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People in Produce: Meet 4 Robinson Fresh Employees on Produce Business’s 40 Under Forty List
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People in Produce: Meet 4 Robinson Fresh Employees on Produce Business’s 40 Under Forty List

Produce Business recognizes the produce industry’s top young leaders in their annual 40 Under Forty project. This year, four Robinson Fresh employees are included on the list. They, along with the other honorees, were selected for their professional accomplishments, demonstrated leadership, and contributions to the industry and their communities.

Robinson Fresh prides itself on hiring the best of the best, and this recognition of these four standouts is a testament to their commitment to excellence in their work, their relationships with customers and others they interact with every day, and to our industry.

Read through these excerpts from their Q&A with Produce Business—along with a fun bonus question from our team—and see why these Robinson Fresh employees are so deserving of this honor.

Meet four Robinson Fresh employees honored on the 2018 Produce Business 40 Under Forty list

Cheyenne Barcelona, Manager, Strategic Services

Q. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?
A. Good news travels fast, bad news faster. I was so focused on customer service early in my career that I tried not to share issues that were happening. In produce especially, there is so much that is out of your control, like growing conditions, yields, market swings, weather events. We work in an industry where it is common to have an “Act of God” clause in a contract. Showing a customer how you helped them out of an issue, sharing it, and utilizing all of your resources is far more impactful than fixing the problem behind the scenes.

Q. What was the “aha” moment when you knew produce was the industry for you?
A. My first year of college, I was invited to attend a ceremony where Karen Caplan from Frieda’s was recognized alongside Debbie Allen (the actress/choreographer who is best known as a teacher in the TV series Fame) as a successful woman in business in the LA area. I remember watching Fame and seeing Debbie Allen wield that cane and tell her students to “dream big” and “if you want fame, it costs you, and right here is where you start paying.” I then heard Karen talk about her mom and the big dream she had to bring something to the States that was different. She talked about what it feels like to be the underdog, to be different than your peers but not to let it stop you.

To see the level of passion that Karen exhibited rival that of Debbie Allen—and to see her command the stage, talk about kiwi, drew me into the story, and be inspired by it—is when I knew produce was the best choice for me.

Robinson Fresh Q. If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be? Why?
A. I’ve actually been a fruit—more than once! At the PMA Foodservice Show that is held in July in Monterey, CA, we typically have a large team participate in the 5K. I have volunteered to dress up as a mascot for several years and cheer on our team of runners. I have dressed up as a watermelon, Robinson Fresh logo, and my personal favorite, a mango! The mango was my favorite because it had just enough sass to challenge the other mascots at the race to a dance battle and WIN! It was the robot moves that really sealed the deal.

Sarah Hendrickson, Project Manager

Q. How did you begin working in the produce industry?
A. As I graduated college, I wasn’t 100% sure which career path I wanted to take. I knew I wanted to do something that allowed me to meet people and solve complex problems that would have a big impact. My opportunity with Robinson Fresh really fell into my lap. I had a job elsewhere, but casually kept in touch with a Robinson recruiter. They approached me with the inventory analyst role thinking it would be a great fit. I knew early on the atmosphere and environment were what I was looking for both the short and long term.

Q. What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
A. I’d like to see more done to promote produce consumption in schools, especially at the elementary level. It could be by promoting a fruit or vegetable of the month that the students learn about and have the opportunity to try in multiple ways, or teaching them about agriculture through tower gardens. Kids are impressionable and open to trying new things if it is done in a fun way.

Robinson Fresh Q. If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be? Why?
A. I would be a pineapple. Pineapples are sweet and tangy, yet have a tough exterior. They are also used in many types of recipes, so they get along well with others. All are traits I associate with myself.

Noah Hoffman, General Manager

Q. How did you begin working in produce?
A. I found C.H. Robinson through a variety of supply chain courses at the university I attended, which spent significant time educating on food logistics. I also had a like-minded friend who was interning at C.H. Robinson and exposed me to the fast-paced, team-based environment I was looking for as a catapult to my career. Earning an entry-level position provided me with both general and directed learning that built my expertise and ability to contribute to broader organizational initiatives to meet customers’ growing demands. The culture that thrives today continues to attract top industry talent.

Q. What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
A. It could not be a more exciting time to join the produce industry. The dynamics of both the retail space and the grower/shipper community are going to continue to create fantastic career opportunities for those who are able to operate, innovate, and lead through change. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake as long as you learn from it.

Robinson Fresh Q. You just shipwrecked on a deserted island. Which fruit or veggie do you pine for?
A. I would say bananas; however, pretty sure if I’m close to having a remote chance of getting stranded on an island, it’s going to be on one with bananas and coconuts for sure. Bananas are high in B vitamins and make you happy. Also, even if they go bad, you can still bake with them!

Doug Johnson, General Manager, Southeast and Caribbean

Q. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?
A. I wish I had learned to trust my instincts earlier. I’ve realized that in order to be a great leader, it’s important to be comfortable with who you are and how you lead rather than following the paths of others.

Q. How have you changed during your tenure?
A. I thought this was a temporary stop before taking a different path. I now know I’ll likely retire from the produce industry, and that has changed my outlook. The industry is large enough to continue to learn and grow, yet small enough to generate genuine friendships with people from many different backgrounds. The industry has changed a lot, but at its core, it’s still driven by smart people working together to grow, ship, deliver, and sell fresh, quality produce to enthusiastic consumers.

Robinson Fresh Q. You just shipwrecked on a deserted island. Which fruit or veggie do you pine for?
A. I guess it depends on what’s on the island, but probably watermelon would be my first choice. If it’s a deserted island, you could theorize that fresh water could be hard to come by. I’m guessing watermelon would sound really good at that point. If there is a lot of fresh water on the island, there are probably other fruits growing there, in which case, I enjoy the taste of a good watermelon!

Final thoughts

Robinson Fresh has problem solvers and fresh experts like these around the world, all working hard to connect, optimize, and improve logistics and provide high quality fresh produce, year round.

Connect with one of our experts if you’re ready to work with a great team—like the 40 Under Forty recipients you got to know in this post—to grow your fresh produce program.

Jim Lemke

Jim Lemke - President, Robinson Fresh

Jim was named president of Robinson Fresh in January 2015. Prior to that, he served as senior vice president from December 2007 to December 2014, having served as vice president, sourcing since 2003. Prior to that time, he served as the vice president and manager of C.H. Robinson's Corporate Procurement and Distribution Services branch. Jim joined the company in 1989. Jim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Minnesota. Jim also serves on the Foundation Board of the United Fresh Produce Association. He also serves as a director for the Children’s Theatre Company.
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