MillerBefore joining Food Lion, the only experience Teri Miller had with produce was eating it. But she knew business and she knew people, and she quickly became known as the gal who could get it done — and done right.
“When you think about setting the bar, well, Teri is where the bar is set,” said John Shuman, president of the Southeast Produce Council and president of Shuman Produce, Reidsville, Ga.
Shuman works with Miller in a variety of settings, watching her deal with every faction in the industry. Whether she’s talking to an individual grower or a corporate heavyweight, Shuman said Miller tells it straight.
“Teri’s communication with vendors is superior. They are very important to her. … But she always lets you know where you stand — tactfully, but she tells you,” Shuman said.
Part of her tact, Miller confesses, is her sweet Southern accent, which she uses at will. She credits her upbringing in a family business for giving her that insight and many others she has relied on since going to work for Food Lion in 1988. She started as a certified public accountant in the internal audit department. She had worked in government and manufacturing previously.
“My daddy raised me in business and taught me how to deal with people,” said Miller, who is a native of Salisbury, N.C., where Food Lion is headquartered.
“I haven’t really ever felt like women in produce have any special challenges. It’s just business.”
That straight-ahead approach has served her well, Miller said. After a decade of decimal points and dollar signs, Miller wanted something more than the audit department could offer. Food Lion needed a project manager and problem solver, so she stepped up.
Then, three years ago, she became vegetable/floral category manager for the company’s 1,300 supermarkets across 11 states. But her work reaches far beyond those states.
“Her willingness to learn and her ability to pick things up quickly make her very easy to work with,” Shuman said. “She is very active in the industry and dedicated to it.”
That dedication helped make Miller a key player in the Produce Traceability Initiative, according to Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.
“Teri provides great leadership,” Treacy said. “I work with her on PTI and she gets it. I mean she really gets it.”
Consequently, she expects her vendors to get it.
“We are going to be compliant and so are our suppliers,” Miller said. “There is nothing that a non-compliant supplier could do that would make us leave a compliant supplier. The risk is too great and it’s not as complicated as some people think.”
Treacy said Miller provided crucial leadership when the PTI was stuck in a “VHS vs. Beta” situation. Two software developers had come up with four-digit voice pick codes and the PTI working group was unable to reach a decision.
“Teri volunteered, and with two other retailers she got the research done. Without her leadership we’d still be fumbling around,” Treacy said.
When she isn’t working with vendors or participating in PTI workshops, Miller said you can find her watching her son play sports. Other than him, her joy in life comes from the fact that she earned certification as a public accountant and an information systems administrator and the fact that she can share her passion and expertise with others.
“I have been so fortunate to have been coached and encouraged by some very talented people,” she said, “and I get a tremendous amount of joy from watching others grow and succeed.”