( Graphic by Amelia Freidline )

Leslie Simmons hit the ground running when she joined the produce industry eight years ago.

She came back to the family business, Miami-based Dave’s Specialty Imports, after moving to New York City post-college and carving out a career in advertising and marketing. 

“Although I was moving up, I wasn’t really sure that’s where I wanted to stay long-term, and around the same time as when I was kind of reflecting on that, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and as (he was) stepping back from a pretty critical role as CEO, my dad was stepping in to take over, and it seemed like an interesting time for me to make a change and jump in and help out the family business, explore produce, and I haven’t really looked back.”

Now vice president, Simmons is involved in everything from marketing and branding to sales and logistics to food safety and traceability.

“She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind and always uses it as a positive movement for the women in our industry.”

She has also volunteered in the broader industry, working with the Southeast Produce Council and the Produce Marketing Association’s Center for Growing Talent. Simmons was also a member of the United Fresh Produce Association’s Leadership Class 24.

Nancy Johnston, senior sales manager for Sysco, has co-chaired CGT’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Advisory Committee with Simmons and describes her as confident and positive.

“She has really jumped in with both feet and said, ‘Here I am, teach me — teach me about the industry, teach me what’s going on,’ and then also brought a lot of knowledge and a lot of empowerment from her history,” Johnston said. 

“She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind and always uses it as a positive movement for the women in our industry.”

For Simmons, getting involved was a very intentional process.

"It wasn’t like I flipped a switch and all of a sudden I was involved in everything. I think this has been a total journey and every day is still a work in progress."

“It wasn’t like all this just came naturally,” Simmons said. “It wasn’t like I flipped a switch and all of a sudden I was involved in everything. I think this has been a total journey and every day is still a work in progress.

“Certainly going to a number of conferences and tradeshows and association events have helped me, but only because I stepped out of my comfort zone and sought out different people to meet, pushed myself in conversations to ask better questions and try to be a better listener and just really try to show up,” Simmons said.

She notes that many people in the industry have been supportive of that effort along the way.

“I’ve had some really key people with no agenda, asking for nothing in return, who have taken the time as a peer to advocate for me or my company, to introduce me to people, just to take me around the room, or speaking encouraging words, and that kind of generosity has kind of blown me away, honestly,” Simmons said.

Johnston is optimistic about the effect that Simmons will continue to have in produce.

“As somebody that’s been in the industry a very long time and has seen the evolvement of women in the industry, I’m really excited to see where her career takes her,” Johnston said.

Related content:
Women in Produce — Julie Escobar
Women in Produce — Stefanie Katzman
Women in Produce — Rena Montedoro
Women in Produce — Britt Raybould
Women in Produce — Brianna Shales
Women in Produce — Kathy Stephenson
Women in Produce — Katiana Valdes

 
Comments