“Let’s run, it takes too long to walk!”
The voice of three-year-old Natalie J. Machado echoes through her father, Steve Junqueiro, as we sit down to discuss FreshSource’s National Director of Marketing’s path to mentorship. He recalls the memory of Natalie pulling him across a soccer field, already so eager to explore the world that was hers for the taking.
The picture he paints reminds me of a nagging question that paws at me often and with persistence:
Must we lose our child-like wonder and enthusiasm somewhere along the way to adulthood?
Looking at Natalie and the expansiveness of her path, I say, absolutely not.
That same sense of wonder and excitement that Steve speaks to is evident to everyone Natalie works with as she continues to build her career as a distinguished fresh marketer. With such an esteemed industry veteran as her father, it is little wonder why Natalie knew from a very young age that this is the industry where she was meant to plant her roots.
“Seeing my dad interact with all aspects of the industry, from connecting with buyers and suppliers to walking show floors, I came to understand and love the people of produce,” says Natalie. “I have been blessed to be able to call him day or night and receive feedback on business insights as I’ve grown in the industry. He has always encouraged me to apply myself in all aspects of my life, and I cherish what he has shown me and teaches me daily.”
It is little wonder why Natalie knew from a very young age that this is the industry where she was meant to plant her roots.
Natalie officially began her career in college, working summer internships for various suppliers. These were the first stepping stones, experiences, and learning tools that primed her for the future—a testament to her alma mater, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, whose motto is “Learn by Doing.”
“I then had the very fortunate opportunity to be introduced to Robert Thompson, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of FreshSource, over eight years ago. I witnessed his many entrepreneurial hats, and quickly knew this was the gentleman I needed to learn from and work for!” Natalie tells me with an infectious smile across her face. “With FreshSource being a smaller company at that time, I was able to expand my ‘learn by doing’ mentality to all aspects of my job. Through all of these experiences in the company, I truly found my niche in marketing.”
FreshSource is a premier in-store merchandising and retail sales company that provides sales and merchandising solutions for brands both large and small. Equipped with a group of enthusiastic merchandising, sales, and marketing professionals, FreshSource truly understands the importance of helping its clients achieve and reach their growth goals—a quality I am sure Natalie is willing to protect at all costs.
She poses her venture to FreshSource as Robert “taking a chance on her.” Conversely, though, Robert tells me that he quickly gravitated toward Natalie’s energetic and curious spirit, and her acumen as a produce icon’s daughter certainly didn’t hurt.
“At that time, there were only four of us working at FreshSource. It was ‘all hands on deck,’ and the team truly worked all angles of the company to make it the successful sales and merchandising resource it is today,” Natalie explains. “Robert took me under his wing and taught me the ins and outs of the industry, helping me become the National Director of Marketing at FreshSource, where we now have over 80 employees and are still growing!”
In this role, Natalie aims to continue branding FreshSource across the produce industry as a premier solutions-driven sales and merchandising company. Having started the marketing department from the ground up, she now leads long-term objectives and provides the necessary reporting and communication processes and tools to keep FreshSource interconnected in all divisions. She delivers planning, governance, and support functions to her team so they are able to focus on providing value to vendor and retail partners. From focusing on end-to-end marketing optimization, to developing in-depth reports that showcase all of the sales and merchandising teams’ efforts, Natalie’s drive is to motivate and innovate.
Natalie officially began her career in college, working summer internships for various suppliers.
I suspect that this “let’s run, not walk” mentality is not only what made her so successful in helping to build FreshSource into the company it is today, but what allows her to learn from such distinguished mentors as these. She reiterates that the produce industry is truly a “people’s industry” where you find yourself excited to attend the next exhibition or sales call because you know you will interact with friends who are now a part of your extended family.
Another extension of that produce family and a source for industry inspiration is Shannon Dambach, the Director of Sales, National Accounts at FreshSource.
“She has been my go-to for all industry knowledge for the past eight years,” Natalie expresses. “She is extremely knowledgeable, and I have leaned on her greatly throughout the years for advice, support, and friendship. She was the second employee hired at FreshSource, and I can still recall our first ‘all-hands on-deck’ store visits and sales calls we did together. Whether we were traveling cross-country, merchandising vendor products, or making sales calls together, I found comfort in knowing she was always a phone call away. We are there for one another.”
Surrounding herself with people who have so much experience and knowledge may not have been by design, but it has proven essential to Natalie’s career.
Many might assume that growing up in the industry and gaining strong mentorship are the primary factors in Natalie’s success. However, I would argue that her unique fresh produce strategy has always lived inside her.
A child-like wonder turned fierce.
Here is what they have to say about Natalie...
Steve Junqueiro, Chief Executive Officer, Steve Junqueiro Associates
From a very early age, Natalie exhibited a driven passion for excellence and leadership. This was demonstrated throughout her childhood and continues today in her personal and professional life. She is a born leader and understands the importance of the team and teamwork. She has grown up in the produce industry and continues to be thrilled to be part of such a vibrant and vital business. An illustration of Natalie’s approach to life, which is encapsulated in this Mentors in the Making, is the experience we had together when she was three years old: As we were walking across a soccer field to see her older brother’s game, she shouted, ‘Let’s run, it takes too long to walk!’ I have used this inspiration in my personal life as well as a lesson to mentor and coach teams that I have led.
Robert Thompson, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, FreshSource
When I heard Steve Junqueiro’s daughter was looking to break into the industry, I instantly wanted to meet her. I was just starting FreshSource, so we didn’t have the merchandising team we do today. Natalie was one of, maybe, four team members when she came on, and she was willing to do it all. I quickly recognized that she is a deeper well of potential than any of us could have anticipated. The next thing I knew, she stepped up to design the FreshSource logo—that is so exemplary of Natalie’s work ethic. Every project she tackles has turned into something very successful because of her can-do attitude. My advice to Natalie is to start thinking about where she’s taking FreshSource next. If she maintains an open mind, I don’t know where she’ll be able to go. I just hope that she does it with us.
Director of Sales, National Accounts, FreshSource
I met Natalie about eight years ago, when I had the opportunity to mentor her. She came to FreshSource highly recommended from one of our principal partners, Taylor Farms. The first time I worked with Natalie, she was impeccably dressed, with curled hair and great heels. I was wary at first. I let her know that we are not the ‘typical’ broker. We pride ourselves on being a hands-on sales and merchandising solution company that never says no to a retailer partner.
We spent the day cleaning, stocking, and helping out at stores. She dove right in, not afraid to roll up her sleeves and work hard. The next day Natalie showed up in jeans and flats, ready to get her hands dirty again. That has been my experience with Natalie ever since. When she is faced with a challenge, she not only finds a solution, but goes above and beyond. Natalie is a team player who welcomes feedback and offers support freely. My only advice for Natalie is, ‘Stay the course, because you’re incredible!’