‘Big Voices’ speak at PMA Fresh Summit in Orlando

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PMA CEO Cathy Burns, “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom, Jr., and retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning were among the speakers.

November 30, 2018

Produce Marketing Association (PMA) held its annual Fresh Summit Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida, Oct. 18-20. While the event included numerous opportunities for education and networking on the show floor, lessons from speakers who PMA billed as “Big Voices” resonated with numerous Fresh Summit attendees in the Orange County Convention Center’s spacious Valencia Ballroom.

For these “Big Voices” speeches, PMA welcomed many recognizable speakers, including its own CEO Cathy Burns, who delivered the association’s annual State of the Industry address; “Hamilton” actor and singer Leslie Odom, Jr., who shared motivational lessons from his career; and retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, who spoke about leadership and teamwork.

Leslie Odom, Jr., (center)
Photo: Patrick Williams

“Hamilton” actor Leslie Odom, Jr., shares life lessons

Leslie Odom, Jr., The Grammy and Tony award-winning actor and singer who played Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical “Hamilton” spoke at Fresh Summit on Oct. 18.

Odom, whose book “Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning” was published earlier this year, was joined by his mentor — and father-in-law — Stuart K. Robinson and Morning News Beat’s Kevin Coupe to discuss how Odom has “failed up,” as well as how others can succeed. Below are some of Odom’s and Robinson’s lessons.

Try better.

Six years ago, before he acted in “Hamilton,” Odom was tiring of the highs and lows of acting and considered quitting. He sat down with Robinson to talk about a possible career transition. “It was like, ‘How can I take this skill set — these things that I’m good at — and put [them] into something else? Is there something else I can do with my life that will make me just as happy?’” Odom said he asked Robinson. “Stuart said, ‘Sure, you can quit. That’s fine. We can talk about those things. Love to see you try first. I’d love to see you try before you quit.’”

Odom clarified that at the time, he thought he was trying. But he recalled that Robinson told him that he thought Odom was “waiting for the phone to ring,” and Odom saw truth in that. He said Robinson challenged him to take more initiative to find work and improve his situation. “From that day forward, I have not stopped working in six years because of that advice,” Odom said. “I’m never, ever, ever sitting on my couch waiting for the phone to ring. I just made changes.”

At Odom’s prompting during the PMA discussion, Robinson cited three things that will get people where they want to go, so they can not necessarily try harder, but “try better.” The first thing is knowing who you are — “not your title, not your name, not your family name — who you are,” Robinson said. The second thing is knowing what you do. “I’d ask in the audience right now and someone would say, ‘Well, I’m in produce,’ or ‘I’m in flowers,’ etc. That’s not what you do. What is it you do as a restaurant owner, as a venue director, etc.? What is it you do, what is it you provide?” The third thing is knowing why you are here, Robinson said, giving this example: “Why we’re here is not just to tell you stories, etc., but to find some way to make a difference in your life — to have you leave this room saying, ‘That inspires me to do something better, to try better.’”

Follow your dreams.

Odom also found success by deciding to do what felt right for him. After he took Robinson’s advice to try “try better,” more opportunities began to open up. He had signed a $500,000 contract for a TV show in Los Angeles but was reconsidering because he was drawn to the off-Broadway first production of “Hamilton,” which paid $400 a week.

“I tried to get comfortable with the money — I really did,” Odom recalls. “I was like, ‘My mom needs a roof,’ ‘I don’t know how we’re going to live off $400 a week.’ But ‘Hamilton’ — it was the most extraordinary thing I’d ever read. There were no guarantees about any of it. There was no guarantee for Broadway or awards — any of that stuff. This is an off-Broadway show. I bet on myself. I bet on myself and this team that I was a part of, and I took the risk. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.”

Work with a dedicated and diverse team.

The creators and cast and crew members of “Hamilton” offered insight into what makes a successful team, Odom said. “Some of you have worked for people who have been sometimes afraid to have somebody working under them who might be better at a certain thing than they are, might be a little faster at a certain thing — but I was with a world-class team, and there were no limits,” he said. “We were encouraged to fly as soon as possible and as high as possible.”

