Friday, June 27, 2014

Just Make Friends!

Photo Credit: United Fresh Produce Association

It was just about two weeks ago that I returned from Chicago where I attended the United Fresh Convention. Companies definitely seemed to bring their best game to the trade show floor. Seeing all the bright and beautiful displays of all sorts of produce made me reflect on the sad fact that really there just isn't enough time at home to try and cook with these natural products. It’s not uncommon when loading a produce mixer to have a customer include specialty produce items, so when I get to a convention such as this I get to see what these unique fruits and vegetables look like. Sometimes we even get to taste them!

Spending time and money on a convention is a good thing for many reasons. Meeting new people, connecting with friends, learning the latest news on current issues, and gaining fresh perspectives on familiar topics all are important elements of a trade show for any person working in the industry.  I enjoyed all of these aspects. Most valuable to me, however, were three different experiences that either strengthened me as a person or bolstered my commitment to keep pursuing the vision that I have for this company.

Within the first two days I had the opportunity to meet some of the people who my father considers some of his good friends. On the second day my son and I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with Kid Chef Eliana and her family. And on the last day, the last thing I did was listen to five women discuss the issues that are part of being a female in the produce industry.  

As I started to write this particular blog, I quickly realized that to fully define why these segments of the show were so significant I would need to do this in three separate posts. Today I start with meeting dad’s friends.

Dad has been in the produce industry since time began. Over the years he has accumulated many acquaintances, but few of these have risen to the top of his mind as a ‘good friend.’ These would include people that are trustworthy, and have trusted him. They are individuals who welcome his advice and willingly offer up their own when he is in need. The shared history between these individuals includes projects or business endeavors that were not always pursued for financial gain. More often it was for the pure fun and excitement of doing something valuable and worthwhile together with people that share the same vision and passion for doing a job well done.  

After thinking about these conversations with dad’s friends, these were my observations/learning outcomes:

Takeaway #1: If I want to fill Dad’s shoes, be a friend first. My career path, my ability to run a truck brokerage, my experience and history of participation in the produce industry, etc are all important, but in the end, people remember the person first.

It was a pleasure to talk to people about someone we both respect and enjoy.  I have learned quite a bit from my father, but I have much ahead to gain from his insight and experience. In my conversations with these individuals I could totally relate to how they feel about his vast knowledge on many topics. All of them seemed appreciative of his interest in helping them as often as he was able in whatever capacity they needed. I too have been the beneficiary of these attributes my dad routinely demonstrates.  

Takeaway #2:  People at ‘the top’ are genuine and open. Aspire to be like them.

I had the incredible privilege of conversing with people who were very educated and experienced in their own right. There is a reason that Dad respects these individuals, and just by introducing myself as his daughter I was welcomed and engaged as one of their peers. Perhaps their enthusiasm for knowing my father was the reason for their friendly reception. I was not trying to meet them to gain some advantage for my business, but rather, to learn more about the friends for whom Dad holds deep admiration. Their warmth and sincere interest in our conversation showed me that people at all levels in their careers and positions in their respective companies are for real and do not seem influenced in a negative way by their own accomplishments.

Takeaway #3  Be yourself, and be sincerely interested in others.

Because these men enjoyed talking about Jim, I had the opportunity to practice talking to people in a non-threatening environment. Ok, true, I wasn't completely relaxed because I knew I was representing my father in a way. Of course I didn't want them to think that THIS apple fell too far from the tree.  But because I was focused on maintaining meaningful dialogue, absent any pressure to be anything other than myself, it was a very enjoyable exchange with everyone.  Growing up my siblings and I would watch my father initiate many conversations with complete strangers. This was routine at all events.  He would come home with stories about these people and always seemed so impressed with the things he learned about them.  It was because he was himself, and always, and I mean without fail, used every chance he got to talk to people about what was important to them.  

When I leave for a trade show or an industry meeting, Dad’s advice is always, “Just go and make friends.” Because of his example, and opportunities to follow his advice, I now have some new friends.

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