There is something very appealing about the idea of strategic planning. The notion that the way to achieve what you want in life is to identify it, develop a plan to get there, and then proceed to hold people accountable for the actions necessary to achieve this plan is immensely satisfying. It implies that success is just out there waiting for us to target it.
Lord knows I have run enough strategic planning sessions to see the good that can come from this kind of methodical approach. You evaluate options, examine competencies, and empower people to do much more through a strategic planning process.
Yet it also is true that my personal experience in business has not shown this to be the only way or even the primary way in which businesses advance, including my own.
My family roots in the produce business are deep. My great-grandfather, Jacob Prevor, took the skills learned in our family’s multi-generational produce business back in Russia and immigrated to the United States, opening our business in the old Wallabout Produce Market in Brooklyn.
My grandfather, Harry Prevor, took what he learned from his father and moved the family business to the old Washington Street Market in Manhattan, setting up as both a wholesaler and auction buyer. My father moved the business to the Bronx, becoming an original tenant at the opening of the Hunts Point Market, diversifying into export, import, retail and much more.
This son took this heritage and what he learned working in the family business and, after reaching out to his old fraternity brother, Ken Whitacre, launched Produce Business magazine in 1985. The issue you hold in your hands is thus our anniversary issue — representing 31 years of growth and progress.
Over time, we grew Produce Business with an imperative of “Initiating Industry Improvement,” combined with a focus on marketing, merchandising, management and procurement, to give the industry a mechanism that helped elevate the trade. We were rewarded with the rarest of results — in the age of the Internet, a print publication that has grown every year for over three decades.
Yet we didn’t stop there. Some of our growth was horizontal. As we moved into adjacent fields, with publications such as Floral Business, Deli Busines, and Cheese Connoisseur, we brought back to the produce industry new ideas these industries were using to grow and progress.
We also went deeper vertically, trying to serve the produce industry in new ways. We branched out into websites and e-newsletters, developed a research and consulting arm, took on the task of facilitating share groups to help expand the use of best practices, and we moved into events — working domestically with the Eastern Produce Council to launch The New York Produce Show and Conference, spinning off The Global Trade Symposium and “Ideation Fresh” Foodservice Forum as co-located events, and with Cornell University to launch the Foundational Excellence program.
More recently, recognizing not only the importance of international trade in produce but, also, the imperative for intellectual exchange on a global plane, and realizing that ideas have no borders, we worked with the Fresh Produce Consortium to launch The London Produce Show and Conference and, this year, in November, we are unveiling The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.
It is not a coincidence that all three cities (New York, London and Amsterdam) are among the Top 10 cities in the Innovation Index as produced by 2thinknow. That in itself shows our different approach. When others are calculating how many booths they can sell in some city, we look for where brilliant people want to meet and where innovation percolates.
Yet all this did not come about as a result of a strategic plan. It came about as a result of two things: excellent execution and deep relationships.
The new event in Amsterdam is a great example. Some leaders and longtime friends in the Dutch industry attended both our events in New York and London and asked if we could bring the concept to Amsterdam. With their help, we did. But if we hadn’t built strong relationships for decades, and if we hadn’t impressed people with the events in New York and London, the Amsterdam event would have never come about.
The next stage of our expansion further illustrates this point. We met Gustavo Yentzen Wilson when he was just a young buck working for the Chilean Exporters Association. We built a good relationship, not because of any great strategic plan to capitalize on his career, but because we always try to help.
In 2007, after he launched his own company, Yentzen Consulting, we named him to our 40-Under-Forty class. In time, Gustavo would build an important company, producing the most significant international business publications for the produce industry. They are published in English, Spanish and Chinese: FreshFruitPortal.com, PortalFruticola.com, and ChinaFruitPortal.com
Now we are pleased to announce that we have joined hands with Gustavo, and Yentzen Consulting and its portals are now part of the Phoenix Media Network. The respect we have for Gustavo is great. He does many of the things we do in three languages, which makes us think of the quip that Fred Astaire was a great dancer, but Ginger Rogers did everything he did, only backwards and in high heels!
We undertake this combination for three reasons:
It lets us serve readers beyond the English-speaking world by expanding our reach to include Spanish and Chinese speakers.
It lets us serve the industry with cutting-edge digital technology.
With Gustavo and his team, it enriches our stock of human capital, which is the sine qua non of helping the industry.
As we integrate content and sources, readers and attendees, we will rededicate ourselves to our commitment to Initiate Industry Improvement, and we will be mindful that success is not just an outgrowth of planning, but of being prepared to take advantage of the serendipitous opportunities life presents. In some ways, that ability is harder than making a plan. If we can help the industry be more effective, we will have done a lot of good. It is to this task that we dedicate ourselves in the years ahead.