PMA’s Bob Whitaker Discusses Three-Decade Career and Retirement
- by Alexis Schreiber
NEWARK, DE - After three decades in the industry and 11 years at the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Chief Science and Technology Officer Bob Whitaker is set to retire in January 2020. Reflecting on his time at PMA, Bob said one of the most interesting aspects is the diverse membership and how it has helped the industry grow over the years.
“We have members from every sector of the supply chain in virtually 50 or 60 countries,” he said. “Interesting people join us from all over the world, and provide the opportunity for networking and discussion building in fresh and unique ways.”
As Bob reminisces about his time in the industry, it's obvious he’s made his mark. Now he has his goals set on finding the right person to fulfill his role and carry on his legacy.
Bob and CEO Cathy Burns are determined to find somebody that fits the culture at PMA, who will be able to meet the needs of its members and work with the teams to continue to build technology and keep the company successfully moving forward.
“I think what PMA needs is to make sure that we start bringing in talent that is trained in the sciences,” Bob explained. “The industry needs talent that is comfortable with technologies and it is equally important for them to have the ability to communicate and understand the different audiences within the industry. To be able to talk about those complex areas in a way that resonates with how they carry on their tasks every day in the respective companies.”
Bob started in biotechnology and worked for one of the largest ag-biotech companies of the 80's called DNA Plant Technology (DNAP). He worked on creating new varieties with better flavor and nutrition in fruits and vegetables and started getting familiar with some of the field operations.
DNAP then formed a produce company called Fresh World and Bob started traveling all over with the executives of the company and he loved it.
“I would talk to growers and packers and I just became fascinated with the industry,” Bob said. “I liked the people, I liked the pace, it's fast, it’s perishable products, and I like the idea of working on new varieties that would help feed people.”
When the biotech company got bought out, some of the people on the produce side had formed a company called Newstar Fresh Foods in Salinas, California. The company called Bob up and wanted him to help set up food safety programs there. So, in 1998, he joined Newstar Fresh Foods and worked there for 10 years.
“I ended up running some of our process operations and built a couple of new processing plants, one in Salinas, and one in Arizona. It was a fun time, it really was,” Bob expressed.
In 2007, after some widespread outbreaks in produce, PMA wanted to bring someone on to be able to work with the members in food safety and technology that were starting to arise at that time. Bob was the man for the job and in 2008, he became the first Chief Science Officer for PMA.
“It’s been kind of a circuitous route, but at the end of the day, my grandfather was a farmer in upstate New York,” Bob noted. “He was a cattleman, but he grew corn and other types of vegetables, and even though I didn’t know him, I think somewhere, it was in my blood—I’ve always been more comfortable talking with growers and working with growers and packing house operators and people like that, and so I think somewhere it was destined, I just didn’t know it.”
So what does Bob plan to do after he retires? He told me that the standard answer he’s giving everyone is that he won’t be on an airplane for a while!
“I travel a lot, probably at least three weeks a month, and so it gets old after time,” Bob expressed. “At this point in time, I'm looking forward to slowing down. I’ve always worked hard in my career because I’ve enjoyed it so much. Really, I’ve just had family and career - it’s what I’ve done, and I split my time between them and hopefully I’ve done a reasonable job at both. I’m looking to spend a lot more time with family.”
Bob said he made the announcement six months in advance to give PMA a reasonable amount of time carefully to find the proper successor.
The AndNowUKnow team congratulates Bob Whitaker on a long, successful career and a happy retirement!