Bringing real-world retail experience to the executive staff of Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, Cathy Green Burns will assume the duties of association president on Dec. 1.

Bryan Silbermann, who’s had that role since 1996, will remain as chief executive officer.

With 30 years in the grocery industry — 20 years at Hannaford and 10 years at Food Lion — Green Burns said the opportunity with PMA meshed with her goals and principles.

“I’m honored and thrilled to be able to join an organization that leads an industry that I care passionately about,” she said Aug. 8. “The opportunity to have a small part in really promoting and driving healthy eating across the world. What’s not to love about that?”

Green Burns worked for Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros. in several management positions before becoming vice president of fresh merchandising.

In 2002 she joined Food Lion, a sister company of Hannaford Bros., as senior vice president of fresh merchandising, distribution and quality assurance. Green Burns then served as senior vice president of northern retail operations, and in 2005 Food Lion named her its chief operating officer. After three years as president, Green Burns left Food Lion in December in part of a corporate restructuring.

Green Burns and her husband and two school-aged children are in the process of relocating to Delaware, she said.

While Green Burns said it is a shift to go from corporate America into the association world, she said both places share a common purpose.

“It is still about creating value. Whether you are doing it for shareholders, customers or members, there is still a drive to create value.”

Calling Silbermann a great teacher and visionary, Green Burns said she looks forward to learning from Silbermann about the produce industry and the global reach of the association.

“I am really excited to learning as much as I can from him and bringing PMA’s strategic plan to life.”

Silbermann, who said he first met Green Burns when she was at Hannaford about 12 years ago, said she brings leadership qualities that the association has not had in the past.

“The personal leadership capability that Cathy Green Burns has will be a huge addition to the staff and to the members as a whole,” he said.

Her experience in running a major retail organization and insight into consumer demand also is a major plus, he said.

Silbermann said her appointment coincides with the October release of the second version of PMA’s strategic plan, first released in 2008. Given the global and complex nature of PMA, he said that having more senior management with industry experience was needed.

The soon-coming retirement of senior vice president of administration Duane Eaton in January and the departure of executive vice president and chief operating officer Lorna Christie early in 2013 also created new leadership needs.

“To have the president and the CEO role wrapped in one person as I have done is not really sustainable in the long term, at least for now,” he said.

Initially, Silbermann said Green Burns will focus on board development, creating better staff development programs and make connections to the food industry for PMA.

“She understands leadership and she understands servant leadership,” he said.

Silbermann credited Jim Corby, former executive vice president and chief operating officer at Food Lion, in helping making the connection with Green Burns and PMA.

One former PMA staffer who has worked with Green Burns said that Green Burns will bring stellar leadership qualities and practical knowledge to the position.

Gary Fleming, vice president of strategic services for RedLine Solutions Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., and former PMA director of industry technology, said he worked with Green Burns on the Produce Traceability Leadership Council for several years.

Green Burns served as chair of the Produce Traceability Initiative’s Leadership Council from 2008 to 2012. She was recognized for her work in implementing traceability standards for the produce industry with The Packer’s 2008 Produce Marketer of the Year award.

“We had 48 individuals on that committee and she did an excellent of collaborating with all of the egos in the room, making sure we had consensus and kept us on track,” Fleming said. “The leadership she showed was unparalleled.”

Fleming said Green Burns took time to do the technical homework involved with initiative. “If she was deficient in one area, the next meeting she was up to speed,” he said. He said her social skills will help her learn about all aspects of the produce industry, Fleming said.

The retail perspective that Green Burns will add a lot to PMA, Fleming said. “Her experience as a practitioner in the industry is something that PMA does not have right now,” he said. “When Bryan does decide to retire, if the board is looking for someone who knows the industry very well and has the pulse on the retail community, they couldn’t pick anyone better than Cathy.” Fleming said.

While she had the chance to serve in a leadership position on the Produce Traceability Initiative, Green Burns said was very excited about influencing an industry and not just a single organization. “To be able to do that every day with the noble platforms that PMA has in their strategic plan just gives a very different meaning to what one would traditionally call work,” she said.

Silbermann, who will turn 59 in December, said he still has a “lot of tread” and is making no plans for immediate plans for retirement. “I’m not going anywhere in the near term, but when I’m ready to retire I want to make sure that the PMA members and the PMA staff have the best possible options as far as somebody to take over for me.”

If Green Burns works out as expected, she could be a natural candidate to assume leadership of PMA “down the road,” Silbermann said. “For right now, we are planning over what we need to do in the next three to five years so I’m not focused on that,” he said.

Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission and chairman of PMA’s Board of Directors, praised Green Burns and said in a news release that the association’s new president would be present at PMA’s annual Fresh Summit International Convention and Exposition, in New Orleans, prior to her official start date Dec. 1.