Among the candidates for the newly-created post: a woman with absolutely no experience in fresh produce.
Oregon native Mary Wright-Rana had been director of marketing, promotions and corporate communications for the legendary Laguna Seca Raceway.
For 13 years, Wright-Rana’s universe was populated by speeding race cars and motorcycles, world famous drivers, celebrities and corporate VIPs.
“I buy produce, and I drink wine,” she proclaimed during her Pro*Act interview.
Within hours, the job was hers.
Marketing was old hat to Wright-Rana, but there was a steep learning curve to fresh produce for foodservice.
“I just knew that if you had the passion for the product, you could market it,” she said.
The passion came quickly as Wright-Rana became acquainted with the Pro*Act staff.
“I came into the most unbelievable group of people I’d ever met,” she said.
It was the speed of learning the produce business and the fervor Wright-Rana applied to learning that struck Max Yeater, Pro*Act president, and still does.
“For me, Mary’s willingness to learn all aspects of the industry is just awesome,” he said.
“She jumps into every issue, and she’s built great relationships over the years with everyone in the industry — customers, members, suppliers.
On today’s Pro*Act staffing chart, Wright-Rana is director of marketing in charge of a staff of one — herself. She sees it differently. She counts among her subordinates the company’s 38 members — or distributors — around the country.
“I can pick up the phone at any time and use their staffs to help me, whether it’s Salt Lake City or Denver or Boston or Chicago,” she said.
“I have a very large department. They just don’t get their paychecks from Pro*Act.”
The admiration runs both directions.
“Mary commands the level of respect that most people would reserve for presidents of companies,” said Peter Testa, president of Testa Produce Inc., Chicago.
“She’s always looking to expand our brand, expand our products, expand our own individual companies. She’s been instrumental in helping people grow their businesses.”
While the recession has been a rough patch for foodservice, it forced the industry to be more introspective, Wright-Rana said.