Harold Edwards
Harold Edwards

Even though his produce roots are seven generations deep in California’s lemon growing industry, it’s not his familiarity with fruit Harold Edwards’ colleagues mention first.

Business savvy is what the sixth chief executive officer of the 120-year-old Limoneira Co. is known for. Since taking the top seat at the Santa Paulo, Calif., company in 2003, Edwards has moved the company toward vertical integration, with its supply chain an early target.

“We like to link the customers back to the trees,” said Edwards, 48.

Another big step was to vertically integrate the marketing of Limoneira’s lemons, a duty that had been in the hands of Sunkist Growers for 117 years.

“It was absolutely terrifying,” Edwards said of leaving Sunkist. “But we realized we were a big player and should have a bigger marketing program. We began selling direct. It completely unleashed our potential.”

Potential unleashed is how current and former colleagues characterize Edwards’ 10 years leading Limoneira.

Lee Cole, chairman, president and chief executive officer for Calavo Growers Inc., works closely with Edwards. The two companies own a percentage of each other.

“As a Limoneira board member, I’ve watched as Harold has developed into a great leader,” Cole said. “His financial savvy (is a) great quality, providing shareholder value for Limoneira.”

The shift to vertical integration took Limoneira and its shareholder value straight up.

Edwards said he is particularly proud Limoneira’s lemon business more than doubled from 2010 to 2012.

But growing from 1.4 million 40-pound cartons in 2010 to 3.2 million cartons for 2012-13 is yesterday’s news.

Edwards wants to hit 10 million cartons within seven years.

From 1992 to 1996, as vice president of finance of Mission Produce, Edwards streamlined the Oxnard, Calif., grower-shipper’s financial operations and helped engineer a successful merger.

Earlier in his career he worked for Ralston Purina, rising to general manager of its Agribrands Philippines operation in Manila. Under Edwards, sales volumes increased 16%.