Wolter Patrick Small did not require a crystal ball to see the future for Suzanne Wolter.
Then a soon-to-be graduate of California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, Wolter was one of more than a half a dozen applicants Small interviewed in 1987 for a position in the Salinas, Calif., office of Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co. Inc.
“She was by far the most serious, sharpest and on top of things,” said Small, now owner of Patrick Small Co., Salinas.
“She was going to be successful at whatever she was doing.”
Moving forward nearly 25 years, Wolter, marketing director for Rainier Fruit Co., Yakima, Wash., remembers fondly Small and the job with Tom Lange Co.
“That was a great learning ground talking to wholesalers from around the country, retailers around the country, marketing people, just extremely good exposure to businesses,” she said.
“Pat was a great mentor and trainer.”
Wolter was not born to marketing fresh produce. Her father was in the Army Corps of Engineers, which meant the family relocated every few years.
It was a magazine article on opportunities for women in agriculture that proved to be the catalyst for her attending Cal Poly, she said.
“My passion for ag probably came through my studies at Cal Poly,” Wolter said.
“The excitement of the produce business came from my early development at Lange and then at Dole.”
The move to Dole Fresh Fruit Co., however, had nothing to do with agriculture.
“Truth be told, I met a guy,” Wolter said.
As she had been doing all of her life, she said, she picked up and moved to Chicago to be closer to that guy, Greg Wolter, who became her husband.
Wolter subsequently joined the citrus division of Dole’s Chicago staff in 1989 and over the years developed friendships that endure to this day. Among them was Kevin Fiori, who she described as a great boss and mentor.
“In my opinion her character and dedication are the foundations of her personal and professional success,” said Fiori, now vice president of sales and marketing for Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif.
“She promotes her company and its products, but never herself.”
In 2000, Wolter transferred to Wenatchee, Wash., to oversee sales and marketing for Dole’s apple division. Within nine months of her arrival, Dole made the decision to get out of the apple business.
“I look at my Wenatchee time as my character building year,” Wolter said.