2024 40 Under Forty Winner: Mark Sato

Chief Commercial Officer
Fortune Growers
Elgin, IL

Age: 40
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Hobbies: Reading, Health and fitness, Learning, Coaching, Singing
Motto in life: Do your best, never give up, be respectful.

Sato started with Fortune Growers as an account executive with no prior experience in the produce industry, and has helped the company grow to a more than $100 million company. At the time he started with the company, it was a mom-and-pop organization, bootstrapped by the owners, with just a basic structure. Though the early years saw missteps and tough lessons, the knowledge gained by Sato was exponential. The entrepreneurial spirit of the young organization allowed Sato to hone critical expertise, leading to his elevation to sales manager in 2015. Having led the organization in revenue, he continued working with key accounts, synthesizing future strategies along the way, while delivering and exchanging knowledge with the company’s growing team.

After helping grow the company over 10 times, he was promoted in 2022 to his current role of CCO where he oversees the commercialization of the entire organization. He is responsible for analyzing market trends to define pricing and supply strategies, researching and collaborating on new product lines, maintaining key relationships, and continuous training for sales team members.

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?

I’ve spent my entire produce career with Fortune Growers and started out in sales when we only had two people in our department. At the time, I saw it as a good opportunity to put some of my unique talents to use and impart some of my personality to a growing company. I never associated well with the negative stigmas attached to the word “salesman” and was happy to be in an industry that assigned significant value to devoting time and sweat equity to long-term relationships. I owe my success to the belief and support both ownership and my team has had in me over the years, and that empowerment is a feeling I want to pass down to anyone brought into the company.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?

The produce industry is such a hands-on experience on every level. No amount of literature or training will prepare you for all the scenarios you will encounter.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?

As the world’s population continues to climb, we must become more conscious of our sustainability efforts. If all the food wasted in the food chain was put to use, we would have enough food to solve world hunger and reduce greenhouse gases by up to one-sixth.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?

Since I entered the industry, there has felt like a gradual changing of the guard. There was an almost purposeful opacity shrouding daily interactions that forced you to just trust the person on the other side implicitly. Modern technology has made transparency more possible than ever, and seemingly gone are the days of whoever’s shouting loudest wins. We’re using more data-driven decisions and instilling a level of empathy that hadn’t existed. That spirit of collaboration is needed now more than ever to collectively tackle the challenges of tomorrow, like food instability, sustainability and changing climates in growing regions.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?

It gets better. The initial learning curve can be daunting, with the slightest misstep resulting in thousands of dollars of liability in an industry with precious little margin to spare. Keep your head down, stay humble, keep learning, and you’ll come out just fine on the other side.