(Nov. 27) It took the United Potato Growers of America 10 months to replace former chief executive officer Julia Cissel.

But it was worth the wait to get Fresh Produce Association of the Americas president Lee Frankel, said Jim Knutzon, chief executive officer of Farm Fresh Direct LLC, Monte Vista, Colo., and the head of United’s search committee.

“His ability to work with growers in a variety of circumstances over a long period of time and help them achieve their goals was by far the attribute that mattered most to us,” Knutzon said of Frankel, who had been the president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based association since 1996.

Knutzon said Frankel’s reputation as a leader and consensus builder and his expertise in international trade and in dealing with government regulatory agencies also were factors in the committee’s decision.

After Cissel left in January, Knutzon said the initial search failed to produce a qualified applicant. Salt Lake City-based United hired an executive recruiter four months ago to expedite the process.

“I’m glad we finally have a CEO,” said Jed Ellithorpe, United board member and partner in Center, Colo.-based Aspen Produce LLC. “We’ve needed one for a while. This is good news for us.”

The news was not good for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.


FPAA board member and chairman-elect Chris Ciruli said the association doubled its annual budget under Frankel’s guidance and also expanded its staff. During Frankel’s tenure, the association moved to a new office, saw the expansion of the Nogales border crossing and helped secure government funding for the designs for an updated port of entry.

“He took the Fresh Produce Association to a new level,” said Ciruli, partner in Ciruli Bros. LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz. “He not only was a great president, but Lee is very well liked in this town. It’s a huge loss to the Fresh Produce Association. We’re in a much better place than we were 12 years ago.”

FPAA communications director Allison Moore said a search committee likely would be finalized during the association’s Dec. 4 meeting. Ciruli said a timeline for finding a successor also likely would be established during that meeting.

Ciruli said the association likely would consider applicants from both sides of the border.

“We need somebody that can handle themselves in Mexico and in Washington, D.C., and someone who understands the border issues we face,” said Bill Sykes, president of The Sykes Co., Rio Rico, an FPAA board member and past chairman. “You have to be a problem solver, and you have to be organized.”


Frankel said he plans to work at the FPAA into late December but was uncertain about his last day in the Nogales office. He plans to start work Jan. 2 in Salt Lake City.

Frankel said he looked forward to working with a relatively new organization and in dealing with growers more closely than he did at the FPAA. He said highlights of his tenure in Nogales included shortening delays at the border and increasing retailer and consumer acceptance of Mexican produce.

He said the timing of the move was right for his family because his daughters are now in college.

FPAA president joins United Potato Growers as CEO