Isabel Freeland’s career path was set when she checked the first item on a list of college subjects: accounting. It wasn’t something she longed to study, nor was it something she’d even thought about doing.
“That’s what I studied because that’s the courses they put me in,” Freeland said. “I was good in numbers and I liked it, but I probably would have never thought I wanted to be an accountant.”
A few years earlier, at age 15, Freeland had moved from Cuba to New York City with her family.
In 1987, she earned a degree in business administration from Queens College at The City University of New York, then worked for eight years as a certified public accountant in San Diego.
Now she’s vice president and chief financial officer for Coast Citrus Distributing, San Diego, where she’s worked for 15 years.
William Watson, executive director of the Orlando, Fla.-based National Mango Board, said Freeland’s perspective on the produce business is well-informed, but not just from the financial aspect.
She understands all components of building a successful business, he said. Freeland just finished a two-term run as president of the board, and is now an ex officio member.
“She’s one of the smartest people I know,” Watson said. “I’ve never known anyone who’s worked harder than Isabel Freeland.”
Working hard is simply part of who she is, she said, and she enjoys it.
“Probably, I’m 24/7 at work or on my phone,” she said. “Always thinking about reorganization and new strategies or talking to employees.”
Freeland said she manages through trust and by giving employees the authority they need to do their jobs, even if they sometimes make mistakes.
“You need to provide support for them,” she said. “Then you can build a … team that trusts you and is willing to do the impossible for you.”
Watson said he’s seen Freeland’s style build self-confidence in people who work with her. Freeland’s advice to women entering the industry is to be strong and not afraid to speak out, but to also know when to pay attention and how to make smart decisions.
“She’s not scared to take on a challenge,” Watson said. “If she feels passionate about something, you don’t want to get between her and it. She embraces life in a way I haven’t seen a lot of people do.”
Freeland shares a love of skiing with her 14-year-old son, Isaac, who competes in downhill races and freestyle skiing. They spend each weekend from November through April on the slopes. In the off-season, they hike, run and mountain bike.