To get ahead in life, you have to advocate for yourself. Make the most of every opportunity, because they often come once in a lifetime and could easily change your trajectory for the better.
This is not to say that you should only rely on yourself, or that leaning on others is a weakness. In fact, it is the opposite.
I was reminded of this while speaking with Brianna Shales, Marketing Director of Stemilt. Not only has she been advocating for herself from an early age, but she has allowed others to help her sharpen her skills and reach new heights.
It all began with an internship during her senior year at Washington State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. Honing her skills as an interviewer and writer, Brianna fell in love with the ag industry. When she decided to move to Wenatchee, Washington, in 2008, the organization connected Brianna with folks in the treefruit sector—Stemilt being one of them.
“I applied, interviewed with the Marketing Director at the time, Roger Pepperl, and received a call that I had the Communications Specialist job one day before I walked in the graduation ceremonies,” Brianna told me. “It has been such an amazing experience since then, and I now tell every college kid I come into contact with to do an internship. It was a life-changing choice for me!”
As Brianna put it, Roger was her boss first, then became a mentor and friend. As a former retail buyer and merchandiser, Roger taught her about produce, the finances behind it, the importance of the consumer and point of sale, and all about storytelling.
“When I think of what he taught me, it’s more like what didn’t he teach me?” she recalled. “He is a coach first and foremost and would give you all the time in the world to ask questions. He also took it upon himself to bring me along on travel experiences and pushed me into continuing education opportunities.”
In late 2020, Roger announced his retirement, and Brianna stepped up to succeed him.
“Now, two full years into this role, I still have a ton to learn. But I am so humbled by the confidence the Stemilt leadership and the amazing team I get to work with have in me,” she noted.
“When I think of what [Roger] taught me, it’s more like what didn’t he teach me? He is a coach first and foremost and would give you all the time in the world to ask questions. He also took it upon himself to bring me along on travel experiences and pushed me into continuing education opportunities.”
Brianna Shales, Marketing Director, Stemilt
See what I mean now? Brianna took fate into her own hands when she asked Chris to be her mentor, and that is not the last time she did so. Now 15 years into her career, Brianna continues to connect with produce peers in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the industry she calls home.
Enter Vivian Page, Stemilt’s Vice President of Human Capital. Vivian is one of Brianna’s newer connections, as she recently asked the food and beverage industry expert to be her mentor as well.
“Vivian is a gifted coach. She challenges me and is helping remove paradigms that I have built over 15 years in the industry,” Brianna outlined. “She also has a great strategic mind and is super creative. I am looking forward to learning more from her.”
Like so many of us in this industry, what Brianna values most about fresh produce is the people. Feeding the world and encouraging healthier habits for future generations is what it’s all about for her, and that is something worth being passionate about.
“I’m also finding myself coming into my own as a catalyst for those I work with, and others coming up in the industry,” Brianna stated. “I’m not a young one anymore (even though I like to think I am) and feel it’s important that I pay it forward to others, like many did for me. I want to help people grow and learn.”
One thing that struck me about Brianna’s telling of her own story is that she is “looking forward to moving farther, faster.” With eyes trained steadily on the goal set in front of her, there is nothing standing in the way of Brianna and her greatest potential.
Lucky for us, this is one mentor with plenty of road left ahead of her.
Here is what they have to say about Brianna…
Retired Industry Marketer
“I could tell Brianna was going to be a great addition to Stemilt from her first interview. She was fresh from Washington State University, had a resume, and was prepared for the interview. She came on board as an entry-level Marketing Assistant, as I wanted to discover her best skills before narrowing her focus. Her abilities were endless and, initially, her communication skills were put to work. Brianna was never scared of a challenge, and her job constantly evolved to put her skills further to work. I gave Brianna many challenges that she lacked experience in, knowing she would need these various skills to grow and thrive. She never flinched at a challenge. She became an expert at sales data, video, digital marketing, social media, trade shows, new product development, and so much more. Brianna quickly became a great leader with no ego, great kindness, and passion to be in first place. Brianna is a very special person who taught me as much or more than I taught her. I am grateful I had the privilege to work with her and also call her a friend.”
Chief Marketing Officer, Pure Flavor®
“Following in the footsteps of Roger Pepperl is not easy, but Brianna Shales was groomed for it over the last 10 years at Stemilt. She is a savvy, knowledgeable, and engaged strategic marketer who is a people person by nature—the smile says it all! When she’s not planning her next apple road show, retail merchandising plan, or trade show, she’s off to the soccer field with her boys as a youth coach.
Never afraid to ask questions, we connect bi-monthly via Teams to talk big ideas, the pulse of the industry, and how product and brand marketing is evolving. We ping pong topics back and forth, but what is clear is that Brianna is always listening and thinking about how to create impact and move more product. Brianna is a talented storyteller and is passionate about her role, team, and company. There is no doubt that Brianna has a very bright future ahead in the fresh produce industry; she’s out to increase consumption, one apple, pear, or handful of Half Mile High Cherries at a time.”
Vice President of Human Capital, Stemilt
“In the 18 months I have been working at Stemilt, I have found Brianna to be a person that wants to expand on her knowledge and that takes the steps to do so in a decisive way. Brianna and I have collaborated in various initiatives that allowed me to see that she’s structured in her thinking, analytical, and deliberate. Recently, she led the selection of a new PR firm; during the process, I also observed Brianna’s professionalism and ability to make an informed decision quickly. I can see Brianna has a lot of potential in becoming a strong leader within the Stemilt community, and, of course, within the community at large if she desires. The most exciting thing I have observed is that Brianna is well regarded by her team and the leadership. She’s a trusted contributor, peer, and leader and has the interest of taking her team to a new level. Brianna is vulnerable enough (a quality that many leaders lack) to express with clarity where she thinks she’s at when it comes to her career trajectory and, at the same time, she’s completely willing to take on a challenge and show that she’s here to help Stemilt transform.”