One of Jan Berk’s favorite professional experiences was working with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the rowing and canoeing events at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Berk, vice president and partner in San Miguel Produce, Oxnard, Calif. “There’s an energy that’s unique for the Olympics … a selfless sort of work.”
Even now, she talks passionately about it being a positive and upbeat experience. Berk herself probably had a lot to do with it being so great, according to Marshall Sherman’s description of her.
“She’s outgoing, open and positive,” said Sherman, general manager since April 2009 for San Miguel.
“She involves people in decision making and manages through teambuilding and by considering everyone’s ideas.”
Before joining San Miguel, Sherman was general manager for “friendly competitor” Walter P. Rawl & Sons Inc., Pelion, S.C., and often saw Berk at trade shows and other events.
“She’s all about doing what’s best for the customer,” he said. “Sometimes we referred customers to them and sometimes they referred customers to us.”
Cooperation clearly is important to Berk, 53. She wants employees to work together to grow professionally and contribute positively. She encourages them to develop broad perspectives by learning about different departments at San Miguel.
The people are what she loves most about the produce industry as a whole.
“They are down to earth, a wonderful group from all walks of life … with a great understanding of what it takes to get food on the table every day and the extreme challenges involved,” Berk said.
“We all pull together to try to make it work and get through the challenges.”
Berk joined San Miguel full time in 2001 to work on rebranding, selling and marketing its ready-to-cook Cut ’n Clean Greens. In late 2008, the company launched another value-added line, Jade Asian Greens. Her favorite of the eight Asian varieties is Dau Miu or Snow Pea Shoots.
Earlier in her career, Berk worked in direct marketing and the newspaper business, including serving as the Los Angeles Times’ director of communications and public affairs. She also helped promote the Oxnard Strawberry Festival in its early years.
Berk’s contributions to the produce industry extend beyond her company to her work on United Fresh Produce Association’s board and as vice chairman for its Fresh-Cut Processor Board. She also is a member of the advisory board for the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
When asked for advice to women who are new to the industry, she said patience, tenacity and hard work are key.
“In any industry that has typically been male-dominated, you have to work a little harder,” she said. “Don’t give up. Work smarter and harder and the opportunities will present themselves.”