Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Tim Vaux of DuPont Company.
Originally printed in the May 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Tim Vaux will forever be known as the father of the United Fresh Produce Association’s Industry Leadership Program. Born in Sacramento, CA, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Business from Fresno State University, Vaux was employed with the DuPont Company in several executive roles over 27 years.
DuPont, a global chemical company headquartered in Wilmington, DE, had several leadership programs for major crops such as corn and soybeans as of the early 1990s, but nothing in fruits and vegetables. That changed in 1995 with the launch of the Produce Industry Leadership Program. It is no exaggeration that this program, which Vaux ran and DuPont sponsored for its first 12 years, made lasting impressions on its participants and thus influenced the entire fresh produce industry.
“Tim came to me and asked if we would be interested in developing a leadership program, and the rest his history,” says Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of Washington, DC-headquartered United Fresh Produce Association. “Some 300 individuals have gone through this program over the years, now serving as senior executives of companies, owners of businesses, and leaders of almost every produce association and commodity group in the United States.”
Vaux started his career with Dupont in 1981 and, until 2007, he oversaw food marketing and produce relations for the company’s agriculture and nutrition division. In this role, Vaux provided leadership and strategic direction for initiatives with the U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable industry, thus putting him in the position of meeting and working with key regional and national produce trade associations and companies.
It was with these widespread career connections and from a visionary vantage point that Vaux conceived of, developed and ran the Produce Industry Leadership Program with United Fresh for a dozen years until his position was eliminated at DuPont. The program, which continues today, educates and exposes up-and-coming leaders to the multifaceted business of fresh produce.
According to Jon Zaninovich, president of Delano, CA-based Jasmine Vineyards, who was a member of the third Leadership class, “My dad took me along to see terminal markets and I knew grapes, but participating in the Leadership Program was something totally different. It exposed me to whole other aspects of the industry. We visited vegetable growers in Ventura, citrus packers in Santa Paula and tree fruit orchards in the Central Valley. There were also visits to Delaware to see DuPont’s headquarters and to nearby Philadelphia as well as Washington, DC for United’s Public Policy conference. Everything was fascinating. Tim made it happen. He was our fearless leader; he let there be chaos and he knew when to pull in the reins. He was cool, in control and he held the keys.”
The following year, Craig Slate, now president and chief executive officer of Rio Rico, AZ-headquartered SunFed, was a member of the Produce Industry Leadership Program. “It’s hard to imagine anything more impactful for me professionally and the industry than Tim’s vision and execution of the United Leadership Program,” says Slate. “It took vision to build a program where employers would allow their associates weeks away from their core responsibilities to participate in the program. Tim and United had to make this program compelling enough to get people and companies to commit time and money. And if the early adopters had not received a good return on time and investment, then the program would have died an early death. Plus, Tim had to convince DuPont to fund the program.”
Slate adds, “My class was relatively young and most of us early in our careers. Tim was with us each day from early until late. During those 12 months, he made sure we all worked together, got the most out of our time, made us laugh, and help us all bond. Tim has a calm demeanor, a good heart, cares about others, listens well, and has an engaging personality — all outstanding leadership traits for a wild bunch of young produce kids just getting started! Today, there is no way for me to calculate the connections, education, experience, and exposure I have received over the past 20 years because of that 12 months.”
Two years later, John Baillie, president of Salinas, CA-based vegetable grower, Jack T. Baillie Co., Inc., entered the Produce Industry Leadership Program.
“My class, Class 6, was in 2000-2001,” says Baillie. “The world has changed dramatically since then: the World Trade Center attacks, the spinach outbreak in 2006, the consolidation of the industry as a whole and now COVID. I think Tim and the Leadership Program, in some way, prepared us not only for success but also for failure. He has a way of getting the best out of people, having them reach higher goals and achievements and never settle for second best. He had a way of refining people to get more out of them. As a result, we’ve been able to continually reinvent ourselves to operate whenever the industry and the world have a ‘hiccup’. The individuals who have gone through this program have continued to lead and give direction to the future prospects in our industry.”
In 2007, after his career at DuPont came to an end, Vaux started his own consultancy, The Vaux Group, of which he is president. A year later, he became a partner, vice chairman and chief operating officer at the Kansas City, MO-headquartered produce consultancy, FreshXperts, LLC. He continues in both roles today.
Beyond this, Vaux has worn many other hats, which have put him at the head of the class in many areas. For example, he has also served on the Board of Directors for United Fresh and is past president of the Ag One Foundation, which promotes the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State. He’s a graduate of Class 31 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program and served on its Alumni Council. Vaux has taken part in leadership and executive development programs at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Cornell University and Penn State University.
He also holds a Six Sigma certification, the term used for a set of tools organizations can use to improve the capability of their business processes that were first advanced in the telecommunications industry. Vaux was a founding partner in the venture capital investment group, Bulldog Capital Ventures, which provided seed money and advice for tech start-up companies. He has also served on the board of the United Way of Fresno County.
In 2017, the International Sigma Chi Fraternity honored Vaux with one of its highest accolades, the Significant Sig Award. This award, which recognizes a lifetime of professional achievement and bringing distinction to the social organization, puts Vaux in the company of famous names such as John Wayne, J.W. Marriott Jr., William Fulbright and Brad Pitt.
“I looked up the meaning of ‘Vanguard,’ and it is defined as ‘a leader of a group of individuals’. That fits Tim Vaux. He is that times a million. Tim is still a leader in the United leadership program and always will be. He gave it everything to make this program what it is today,” says Baillie.