ll always cherish the experience of addressing the General Session audience on behalf of my class during our graduation,” shared Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos, Class 23 alum and Director of Marketing and Culinary at D’Arrigo of California.

Class 25’s graduation this year will also mark the 25th anniversary of a program that has developed more than 250 up-and-coming industry professionals into established leaders.  

Just as our industry has evolved, so has the program. Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh, spent a week with Class 25 on their spring trip to Florida, where he sat down with Stephanie Pharris, Senior Supervisor of Supply Chain Management at Duncan Family Farms and Class 25 fellow, as well as one of the trip’s hosts, Robert Gordon, an alum of Class 1 and today’s President and CEO of FreshPoint.

One thing Tom learned has not changed is the strength of the bonds formed among each class. In episode one of United Fresh’s podcast “Fresh Bites,” Tom asked Stephanie to consider her most memorable experience from the program thus far. She was quick to emphasize camaraderie.

“I really didn’t think you could connect with a group of strangers this quickly,” Stephanie said. “We have gotten to know each other so well during the program, including during the fun bus rides, but also while staying in touch between class trips.”

A truly special quality about the program is the opportunity to continue making connections outside of your own class after graduation.

“The relationships that we formed within our class are still strong today, 25 years later,” Robert noted on the podcast episode. “Similarly, as a graduate of the program, I’ve had the privilege to meet fellow alumni from other classes throughout the program’s history and those connections have been invaluable to advancing both our business and the industry.” 

Established in 1995, the United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program selects a dozen up-and-coming produce industry professionals for a year-long journey providing solid foundational knowledge about the challenges facing the produce industry, as well as practical tools to help class members improve leadership skills at a formative stage in their career. Whether touring lettuce fields in California, exploring citrus groves in Florida, or learning about the latest produce regulatory issues in Washington, DC, class members are exposed to a variety of industry experiences. 

Since the inaugural Class 1, the program has been fully funded and made possible through the sponsorship support of Corteva Agriscience.

“The relationships that we formed within our class are still strong today, 25 years later,”

“We are so proud to have supported the industry’s premier leadership program since its inception, investing in the future of hundreds of industry leaders as well as the fresh produce industry as a whole,” said Joe Kelsay, U.S. Food Chain Manager for Corteva Agriscience

Graduates of the program have gone on to become executives of major produce businesses, leaders of prominent organizations, and some of the most well-known people in the industry. Many serve on the boards of directors and organizational committees of successful companies as well.

In 2006, graduates of the program formed the United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Alumni Organization as an opportunity for fellows to continue their leadership journeys and give back to the produce community.

“Through the Produce Industry Leadership Alumni Organization, graduates like myself are able to stay in touch with a vast network of leaders—from our own classes as well as alumni from other classes—during our many networking events throughout the year,” said Kristen Reid, Executive Vice President at MIXTEC Group, Chairman of United Fresh’s Leadership Alumni Board, and a Class 18 alum. “The events also allow alumni to develop fresh ideas to keep pace with the ever-changing industry demands of leadership development.”

The next quarter-century of the program will kick off with the announcement of Class 26. That is a wrap for now! Stay tuned for what’s next as we look to our next highlight in The Snack Magazine

Contributing Author

Although Ben has only been a member of the fresh produce community since 2017, his enthusiasm for driving industry growth has made him one to watch. Uncovering strategies for a productive supply chain network, Ben utilizes his communications background to develop new relationships.