( Photo courtesy Produce Marketing Association )

Produce Marketing Association CEO Cathy Burns has flourished in her career by keeping the big picture in mind and prioritizing people.

Her schedule is often bursting at the seams between meetings with the PMA executive team, board members and volunteer leadership groups, along with travel to PMA events and to visit member operations, among other endeavors.

“She’s just an amazing combination of being a really smart, confident, knowledgeable business leader but also a caring human being,” said PMA chairwoman Jin Ju Wilder, director of marketing for LA & SF Specialty. 

You ... need the ability to hold others accountable with humility and care. This leaves people ‘bigger’ when it is done right.

“She’s tireless and is always, always on the move, always busy, but will also make time for you as a person. I kind of look up to her as an example, and I don’t know that I can match that, but it’s certainly something to aspire to.”

For Burns, who came to PMA after a lengthy and accomplished retail career, learning about the problems that growers and companies are encountering is a key part of the job.

“Making those personal connections is important, especially in this industry, and hearing firsthand from members about the issues that no one is helping them solve gives my team and I incredible insights into where PMA can take a leadership role,” Burns said.

Working with so many different groups, Burns has been well served by her skill in conflict resolution, something she was taught early in her time at retailer Hannaford.

She’s just an amazing combination of being a really smart, confident, knowledgeable business leader but also a caring human being.

“I learned that it is best to address conflict when it is a spark and not a bonfire,” Burns said. “Also, you also need the ability to hold others accountable with humility and care. This leaves people ‘bigger’ when it is done right.

“Two other key lessons I learned were that strategy is about choice  — it is important to choose what you are not planning to do — as well as being clear on your leadership brand and leveraging your leadership voice,” Burns said.

Along with managing individual relationships, she has a big vision for the overall industry.

“What she’s done for us is she’s really helped us change our perspective of ourselves to recognize that importance and the need to bring our voice and our knowledge and our influence to the world stage, to get out of our echo chamber, if you will, and join a larger conversation and also embrace the role that we can play in how the world’s health unfolds in the future,” Wilder said. 

 
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