The chief operating officer for Chiquita Brands International Inc. says he could have easily been a high school basketball coach.
However, fate stepped in and Brian Kocher finds himself in the executive vice president’s office, a title the company added in front of the COO behind his name in September 2013.
“Luck and delivering results got me here,” the 44-year-old said. “I don’t think of myself as a leader. I grew up in a sports environment and played college basketball. It’s important to know your role as a team member no matter what you’re doing.”
What Kocher has been doing since 2005 is working in various leadership jobs for one of the top three banana companies in the world. He hired on as vice president and advanced to the posts of controller and chief accounting officer before being promoted to the somewhat unenviable position of president of Chiquita’s North American operation.
“In 2007 our salad business wasn’t meeting goal. It was the same for our banana business (in North America),” Kocher said. “One of the first things I did was to go out and met people face to face and asked them to tell me what they thought about our business.”
Kocher also sought input from employees in monthly town hall meetings, which he credits for helping reverse high turnover rates.
“When you get your employee base to the passion point, as a leader all you have to do is step back and let people do their jobs,” he said, adding that the term servant leadership best describes his management philosophy.
Kocher said he sees the servant leadership approach working on an industry-wide basis with the work that the United Fresh Produce Association does. That’s one reason he has worked so closely with the organization and is looking forward to leading its board next year.
“Brian is one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with,” said United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel. “But he’s also one of the most intuitive and has a real ability to connect with people around him, whether employees, customers or even competitors.
“That’s a rare combination and it makes him a strong leader of his company and also the broad produce industry.”