Little did Adrian Abbott know that when he accepted a position as an international sales representative for BC Tree Fruit after graduate school that he was jumpstarting a more than 20-year career with the company that would also put him in a leadership role for the entire Canadian produce industry.
Abbott, 52, the marketing services manager for BC Tree Fruit and the immediate past chairman of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, said his past year as president was probably the highlight of his career.
During his career, Abbott has been involved in opening new export markets to tree fruit, making his company a leader in Canada. Those early years, starting in 1987, still remain a highlight of his career, he said.
He moved on from BC Tree Fruit, the grower-owned sales and marketing agent for more than 800 growers, to one of its packing operations in 1994, only to return five years later with a better understanding of the operations and production aspects of the tree fruit industry.
He rejoined the company as marketing services manager, a role he continues to build on today with added responsibilities in food safety, traceability, sales and marketing analysis, production coordination, industry relations and most recently, an occupational health and safety program.
Abbott said throughout his career, Dan Dempster, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, has served as a mentor for him.
Dempster’s respect for Abbott is mutual.
“Adrian is an extremely good leader as he encourages and ensures open dialogue from all parties,” Dempster said.
Dempster also pointed out that Abbott is a good consensus builder and has a talent for analyzing data to discover the best course of action.
Abbott, he said, has a great sense of humor and relates well to people.
“He is always eager to engage in activities supporting the industry,” Dempster said.
Abbott is helping lead the succession planning effort at CPMA to prepare for Dempster’s departure next year.
In addition to his work at CPMA, Abbott is also a director at the Canadian Horticultural Council, a group he’s been involved with for 10 years.
Abbott describes himself as a hands-off leader. He says he thinks it’s important to build a good team and give them the tools to succeed, rather than micromanage. His volunteer work with CPMA has him on numerous committees looking at technology, traceability, government policy and food safety.
“The industry has become so much more structured than it used to be,” Abbott said. “Everything used to sort of be done on a handshake. It didn’t need the structure. But now everything’s more coordinated between the supplier and buyer.”
Moving forward with the Produce Traceability Initiative will bring even more structure to the industry, he said.
Right now, Abbott is neck-deep in a companywide rebranding effort, designing a new logo, redesigning packaging and implementing a new marketing campaign. He expects the campaign to launch in Western Canada in late October.
Abbott and his wife, Linda, have been married 25 years and have two sons, Jordan and Kyle.