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Women enjoy spotlight at 50th Nogales convention

TUBAC, AZ — Professional produce women received a well-deserved spotlight throughout the 50th Nogales Produce Convention & Golf Tournament.

Rosie Cornelius received the Pillars of the FPAA Award in recognition for her 47 years in the produce industry. She has worked in sales and buying, and has been a valued Nogales industry leader.

At the Nov. 1-3 convention, Cornelius was one of three women to participate in the FPAA Women’s Leadership Invitational. The moderator of the group, Sabrina Hallman, is also a longtime produce industry leader from her role as president of Sierra Seed Co. LLP in Nogales.Scott-Rosie-LanceScott Vandervoet, chairman of the Fresh Produce Assocatioan, and Lance Jungmeyer, FPAA president, flank Rosie Cornelius, who received the 2018 Pillars of the FPAA Award.

The panelists with Cornelius were Cathy Burns, chief executive officer of the Produce Marketing Association, and Pati Jinich, host of the PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Table.”

Burns served 30 years in the supermarket industry, becoming a top corporate executive before joining the association three years ago. She opened her comments by saying she has two teenaged daughters, “and I want to leave this a better world for them.”

After the first 20 years working in Maine as a professional at Hannaford Bros., Burns indicated that she had a requisite interview with the firm’s industrial psychologist. After the meeting she was told that she had a firm handshake, but she still had a role in a more traditional female role.

Burns offered three tips for career success.

The first of these is to “manage your fear. It’s OK to be scared. Name it. Put it aside. And keep going. Once I experience a failure, I quickly learn and do it differently next time. Then I keep going.”

Second, Burns noted that “humility is a core value.” This involves the ability to ask for help and leverage one’s connections. “I hire people better than me, and I’m proud of it,” Burns said. “You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s more powerful if you say ‘I don’t know, and I’ll get back to you’ than pretend to have all of the answers."

Burns’ third key to success is to “put your name on something.” Early in her grocery career in Maine, Burns oversaw a store that enjoyed $1 million per month in sales in the summer. When tourism dropped off, her store’s wintertime monthly sales plummeted to $300,000.

To increase sales, she thought of putting a tent in the parking lot to draw customers and attention. She overcame internal challenges, and then accommodated city fathers by installing a new sidewalk and other such demands. Because of her creativity and effort, “at the end of the summer I became a district manager.

“You want to be known for something,” she reiterated. “People notice, and you’ll get noticed.” She also offered that “you don’t want to ask for permission” when embarking on a new idea. “It’s better to ask forgiveness” after an initiative.

For more on Burns’ tremendous career, click here.

Cornelius reviewed her career path, which started after graduating from high school in Nogales and becoming an office clerk for A&P. During her six years with A&P, she worked summers in the Fresno office.

After some twists and turns, she ultimately returned to Nogales to work for the traditional Nogales tomato company, GAC, where she then worked for 23 years. She started in accounting but made a concerted effort to learn all she could about the business. Working for Roy Lundstrom, the GAC sales manager, she eventually had a chance to prove herself in sales. As this developed, she worked from six in the morning to noon in sales, and then late into the night to finish her accounting job.

At GAC she also worked for Beto Maldonado, who taught: “A job is not done if someone else’s job is not done.” Maldonado also taught, “If you play you pay,” and by taking such responsibility, “I learned to stand on my own two feet.”

Cornelius learned that taking responsibility also meant “if something is wrong, you say so.” This included her treatment as a woman.

“I have never been intimidated or disrespected,” Cornelius said. Those around her have respected her ethics “and you don’t bend on anything. You have to walk the line and not lose your self-respect. Your word is your bond!”

Cornelius left GAC to continue working in Nogales for 23 years as a produce buyer for Bay Area Produce, which is closed now but was based in Los Gatos, CA.

It was 30 years ago that she flew to Montreal to meet with Bernadette Hamel, who will soon be retiring as vice president, national procurement of produce for Metro Inc.

Cornelius said she and Hamel became fast friends, as Hamel very warmly greeted and hosted the visitor from so far away. Hamel flew to Nogales for Cornelius’ November recognition.

When Bay Produce closed, Cornelius and her team moved together to the Grant J. Hunt Co. in Nogales. After a short stint there, the group moved a few blocks to MAS Melons & Grapes LLC. The Produce News will relate that story in the Nov. 26 “Fall Nogales” feature.

The chef, Jinich, has 30 million people watch her PBS television show. A native of Mexico City, Jinich began her career as a political analyst and lived in Washington, DC, for 22 years.

She said she served her ceviche at a PMA expo about eight years ago. The reception to her recipe was so strong that she changed careers.

Jinich offered, “don’t be afraid to jump online” with one’s career. Also, she said, “Don’t be afraid to go with your gut” to pursue the career that you really want.”