Editor's Note: The article that follows is part of the 13th edition of The Packer 25 Profiles in Leadership. These reports offer some insight into what drives successful people in produce. Please congratulate these industry members when you see them and tell them to keep up the good work.
Mike Roberts, the new director of produce operations for Harps Food Stores, started in the business years ago as a part-time clerk.
So did Josh Rector, the new produce category manager for Harps, who was a teenager when he began working there nearly a decade ago.
Roberts, a produce merchandiser when Rector first met him, made a lasting first impression.
“He always wants to see everyone succeed, from the produce managers all the way down to the part-time clerks,” Rector said. “I remember the first time meeting him as an 18-year-old part-time clerk, and he said, ‘Is there anything I can do? Let me know.’”
Rector has seen that outreach continue over the years.
“He’s always wanting to find the next young talent out there,” Rector said. “That’s kind of one of the main reasons why I was able to move up in the company.
"He’s wanting to incorporate some of these younger guys that are out there and who are showing a passion for this industry, trying to make sure that they’re not just overlooked as another part-time employee," Rector said. “He wants to incorporate a training program to where we may bring them along to some food shows or some trade shows in our area and just kind of show them other aspects of the job ... a little bit of what else is out there and what some of the bigger picture is."
Roberts clearly believes in education for people early in their careers, having noted how much he appreciates STEP-UPP, the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals, facilitated by the Southeast Produce Council.
“That program is really great with getting top-notch produce guys out to the fields and then seeing where stuff comes from, understanding all the way from planting the seed to selling it on the shelf,” Roberts said.
He described participation in activities like those as “very important to keep the industry moving forward.”
In his new role, Roberts is looking at expanding the local produce and Double Up Food Bucks programs, continuing work with Produce for Kids and helping with the growth of a new price-focused store format, 10Box.
Category management for produce is also something Roberts will explore, with Rector the first produce category manager for Harps.
“One thing we’re really going to work on is looking forward,” Roberts said. “A lot of people, you can look backwards and go, ‘Hey, well here’s how we did.’ We’d like to look forward more often and try to figure out where we need to improve before we get there.”