General Manager Southeast and Caribbean
Robinson Fresh: Eden Prairie, MN
Years in Produce:
Married; Two children
Hobbies: Traveling; golf; hockey; coaching; volunteering in local school activities and community associations
Motto in life: If you wait for tomorrow, you’ll miss the opportunity to create something great today.
Work History: Johnson began his career at C.H. Robinson in Syracuse, NY as a retail account manager in 2001. He was fortunate to work with a key client who invested in his development, teaching him all aspects of the retail business from receiving and quality control, to replenishment, ad planning and store level merchandising. This experience combined with the training C.H. Robinson provided, helped build a great foundation for his career. In 2004, Johnson relocated to Philadelphia as a strategic account manager. Working with new types of clients, he continued to learn and began to work with growers and suppliers to develop strategic and innovative solutions. He participated in a year-long leadership development program at C.H. Robinson, further developing his passion for leading teams and customer management. In 2013, a leading U.S. retailer awarded his team its annual Vendor of the Year award, recognizing not just the hard work the team had put in to grow the business but also the high level of innovation displayed to help the customer double their business in five years. In 2015, he joined the Robinson Fresh corporate account management team, further developing his understanding of the industry by working with large, global clients. In 2016, his commitment to personal development and passion for coaching gave him the opportunity to take on the role of general manager for the Southeastern United States and Caribbean.
Questions & Answers:
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I had learned to trust my instincts earlier. I’ve realized in order to be a great leader it’s important to be comfortable with who you are and how you lead rather than following the paths of others.
Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Early in my career, Robinson Fresh/C.H. Robinson was much heavier to the brokerage side of our industry and I didn’t have a great appreciation for the challenges that growers and marketers faced when aligning with clients. However, I was fortunate to work with retail accounts that treated me like a coworker. As my network in the industry grew, I began to appreciate the challenges other growers and marketers faced in weather, disease pressures, sales challenges and key customer alignment. Eventually, this taught me the value of partnership with the growers’ products we marketed, products we traded with other marketers and also the value of working with our own clients.
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
I think the industry needs to find a balance between cost, shelf life, yield and flavor. Offering cost effective, flavorful items to help increase consumption can be a challenge with the costs associated with developing and marketing. Collaboration is needed to find a balance between retail pricing to drive consumption of flavorful items, while continuing to reward companies who invest and create new and more flavorful offerings.
Q: How have you changed during your tenure?
I thought this was a temporary stop before taking a different path. I now know I’ll likely retire from the produce industry and that has changed my outlook. The industry is large enough to continue to learn and grow, yet small enough to generate genuine friendships with people from many different backgrounds. The industry has changed a lot, but at its core, it’s still driven by smart people working together to grow, ship, deliver and sell fresh quality produce to enthusiastic consumers.