The “Hamilton” team was aware that at any point, anyone could have derailed the show, whether it was Odom; Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and actor playing the title character; the lighting designer or the costume designer. “If ‘Hamilton’ had had weird costumes, or if the set kind of was lame, or if the press rollout was whack — any one of those things could have derailed the entire thing,” Odom said. “When there’s a win like ‘Hamilton,’ there are a lot of people to thank. It's a miracle.”

“Hamilton” used a diverse cast to tell the stories of its historical characters, who were white. Odom explained that he grew up watching Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford on the silver screen. Now, though, for the first time, people who come from diverse backgrounds are seeing and empathizing with leading actors such as Odom, who is black; and Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

A diverse team brings new perspectives and ideas to the business world, too, Odom said. “If you have someone on your team — if you have been conscious enough to build a team and diversity is something that you’ve been able to inject into your business and your business model — tap those people for those unique experiences,” he said. “If it’s a room full of guys and you have one or two women, there might be a different perspective — I’m sure there is a different perspective. I’m sure there is a perspective that can be offered — my wife would agree — from the woman at the table.”

Be inspired.

Inspiration is a crucial tool to achieving one’s dream, and it can be found anywhere, Odom said. “The old lady on the elevator next to you, the little kid walking towards you who lets the balloon go and doesn’t care — it’s just all around you, so soak that stuff up. We need it.”

Odom took a note from Robinson, who wrote his own book, “It All Begins With ‘I’” to share with the audience his own answer to his mentor’s “Why are you are here” question. “I feel like my mission, or what I’m here to do, is to empower people, to connect with people,” Odom said. “I’d be doing that if I was working at a bank, or I’d be doing that if I was teaching third grade or I’d be doing that whatever my business was. Once I identify those things, I can do them anywhere, on any level, in any room.”

Read more about Odom’s discussion with Robinson and Coupe here

Peyton Manning
Photo courtesy of Produce Marketing Association

Football star Peyton Manning discusses leadership at PMA Fresh Summit

On Oct. 19, PMA welcomed peyton Manning, two-time National Football League (NFL) Super Bowl-winning quarterback and the NFL’s only five-time MVP, to speak at Fresh Summit.

In his speech, Manning touched on the themes of leadership, teamwork, and preparing for and bouncing back from challenges. The retired quarterback, speaking in the inflective accent of his native New Orleans, peppered his speech with numerous jokes and anecdotes, as well as lessons that the produce industry could glean from his 18 years in the NFL and four years playing college football.


Manning’s mentors

Manning’s own mentors ranged from his father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, to Tony Dungy, the younger Manning’s head coach for several years when he played for the Indianapolis Colts.

In front of the PMA audience, Manning recalled that his high school coach used to use malapropisms like ones for which baseball catcher Yogi Berra was famous. (Berra said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”) Manning said his coach told him, “‘Peyton, when you’re sprinting out to the left now, it’d be a heck of a lot easier if you could throw the ball left-handed — if you were amphibious.’ I think he meant ambidextrous — I never asked.”

“Buying in” to different coaching styles allowed Manning to succeed throughout his career, he said. In football or in any business or organization, the best leaders need to always learn more. “An old coach told me once, ‘You either get better or you get worse every day — you don’t stay the same,’” he said.

Leaders must also get to know the members of their teams well — what motivates and upsets them, Manning said. “Believe me when I say that authority is not leadership. Leadership isn’t about muscle,” he said. “You can’t bend others with your will.” Rather, he said, leadership is persuading people “to align with your thinking in pursuit of a common goal.”


Preparing for anything

Manning admitted that he had weaknesses as a quarterback, including not being the fastest. “I had a coach tell me once that I couldn’t run out of sight in a week,” he said, adding jokingly under his breath, “That was nice.”

But a theme that Manning kept coming back to was how relentlessly he prepared for whatever the game threw at him. “Whatever the outcome of a game that I played in, I can honestly say I never left that field feeling like I could have done more to prepare myself for that game,” he said. One time he submerged his hand in a bucket of ice water “to approximate the frigid temperatures of the upcoming game.” Another time he requested the Colts equipment staff to lie down on the field in practice, after he played in a game in which he tripped over another player and it cost the team a touchdown.

Winning with a team

In 2011, Manning had multiple surgeries to fix a neck injury, and he missed the NFL season that year. A right-handed quarterback, Manning suffered nerve damage in his right arm and right hand. He didn’t know if he could play in the NFL again.

