If you have an opinion, John Oxford wants to hear it.

Oxford, president and CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based grower-shipper L&M Cos., is finishing up his stint as chairman of the board of the Produce Marketing Association at this year’s Fresh Summit.

He spent his year as chairman listening, challenging and searching for input — from everywhere.

“I just learned the value of tapping all the relevant resources to help make the best decisions for the organization, (to) capture the diversity of thought leadership there,” he said of his experience as chairman.

“At the end of the day, you have to create a path forward. If people always agree on everything and never have difference of opinion, we’re probably not a very effective board. That’s something I certainly encouraged. We’re not always going to agree, but at the end of day we have to align around the organization’s mission.”

Oxford said he and his board at PMA had three priorities in the past year.

“The three priorities we had were very well aligned with what the PMA organization was doing — building for the future, connecting globally and creating demand. Those aligned well with the needs and vision of the association.”

There also has been transition in PMA’s leadership, with the retirement of longtime leader Bryan Silbermann in January and with Cathy Burns assuming the role of CEO after being hired as president in 2013.

PMA also is focusing on a strategic plan that emphasizes food safety, technology and increased demand in the fresh produce and floral channels.

“Building toward the future, really encouraging members to work on their businesses and not just in our business,” Oxford said.

Fresh Summit is an opportunity to get input from the industry on how PMA can achieve its goals, but it’s important to remember the organization serves a larger purpose, Oxford said.

“One of the things for PMA is a lot of people identify it with the Fresh Summit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but ... sometimes people miss the 365-day nature of PMA,” he said.

“It exists year-round to support and help our members get better at what they do.”

Fresh Summit is an ideal event in which members can exchange ideas and do business, but PMA has evolved into an association that is more “global in nature,” Oxford said.

“Having had the opportunity over the last 18 months to travel to six continents for work and meetings has allowed me to tap into the experience I’ve had as head of a large multinational corporation,” Oxford said.

“It reinforces that we’re interdependent as a produce and floral industry.”

During this year’s Fresh Summit, Oxford will step aside as PMA chairman and hand the duties to Jin Ju Wilder, marketing director for Los Angeles-based distributor LA & SF Specialty.

“The year goes by so quickly,” Oxford said, noting that he sought out former PMA chairs to ask them what they had learned from the experience.

“Those insights were important and certainly will be available for Jin Ju,” he said.

Now, it’s time for Oxford to step back, but he will be available to offer his own insights, if he’s asked for them.

“I’ll be there but won’t force myself into the conversation,” he said.

 “I feel I’ll always be open to sharing my perspective, insights and opinions with anybody that might have interest in them.”

Beyond that, Oxford said, he will continue to “be a champion” for the association and its industry.

“Quite frankly, I recognize and support the value of the other associations that support this industry,” he said.

“They all serve a purpose and help our industry be stronger. At end of day, the rising tide lifts all boats. It’s been a real honor and, quite frankly, a humbling experience to lead in this association.”

 

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