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Courage and Contribution: A Q&A With Raina Nelson, President and CEO, Westfalia Fruit USA LLC

Courage and Contribution: A Q&A With Raina Nelson, President and CEO, Westfalia Fruit USA LLC

To achieve global leadership is the stuff that fresh produce dreams are made of, just ask Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Westfalia Fruit USA LLC. Taking the helm in 2021, this trailblazing industry member has traversed the scope of fresh produce arenas from marketing, procurement, and food safety to sales and supply chain management.

Currently, she is the Chairperson for the Southeast Produce Council and a Board Member of the International Fresh Produce Association and the newly formed Hass Avocado Board Avocado Sustainability Advisory. Raina’s experience ranges far and wide. Before joining Westfalia, Raina served as the Executive Vice President of Business Development for Calavo Growers, with a specific focus on its Renaissance Food Group Division. She has also previously worked with C.H. Robinson and Fresh Del Monte Produce.

Jordan Okumura: Raina, it has been wonderful to be a witness to your career growth since I joined this industry. My big question for you, to start, is: What does leadership mean to you both personally and professionally, as I imagine they must both overlap?

Raina Nelson: Leadership is multifaceted and can mean so many things, but for me, leadership is courage. It is also contribution. It is a heavy responsibility, but I feel that being in a leadership position is one of life’s greatest privileges because leadership isn’t limited to our professional realms, it is life-encompassing.

I, like many others seeking to be good stewards of leadership, am a student of Brené Brown. One of her quotes that always resonates with me is, “I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” That’s a critical part of leadership to me.

JO: That is one of my favorite quotes by Brené. I also love how she incorporates authenticity and vulnerability into leadership. Speaking of those that have impacted your journey, what or who has shaped your vision and definition of leadership?

RN: I have had many people positively influence and invest in me throughout my career that have shaped my vision for leadership. The question I always ask myself is: How would I like someone to show up for me? I try to embody that vision through servant leadership to others. These influencers had common themes to offer—they were vulnerable, they acknowledged they didn’t “know it all,” and they taught and mentored from their growth experiences in hopes I would benefit and not make the same mistakes. These were truly gifts that I received with an open heart and mind, for which I am forever grateful.

JO: What have been some of the pivotal moments or events in your career journey that have changed the way you lead and mentor others to lead?

RN: Early on in my career, I was exposed to fear-induced management methodology. I saw how that wrecked the culture, prohibited trust, and led to a dysfunctional organization. It showed me how not to lead. I also had wonderful mentors that led by example and stuck to their values of leadership even when it was hard. I saw them lead through fire and come out the other side stronger as an individual leader with gained respect from their teams. I'm also a student of Patrick Lencioni with The Table Group. His leadership principles in The Ideal Team Player have helped hone leadership skills and cultivate strong teams. Patrick says it best in The Ideal Team Player: “Leaders who can identify, hire, and cultivate employees who are humble, hungry, and smart will have a serious advantage over those who cannot.”

JO: I love how we can learn to lead by identifying what we want as well as what we do not want. I think both methods really round out the possibilities of how we build our relationships with others. I am curious, in your experience, what is one common misconception about leadership that you have experienced, and what is your truth on the matter?

RN: The one common misconception about leadership is that it is attaining a title or authoritative position and how those achievements will make a difference. Leadership is not about power or influencing others to get something done but rather inspiring others by creating a better future and not giving up when the road gets bumpy. It's about sticking it out and showing up as the best version of a leader you can be…that’s what matters. I realize I will never have it all figured out, but I will be on an incessant journey to evolve.

JO: What is your advice to others regarding their own leadership journeys?

RN: Never stop evolving, never stop learning, never stop growing. Self-reflection is key. Surround yourself with people that inspire you, and find accountability in those that are on parallel paths within their leadership journey.

I feel the need to leave space here to take this all in. While this will be published days after we have put thoughts to paper, I am still of the mind that letting those last lines speak for themselves is the best next step in my own leadership journey. 

Courage and Contribution: A Q&A With Raina Nelson, President and CEO, Westfalia Fruit USA LLC