“She’s a consistently top-notch professional,” Gray said. “When you see her in action, you see the incredible focus that’s required of an athlete of her caliber.”
Gardner is reluctant to claim credit for the company’s successes, even though she’s been integral to major changes such as the 2003-04 company brand relaunch.
“I think Oppenheimer does a lot of newsworthy things, and I’m just the person who helps sell the story,” Gardner said. “Because our business is so diverse — the many products that we represent, the growers from around the world – there’s always a story to tell.”
Gray does not find Gardner’s modesty surprising.
“She’s the epitome of grace under pressure,” Gray said.
Others in the fresh produce industry have sought Gardner’s expertise.
Her contributions include being a member of the Produce Traceability Initiative’s communications working group and co-chaired the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s consumer marketing and communications committee during her five years on the panel.
For Gardner, results are the motivator in both her professional and personal lives, she said.
“Train hard, and it shows on race day,” Gardner said. “If you prepare well when launching a product or creating a media campaign, the results will be good as well.”
Though she still aspires to compete in the grueling Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, demanding athletic events are not Gardner’s only leisure time activities.
“I can play a mean game of cribbage,” she said.
She also is a movie buff and book reader, fiction and nonfiction.
Of late, Gardner has swapped her swimsuit for snowshoes as she and her husband, Mike, relocated to North Dakota. That means spending more time on the telephone as her position with Oppenheimer continues.