During his close to 25 years in the produce business, Rich Gonzales has been around the block, and then some.
His attention to detail, skill in managing people and enjoyment of the industry have brought him to the position of vice president of global produce sourcing for Walmart.
Growing up in California, he graduated from Cal Poly in 1993. He immediately plunged into the produce business, first joining Paramount Citrus as an operations engineer.
During his career, Gonzales, who is fluent in Spanish as well as English, has lived in California, Washington, Quebec and Mexico. For the past three years, he has been at Walmart’s offices in Arkansas.
“I’d like to think at this point I’ve done I’ve done most every job, from planning future plantings, to growing and harvesting operations, packaging, logistics, finance, sales and marketing, and now, here at retail, with the sourcing side of it,” he said.
“I’ve kind of worked my way closer to the customer as my career progressed, and I’ve had some really cool opportunities to do different things at different times and live in different places and take those challenges.”
At Walmart, Gonzales oversees 10 regional offices and corresponding sourcing and technical teams located throughout Latin America (Mexico to Chile) and the U.S.
“I think you have to get your hands dirty in produce, and I like that." — Rich Gonzales, Walmart
Seeking what Walmart calls “surety of supply,” Gonzales said he loves meeting challenges and creating contingency plans to make sure the produce supply chain remains unbroken.
“I just love solving problems, “ he said. “I think you have to get your hands dirty in produce, and I like that. I think you need to be down into the heartbeat of the details frequently, and that’s one of the things that really kind of excites me about the business.”
Before his current role, Gonzales was vice president of global food sourcing for Walmart’s Mexican operations. Before that he was senior director of global food sourcing in Walmart’s Washington state office. Before joining Walmart in 2011, Gonzales worked for L&M Cos. as general manager of the fruit marketing and sales division in Washington state.
Gonzales also had worked in various roles for Tanimura & Antle and Salad Time Farms, a division of Tanimura & Antle, in California and Canada.
Since April 2018, he has been a member of the United Fresh Produce Association board of directors.
At United, he said working on industry-changing and industry-preserving initiatives that go far beyond the here and now is satisfying.
“I love being a part of that,” he said.
For Gonzales, success and satisfaction in his job at Walmart is all about connections within a team.
“When I think of Rich in a few words, I think of genuine and authentic. He is always genuine and puts people first.” — Carrie Mack, Walmart
“I really have a deep responsibility to the team, to the people I work with, and sometimes that drives me more than anything,” he said.
“I want to make sure that my team is adding value, I want to make sure that they are growing and helping in that.”
Carrie Mack, Washington-based senior sourcing manger for tree fruit at Walmart and previously a colleague of Gonzales’ at L&M, said Gonzales puts people first.
“When I think of Rich in a few words, I think of genuine and authentic,” she said.
“He is always genuine and puts people first.”
When he thinks of the leverage Walmart has, Gonzales said is excited to be able to be a part of the long-term transformational work to change the industry for the good.
Initiatives on sustainability and the Ethical Charter regarding treatment of labor are examples of that, he said.
“I’d really like to make sure that I can I get my arms around, and become effective at, implementing and really driving some of these industry-changing things because I have this unique opportunity at Walmart to push (them),” he said.
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