Manning’s wife, Ashley — with whom he has 7-year-old twins, Marshall and Mosley — told him at the time he should start thinking differently, and that’s what he did. With the support of family, coaches, doctors and teammates, he signed on with a new team — the Denver Broncos — for the 2012 season. “I think because I was adaptable and flexible, that I can play quarterback in a different way, allowed me to be flexible and join a new team and learn their new system, and still remain an effective quarterback,” he said.

Not only was Manning effective, but he was a champion, winning Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos in the 2015 season. Along the way, though, Manning felt he had to earn the respect of his new teammates. “Even though I played for 14 years, I had not played with these new teammates, these new coworkers,” he said. “I went in there very humble.”

Contrary to what many people believe, a football team’s offense doesn’t rest on just the quarterback, Manning said. And as important as the players are, it’s not just the players who are on the team. It’s the people who are behind the scenes. Manning noted that this same mindset translates to any company or organization. “There are people who get zero credit, they get zero attention, but they are just as important as the CEO,” he says.

Ultimately, Manning said his greatest takeaway from his career is not specific to the game of football itself, as many people would expect. It’s the relationships he has made with people. “Despite some of the individual honors that I’ve received over the years, there’s been nothing I’ve been more proud of than being able to call myself ‘teammate,’” he said.

Read more about Manning's speech here

Cathy Burns
Photo courtesy of Produce Marketing Association

3 lessons from PMA CEO Cathy Burns’ 2018 State of the Industry address

In pma’s annual State of the Industry address on Oct. 18, CEO Cathy Burns talked about new technologies, initiatives and trends in produce and floral.

In her speech, Burns cited various assets of the produce and floral industries and acknowledged the challenges they face. While new technologies and presentations of produce gain traction throughout the supply chain, so do efforts to address food insecurity and climate change. Burns showed that customers like making both online and in-store purchases of produce and floral goods. Here are three lessons we took away from Burns’ speech.

1. Innovation and disruption continue to take place in produce.

Burns talked about innovation and disruption in the produce industry and interconnected markets, such as fashion and retail. Burns gave shout-outs to Creator, a startup that uses robots to make burgers for customers at its San Francisco restaurant of the same name; the Plant-Based Supermarket, a grocery store in London that sells all vegan foods; and a robot at West Virginia University that pollinates blackberries.

2. Some businesses and nonprofits are fighting food insecurity and climate change.

Businesses and nonprofits are addressing issues around hunger and the environment. One of these is Brighter Bites, a Houston-based nonprofit and PMA partner. “Each week, Brighter Bites provides 50 servings of fruits and vegetables directly to families,” Burns said. “With boots on the ground in Texas, New York, Washington, D.C., and Southwest Florida, they’re providing children and their families with fresh produce, tip sheets, recipes and in-class lessons that encourage them to eat healthier.”

Supermarket Ekoplaza is one business dedicated to protecting the environment. It opened a plastic-free aisle earlier this year in the Netherlands, where it sells produce and other food and beverages in biofilm packaging, Burns said.

Meanwhile, MAX Burgers in Sweden sells a climate-positive burger, Burns pointed out. “With every purchase, the chain will plant enough trees to offset 110 percent of the carbon emissions associated with its business,” she said. “In their view, it’s not enough to just reduce emissions, or actually even to be climate-neutral. They feel they have to do more.”

3. Ecommerce and in-store purchases are popular with consumers.

While people are spending more money on food, the amount they spend in grocery stores is decreasing, Burns said, citing Nielsen statistics. At the same time, she said Deloitte has measured a 30 percent increase in ecommerce grocery sales. China, South Korea, France and the United Kingdom are responsible for much of the growth in the ecommerce space.

“But according to Retail Feedback Group, only 28 percent of shoppers say they buy fruits and vegetables online,” Burns said. “Why? Produce falls short of meeting their expectations of freshness and quality, and for some, they just find pure joy in picking their fruits and vegetables in-store.”

What’s more, while online subscriptions to meal kits are still common, Burns said sales of in-store meal kits grew 26.5 percent in 2017.

Floral customers like making purchases in the store, too, Burns said. “IRI has found that global floral sales increased 5 percent annually over the past five years, in comparison to the rest of the fresh departments, growing 3 percent annually,” she said.

Read more about Burns’ address, including a fourth lesson, here