Amy Gates fell in love with the produce business as a university student, and since then, her relationship with the industry has only deepened.
In 1998, Gates, now vice president of finance and administration for Frontera Produce, Edinburg, Texas, worked a sales internship for Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif.
She was studying agricultural business at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, but hadn’t yet settled on a career path. Produce sales seemed interesting.
“It was very intense, a bustling sales department,” Gates said. “I loved the pace.”
She thrives on the urgent and constantly changing nature of the produce business, and is driven to learn and improve on all areas of it.
“Amy has put Frontera on the map in the produce business,” said Will Steele, president and chief executive officer. “We were a good company, but we didn’t know how to get to being great.”
Gates, 33, graduated from Cal Poly with honors in 1999 and worked for Famous Software LLC, Fresno, Calif., as a sales manager. While there, she sought opportunities beyond her job description because she loved learning about all parts of the industry.
She provided business consulting and development services in addition to handling sales, marketing and software services for Famous customers.
Gates met Steele and his father and business partner, Jim Steele, through her work for Famous. She consulted with Frontera for about two years before signing on as a full-time employee.
By then, Gates had implemented software for hundreds of companies and had a broad perspective on the industry. Still, she’s learned a lot from the Steeles.
“They helped me look at things differently — more from an ownership capacity, not just an employee capacity,” she said.
As chief operations officer at Frontera, she oversaw and improved production, inventory management, physical handling, product tracking and other daily operations. In 2007, the Steeles promoted her to vice president.
She manages day-to-day activities of seven companies, with offices in Texas, Florida, Mexico and Peru.
She’s responsible for many areas, including legal work, mergers and acquisitions, investments, human resources, government relations communications, information systems, and food safety and quality.
Gates describes her management style as “very hands on” and “in the trenches.”
“My motto is that I don’t ask any of my employees to do anything that I’m not willing to do,” Gates said.
She looks for talent in others and grants employees latitude in decision making. She encourages women to get involved and reminds them to “have thick skin,” take risks and persevere.
“There’s nothing you can’t do in the produce industry,” she said.
Gates should know. Steele said she’ll find a way to accomplish anything and won’t quit until she’s satisfied.
“She’s a tremendous role model for, not just women, but for anyone coming into the industry,” he said.