( Photo courtesy Sunkist Growers Inc.; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

If you think accountants are boring, you haven’t met Julie DeWolf, director of marketing operations for Sunkist Growers Inc. in Valencia, Calif.  

DeWolf began her career as an auditor at accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, then held finance roles at 20th Century Fox and Nestle before transitioning into marketing there. She even spent a few years in the video game world before landing at Sunkist in 2005. 

“When I think of leadership in our industry, I always think of Julie,” said long-time friend and mentor Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers

“She lights up a room; she knows who you are and what you do and always remembers something special about you,” Pepperl said. “She has energy, ideas and a grasp of all facets of the business from the field to the retail side of the products she markets. This multi-dimensional knowledge is so valuable yet hard to find.”

DeWolf considers her work at Sunkist more than just a job. 

“When I joined produce, I finally felt I had a calling,” she said. 

“I love working for a company owned by family farmers who’ve been growing healthy food for generations. I suddenly felt immense pride in my work, and at that point produce became a career.”

Her main role at Sunkist is creating materials to help drive citrus consumption, then seeing them come to life in-store. 

“Many are programs or vehicles we’ve developed internally,” she said, “and some are ideas from our valued grocery partners. We pride ourselves on our collaborative spirit.”

One of the highlights of her Sunkist career was the introduction of secondary display bins in 2007. Applying her knowledge of corrugate displays from her video game days with “a ton of trial and error,” DeWolf and her team created citrus destinations in the produce department for specialty varieties and in other areas of the store to drive incremental consumption — say a lemon bin in the seafood department. 

“We now offer bins for every variety in two different sizes to accommodate different store footprints,” she said. “They’re still our most popular vehicle and the numbers grow annually.”

On a personal level, DeWolf says being honest and direct, combined with a “huge” desire to solve problems, has contributed to her success. 

“I’ve always been quick to pull the trigger on a decision personally and professionally, which backfires on occasion but seems to work out more often than not,” she said. “People want decisiveness and direction. As a leader on a high-performing team, I do my best to give members the clarity they need to be effective.” 

She advises everyone, especially women, to get involved as volunteer leaders in one of the many produce trade organizations. 

“You meet so many passionate, intelligent people and learn so much about our industry,” she said. “Colleagues I’ve met through committees and boards have become family.”  

When life and work become too stressful, the mother of 15-year-old twin boys highly recommends her favorite hobby: kickboxing.