(May 7) LAS VEGAS — Steffanie Smith attributes her success to her family, who instilled in her confidence and courage, and using her ability to communicate clearly and express gratitude, she strives to uphold that work ethic.

“My father pushed me hard. We weren’t allowed to quit,” she said. “He pushed us hard to be the best.”

Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms LLC, Hermiston, Ore., was selected to speak at the United Fresh Produce Association’s Women in Produce reception May 5 at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.

Collaborating with knowledgeable people is essential for driving company and industry development, and Smith credits River Point and her fellow employees for her accomplishments, saying she wouldn’t be at the level she’s at without the intelligent people around her.

“I always hire people smarter than me,” Smith said. “I gravitate toward smart people. They keep you learning and are always helping you to grow.”

Hiring and retaining smart, motivated people will be critical to the industry’s future success, as it continues to change and expand, and Smith challenged those in the produce business to address the demand.

“Let’s grow some talented and passionate people that will help us forge ahead,” Smith said.

That Smith has made significant strides in a male-dominated produce industry was noted.

“Steffanie is not afraid to look like a lady,” said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc. “When she found out she was speaking, she did what any red-blooded woman would do — she went out and bought a new skirt.”

Smith, with her new skirt on, said she was humbled and flattered by the recognition.

“One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to say ‘thank you,’” Smith said. “To be recognized by the association is an unexpected, humbling honor.”

But it’s more than her keen fashion sense that enabled Smith to become one of the first female chief executive officers without being the company owner, when she joined Point Farms in 2007, said Gloria Chillon, marketing director for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates, which co-sponsored the reception with D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc.

Smith, who represents the fifth generation in a family of farmers, got started in the produce business as a teenager, working on her family’s farm, Skone & Connors Produce Inc. in Warden, Wash. Upon graduation from the University of California, Los Angeles, she went to work for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., Smith said.

“I wanted to make a difference,” Smith said of her journey to Washington, D.C., 19 years ago. “I was wide eyed, scared to death and loved every minute of it.”

She’s certainly made a difference, with a resume that includes president of deli/prepared foods division for Taylor Farms Inc., Salinas, Calif., and co-owner and president of Pacific Pre-Cut Produce, Tracy, Calif., before it was acquired by Taylor Farms.

Smith also is a United Fresh board member, serving as secretary-treasurer, and has been on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.

River Point CEO honored at Women in Produce event
Steffanie Smith, honored May 5 at the United Fresh Produce Association’s Women in Produce reception. “I wanted to make a difference,” Smith said of her journey to Washington, D.C., 19 years ago. “I was wide eyed, scared to death and loved every minute of it.”