Were it not for the hot and humid Florida summers, Hillary Femal, director of strategic market development for IFCO Systems Inc., might not even be working in the produce industry.
After earning a bachelor’s of science degree in commerce from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Femal moved to Tampa, Fla., to be with her fiance. She took a job there as an Enterprise Rent-A-Car management trainee. What she got was a genuine taste of Florida’s hot summers.
“There was a surprising amount of physical labor, including washing cars outside in the hot sun while we were wearing business suits,” Femal said.
After a couple of months, a recruiter called her about a marketing coordinator opening at IFCO. She was intrigued by the idea of marketing environmentally friendly produce containers.
“I was fresh out of college and idealistic. I knew nothing about containers or pallets or logistics or produce,” Femal said. “But it sounded like a really cool company and the job didn’t involve washing cars.”
Since joining IFCO in 2004, Femal has enjoyed broadening and deepening her knowledge and responsibilities while working her way up from marketing coordinator to director of strategic market development.
“It’s a source of pride for me that I’ve been able to find that satisfaction, those challenges and opportunities for growth and learning within the same company for so long,” Femal said.
In addition to overseeing traditional marketing communications, Femal manages IFCO’s North American business development strategy, while working closely with IFCO’s European business development group, said Fred Heptinstall, president and general manager of IFCO Systems U.S.
Femal enjoys learning. She completed a master’s in business administration at the University of Florida in 2010. Her five-year plan includes gaining expertise in aspects of IFCO’s operations that she’s less familiar with, such as product development and sales.
“I can’t imagine things around here slowing down,” Femal said. “There’s so much more to learn about the produce industry and about logistics and packaging.”
Femal’s industry leadership roles include serving as secretary and treasurer on the Reusable Packaging Association’s executive board, and being a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s transport packaging work group.
Femal said one word — “collaborative” — describes her leadership style. She said she sees the best results when she trusts her coworkers, values their opinions and incorporates their ideas.
“She has strong managerial and coaching skills and the ability to inspire hard work in others,” Heptinstall said.
Her advice to women who might want to follow in her footsteps is to take every opportunity that’s offered, regardless of whether they think they’re capable.
“We can surprise ourselves at what we’re capable of, but we’ll never know if we don’t try,” Femal said. “The worst that could happen is that you’ll learn a lesson.”
For Femal, the best that could happen is likely still to come.
“The programs she has developed will continue to have a positive impact on produce consumption by connecting high-quality produce with consumers, both in North America and in Europe,” Heptinstall said.
“Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables improves health. Healthier people are happier. This is why Hillary brings healthier, happier lives.”