Margret DeBruyn says she took a roundabout route to her current position as president and chief executive officer of DeBruyn Produce.
Perhaps, so did the company, which got its start in Zeeland, Mich., in 1929 and morphed into a multi-state operation.
Margret DeBruyn is the fourth generation of the company’s namesake to run the company. She operates in the company’s Lavilla, Texas, location. For many years, DeBruyn operated in Weslaco, Texas, before moving to nearby Lavilla.
“I grew up around the fields, but I wasn’t fond of that four-letter word, ‘snow’,” she said.
She left winters behind, and she even tried to leave the family business behind.
“I grew up in the business, but I left the business to go pursue a career in investment banking,” said DeBruyn, 41.
Even though she had departed for a wholly different world of business, she said, she always kept in touch with her father, Robert, who was then the company president and patriarch.
“We talked about the business side of things,” she said. “It’s funny because I was the kid who got letters in college with a paragraph on what’s going on in the onion world, a paragraph about what’s going on in the celery world. I’d want to know, ‘What’s going on in my house?’”
Ultimately, the younger DeBruyn returned to the company started by her great-grandfather, David DeBruyn, after her father died two years ago.
She said her outside experience enabled her to bring back some important perspectives to her family’s enterprise.
She called it “a sense of balance.”
“I see in companies, there’s not balance for employees,” she said. “There’s not balance for the person who runs it. It was good experience for me to have worked in other arenas for other companies.
“You can be really successful and share the responsibilities, and you don’t have to be in a job that owns your life,” Margret DeBruyn said. “If employees need time to be with family, I want them to be with their families.”
That balance helps DeBruyn maintain “sanity” that keeps the business humming along.
“I don’t want people to burn out,” she said. “I really want this to be something they enjoy, because I want my employees to love to come to work. I’ve lived that life, where you dread your boss or you wait for the next opportunity to come up. I don’t want my employees to have to go through that.”
The lessons she learned in the banking industry also bring an element of fiscal preparedness, she added.
“My attitude is I’d like to become more of a dominant player in the produce industry, but at the same time, I come from a banking background and I look at the economic situation and I think you need to be aware of what’s going on,” she said. "You can’t function in a petri dish.”
Kevin Hubbard, a longtime salesman with DeBruyn Produce, said Margret DeBruyn has contributed much to the company’s continued success.
“She’s a person of high integrity, high ethics,” Hubbard said. “She doesn’t want her employees to be down. She’s very close to her family and wants her business to be kind of like a family business, too.”