Not many can say they’ve taken a company of 12 people and built it up to hundreds, nor can many boast of turning a new brand into a household name in only two years.
Ali Leon, Irwindale, Calif.-based Ready Pac’s senior director of strategic business development, can say both.
Leon grew up in the produce business, working with her father at a Fresh Point branch that used to be known as G&G Produce Co. She and her father later broke away to launch their own fresh-cut processing house, L&H Foods. The company was a specialty produce distributor for California, Nevada and Arizona.
“My late father, C.A. ‘Smoky’ House, taught me the sales and distribution side of our industry and the value of always looking after the customer,” Leon said. “It was an awesome privilege to be raised around fresh produce.”
After selling that business, Leon took a position as director of sales for Reedley, Calif.-based Brandt Farms.
“It gave me the chance to work with domestic produce, as well as learn about the offshore season,” Leon said. “That was fantastic. I learned so much during that time.”
Leon sneaked away from the produce industry for two years to work for St. Paul, Minn.-based Ecolab.
With experience on the supplier and distributor sides of things, it was only two years before she made her way back to the produce industry.
“I joined Ready Pac to launch a fresh-cut business that then became the industry standard,” Leon said.
She started her time with the then up-and-coming company as director of fruit.
Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms LLC, Hermiston, Ore., has worked with Leon on and off over the last 15 years, she said.
“Ali’s always been committed to produce, freshness, and what fresh has to offer the industry,” Smith said. “She’s always wanted to get produce into more peoples’ hands.”
“She thinks before she speaks, and when she speaks, she has something important and insightful to say,” Smith said.
“She’s a very hard worker, lets her works speak for her, and is results oriented.”
Leon gives credit for her career development to the people in her life who believed in her and taught her along the way, namely her father; Eleanor and Wayne Brandt of Brandt Farms; Dennis Gertmenian, founder of Ready Pac; Uzor Nwoko, former president of OBIM Fresh-Cut Fruit Co.; and her husband Ramon Leon.
“The most influential mentor I have enjoyed has been my dear husband, Ramon,” Leon said. “Early in my career he helped me realize the old adage ‘cool heads prevail’ was more than just a wise saying. It’s guided me through my career.”
The produce industry has also taught her patience, she said.
“Change is inevitable, but it does not need to be fatal,” Leon said. “We individually are in control of how we respond to circumstances and changes in our lives and careers. Being open and adaptable to constant change was an important lesson.”