Editor's Note: The article that follows is part of the 13th edition of The Packer 25 Profiles in Leadership. These reports offer some insight into what drives successful people in produce. Please congratulate these industry members when you see them and tell them to keep up the good work.

Kaari Stannard wakes up at 4:20 a.m. to hit the gym by 5. Then it’s off to work at the job she loves, as owner and president of New York Apple Sales in Glenmont, partner in two western New York packing facilities and a partner in an orchard that grows the “sweet, crunchy and memorable” varieties today’s consumers want.

Stannard began packing apples in her stepfather’s orchard while in high school and joined the company in 1997 after becoming a Certified Public Accountant and working as an auditor for several years. She became president in 2000 after her mentor’s death.

“When I took over we were at two million bushels of apples,” she said. “Now we’re marketing just over four million bushels.”

She loves being out in the fields and spends much of her day talking and listening to retailers and growers.

“Collaboration is one of my biggest strengths, spending time with retailers and passing on to growers knowledge about what the consumer wants and which varieties are popular or losing favor,” she said. “In return, I learn just as much from the growers.”

Stannard is proud of her “magnificent team,” carefully placing each person in a job that plays to their strengths and giving them the freedom to make decisions.

“One of the keys is just communicating and trying to understand someone else’s point of view,” she said. Another is maintaining a positive attitude and a sense of humor.

She’s also proud of her volunteer work on industry boards including the U.S. Apple Export Council and the New York Apple Association. She’s vice chairwoman of the U.S. Apple Association and leads the government affairs committee. 

One of the highlights of her career to date was being chosen for the United Fresh Leadership program in 2012, where she met a group of strong women from across the produce industry who became friends, sounding boards and role models.

Her goals are to continue to grow the local business and continue to import apples such as Koru and Honeycrisp out of New Zealand.

She also hopes to see her two daughters join the business one day.

Vice president of sales John Cushing, who’s known Stannard for 22 years and has worked at New York Apple Sales for 17 years, praised her forward thinking and the way she leads by example.

“She brings an atmosphere that’s conducive to participation and the sharing of ideas from top to bottom,” Cushing said.

“We’re a small company,” he said, “but steadily increasing in reputation and influence.”