No one ever said the produce industry, subject as it is to Mother Nature and other fickle forces, was easy, said Brent Harrison, president of Nogales, Ariz.-base Al Harrison Produce Co. Distributors Inc.
“We’ve lost money, and we’ve made money,” said Harrison, 44. “The challenges are definitely there.”
That said, Harrison has no intentions of seeking employment in another industry anytime soon. In addition to heading his family’s company, Harrison is president of the Plant City, Fla.-based National Watermelon Association board of directors.
He also serves on the boards of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association and the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
With such a full plate, one of the things that keeps Harrison going is the camaraderie that comes with working in the fresh produce industry.
“I enjoy the relationships I’ve built over the years,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve met.”
When it comes to leadership, creating a good work environment is near the top of Harrison’s list.
“I feel a successful business is one where employees are happy and want to come to work,” he said.
With continuous company growth — 20% in 2010 alone — Harrison has helped create such a feel-good environment.
“If you have a good atmosphere and a good team, things happen,” he said.
In addition to his work at Al Harrison, Harrison is proud of his association work on behalf of the industry.
He helped spearhead the two-year process that culminated in the National Watermelon Promotion Board’s first-ever assessment hike. Not doing so would have been “devastating” to the board’s ability to promote watermelons nationwide, Harrison said.
Mark Arney, the board’s executive director, agrees. At the time, many industry members wanted either a one-cent-per-hundredweight increase or no increase at all.
Harrison, who was then the board’s president, had the foresight, Arney said, to see that a two-cent increase was necessary. And he had the confidence and skill to convince his colleagues of it.
“There was one crucial meeting in particular,” Arney said. “When Brent finished speaking, he turned a number of people. To me, it was critical. Brent is right up there among the (industry) elite.”
Among other accomplishments, Harrison also cites the association’s push for commodity-specific food safety guidelines for watermelons.
“I’m very happy with that,” Harrison said. “We want to be proactive in our industry.”