Advisers help Wish Farms change

08/02/2013 10:14:00 AM
Chuck Robinson

Chuck Robinson, Media WatchChuck Robinson, Media WatchThe changes that have come over Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms over the past decade or so have been remarkable.

Seeing them brought together with a little context added during an interview on Tampa, Fla., public television’s “Suncoast Business Forum” was enlightening to me.

The episode aired in late June.

The video can be watched here.

One of the things that caught my attention was Wish Farms president and chief executive officer Gary Wishnatzki’s response to a question about where he goes for advice.

His answer: a chapter of an international organization called Vistage.

Vistage is a peer advisory group for CEOs, business owners and executives of small to midsize businesses.

There are speakers and other educational programs, but the core of experience comes from interaction in small groups of up to 17 people who are running varied businesses.

Each member pledges to not share what they hear during the meetings with outside parties. It is a good place to discuss things that you don’t want to discuss with a spouse or employee.

“We kind of act like each other’s board of directors,” Wishnatzki explained over the phone.

The cross-disciplinary input helps a business leader come at a problem from a different tack.

It also is good exercise to work through someone else’s problems, either for the problem-solving practice or because you have similar issues, Wishnatzki said.

“It’s a good place to get your answers questioned,” he said.

Wish Farms was already embracing change by the time Wishnatzki joined Vistage eight years ago.

Wishnatzki had bought out his father and uncle in the late 1980s. The company was about a third the size then as it is now, he estimates.

The company got involved as growers in addition to marketing for others in the late 1980s. He said that improved his marketing skills because he better understood the growers’ challenges.

In 2001, the company split with its New York partners. Wishnatzki said that almost seemed like a rebirth.

“We were acting like a start-up,” he said on the program.

While his company was already embracing change by the time he joined Vistage, more was to come after.

The company’s new name, shortened from Wishnatzki Farms to Wish Farms, was born of a focus on branding encouraged by his Vistage colleagues, Wishnatizki said.

The group also has encouraged him to think in terms of processes and not have everything reliant on him, the owner.

Whether Vistage had much to do with it or not, Wish Farms since 2010 has grown into a year-round supplier of strawberries and blueberies. However, it seems a good bet related issues were hashed out by the group.

Wishnatzki says he doesn’t have all the answers for problems facing his company. Maybe so, but he has figured out a good place to get help.

That makes him a pretty smart cookie.

crobinson@thepacker.com

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