But it isn’t forced. Mitchell said Jerry never pressured him into being the fourth generation working for the family business.
“His philosophy was that it’s here for you,” he said, “but take the path you want because that’s where you’ll be successful.”
So Mitchell started his own company as a sophomore in college, following his first passion: helicopters. And it was Jerry’s co-signature that let Mitchell buy his first helicopter.
He did it for nine years before returning to the family business. Now he’s chairman of the board for Bushmans’ Inc.
“I call him the biggest cheerleader the potato industry will ever have,” Mitchell said about Jerry.
If there are potatoes in a grocery store anywhere near Bushman, you can find him handing out potatoes and $5 bills to the first 50 elderly women he sees, Mitchell said. He’ll explain how they’re grown and harvested.
“My children won’t even go to the store with him anymore,” Mitchell said. “He’ll be selling those potatoes.”
That outgoing nature served well with clients too. The produce world is now “very corporate, very structured,” Mitchell said, and people don’t interact the way his father does.
”His relationships with customers were more than work-related,” he said. “They got to be friends.”
His personality naturally led to his involvement in regional and national committees.
Bushman served on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association for 12 years, most recently from 1999 to 2005. He also spent several years on its marketing committee.
He also served two terms for the U.S. Potato Board and a combined 12 years for the United Fresh Produce Association, six years for the brokers division and six for the growers division.
Bushman has stepped back from the reins of his company, as much as that’s possible for a lifelong potato cheerleader. Call it semi-retired.
“He still plays a huge role in strategy. We continue to look to him for guidance,” Carter said. “He’s seen it all.”
Even if he misses a few days at the office, his presence is still felt.
“He likes to say that he stirs the pot,” Carter said, “and it takes five days to settle down.”