Snack Feature: Michele McNeece - Achieving New Heights

Snack Feature: Michele McNeece - Achieving New Heights

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Michele McNeece, National Director of Produce Development for Ippolito was featured in the latest edition of AndNowUKnow’s print publication, The Snack Magazine. McNeece discusses climbing to new heights in both her professional and personal growth.

Check out The Snack article by clicking here, or read the full article below:

Michelle McNeece - Achieving New Heights

Michele McNeece, National Director of Produce Development, Ippolito

Though her love of produce roots her to the land, Michele McNeece is no stranger to achieving new heights. Take summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro for instance. Last year marked a huge year for Michele. Between expanding Ippolito’s Brussels sprouts program and working on new business development, Michele made her way to the top of the coveted peak in Tanzania for a breathtaking look at the world around her. The avid hiker has also summited a few other familiar peaks over the past 12 years, from Mt. Whitney to Mt. Hood.  

“I love the thrill and rush of adrenaline I get from pushing myself.”

Michele’s drive translates into every part of her life, whether it be the vast network of Ippolito’s produce offerings or rescuing dogs and providing sanctuary for animals whenever she can.

Michele has been in the produce business for more than 25 years. Her first job and introduction into what she refers to as her "Life's Passion," was at age 18 with Cream of the Crop, a small carrot shipper. Once Michele got a taste of the industry, and the people within it, she was hooked. Michele worked for both Boskovich Farms and Growers Express before making her way to Ippolito International where she was recently named the new National Director of Produce Development. She has been working passionately for the company for the past 7 years.

“I grew up constantly working with, and around, produce and the people involved. It’s helped me discover my work ethic and my motto in life", Michele says.

"Never give up and never take no for an answer.”

“If there is one thing that I have learned during my short time in the industry, it’s that this group of passionate and driven people work hard and play hard.”

Michele calls her produce education Produce 101. “The industry is full of great mentors who were kind enough to share their wisdom and insights with me over the years,” she notes. 

Michele took a few moments to sit down and talk life with me - the passion she has for produce, Ippolito’s ever-evolving program, and what it takes to attempt a beast like Mt. Kilimanjaro. 

1. What is your advice to up-and-comers?

Listen, listen, listen. Pay attention to your customer's wants and needs. Respect is earned, not given. I have been in this business all my life and there are so many moments lost on the hard of hearing.

Also, it may sound cliché, but live life to the fullest. You never know what’s going to happen… and of course, treat people like you want to be treated.

2. Who, would you say, have been your biggest mentors?

I was extremely fortunate in my life to have individuals who were amazing role models and mentors. They provided me with a path in life and in my career, while being generous enough to share their knowledge and wisdom.  First, there was my mother, who was widowed at a very young age and left with four kids to raise all alone. She was my "rock" and instilled independence and a strong work ethic in me and my siblings. Second, there are two men that gave me my start in the produce industry - Joe Boskovich and Dave Adrian.  While working as a coordinator at Boskovich Farms, I would sit and listen in amazement at both these men as they bought and sold various commodities.  It was at this moment I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could from both of them.  It was my dream that one day I would have the opportunity to sit beside them and sell, sell, sell. These two men gave me my chance, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Dreams really do come true. Last, but surely not least, there is my sister Lisa. She personifies the very nature of someone who loves what she does and the people she comes in contact with, both inside and outside of the produce industry. I admire and respect her zest and tenacity for building relationships. She has instilled in me the importance of truly listening to your customer and the need of building trusting and lasting partnerships. 

3. How did you find your way to Ippolito?

Butch Corda, my former boss back from my time with Growers Express, called me up one day and asked if I would be interested in laying my roots back in Bakersfield. He has definitely been one of my mentors and an incredible individual to work for.  The fit made a lot of sense, and I knew he would allow me to evolve my produce experience. I have now been in new account development for almost seven years and I love every day of it.

4. Let’s talk about Brussels sprouts.  Where is all the craze coming from and what’s next for Ippolito’s program?

I wasn’t a big fan of Brussels sprouts when I was a kid because traditionally they have only been boiled and steamed. With the new attention from chefs, foodies, and cooking shows, Brussels sprouts have finally been recognized as a versatile vegetable with a wide range of culinary possibilities. Their health benefits only increase their popularity. They are very high in Vitamin C, A, and B-6, and also have tons of potassium.

Ippolito is the largest fresh Brussels sprout shipper in North America, so I have seen first-hand the explosive growth in the category.  We started growing and shipping about 11 years ago when the company opened its Salinas office and now our goal is to keep up with demand. We are investing in new acreage to increase our year-round supply from Mexico, Salinas, and along California’s Central Coast.   And it’s not just for Brussels sprouts.  We have over 40 other items as well. As fresh produce consumption increases, along with the demand for different flavor profiles in fruit and veg, Ippolito will be adding new items across the board! So stay tuned.

5. Can you tell me about a defining moment in your life?

A defining moment in my life and career happened when I was just getting my bearings in produce. I was told by someone, who I admire and respect, that I would never make it in sales. He told me that I did not have what it takes. All I can say to this person today is thank you, thank you, and thank you. I proved to him that he was wrong. Most importantly, I wanted to prove to myself, that I could do anything I set my mind to. 

6. Tell me about Mt. Kilimanjaro, what prompted you to take on the adventure?

Michele McNeece Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro

I asked myself, from day one, “what have I gotten myself into?” (laughs). I think I have gotten more competitive as I have gotten older, and a lot of that comes in the form of challenging myself. I’d been thinking about doing it since about 2010 and this year I finally said to myself, “Let’s do this.” I’ve always been active, but when I began to train for Mt. Kilimanjaro, I really dedicated myself to running, swimming, spinning, and a lot of hiking to attain that level of “in-shape.” I felt good about where I was physically by the time I left for the hike in June of this year. We did the hike over seven days and summited the beast on the 4th of July.  It’s all about making sure you are acclimated every step of the way. You can be in the best shape of your life, but if you don’t acclimate you can run into some major altitude sickness. We never had (knock on wood) any problems. We summited at 19,341 feet, just as the sun was rising. Being above the clouds was amazing and you really feel like you are on top of the world.

With a new role carrying Michele into the New Year, we expect to see great things out of this produce professional… and I imagine a few new heights as well.

Ippolito International

The Snack Magazine

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