Last week I had the opportunity to share my thoughts, and a bit of my personal history, with a few hundred produce friends—both men and women—at the Women in Produce Reception at the annual United Fresh Produce Convention in Chicago.
For most of my life, I have told my company’s story and the story of how my mother founded our business, but never before have I talked about what it was like to grow up as the daughter of entrepreneur Frieda Caplan and labor negotiator Al Caplan.
Most people think my mom was a tough business person, but she was a pushover compared to my father. His mother died when he was 13, after which he rode a freight train from Chicago to California, so he never graduated from high school. He was a labor union negotiator and eventually moved into labor relations management consulting. He may have been tough at work, but he was tougher on me, the first born. But obviously that toughness just prepared me for running our family business and dealing with everyday business challenges.
One of my professional highlights was when I was chosen to be a Director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Los Angeles branch. It was an interesting time to be at the monthly meetings and voting on the Fed rate. I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people, including then Chairman Alan Greenspan and current Chair Janet Yellen.
Many times when I speak, I get asked my advice for being successful in business. So at the end of my presentation, I shared these tips:
Balancing your work and your life is up to you. Think of each day as a “pie.” You wake up each day and get to decide how to divide the pie. Will the pie today be evenly divided between work and family? Or will it be primarily work, or primarily family, or just a “you day?” It was explained to me this way by a female executive at Walmart, and to me it makes the most sense. I will tell you that I am pretty sure I missed the first day of school every year for both my girls as it always seemed to fall during a scheduled business trip. But I was there for their third day of school. And I missed many birthdays, but we made lots of other memories. And as you can see, my girls turned out just fine.
When you don’t know something, ask. Don’t be afraid. I guarantee that you won’t look dumb. To the contrary, you will be admired for having the guts to ask the questions everyone else wishes they had asked.
Ask for what you want and set high goals for yourself
And be prepared to get feedback on what you have to do to get there.
Be a lifelong learner
In my more than 30 years in the business, every year I have attended workshops, seminars, webinars, and read books to keep current and learn about new things. I read everything that comes into my company even if it takes me weeks and months to get to it. (Thank goodness for long airplane flights). Because I always learn something new, I feel ahead of the curve and that is one of my competitive advantages.
Always take the high road
And finally, this is something I learned from my mother (and she learned from her mother). It’s tempting to badmouth your competition, your coworker, or your boss. But really it is better that you don’t. Offering honest criticism is one thing, but like the saying goes, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” We will all be in this industry for many more years, and you never know who you will be working for or who will be your boss. I’ve found it the best practice to be positive whenever possible.
The best part of my presentation was that my entire immediate family was able to be there with me. As you can see, I have a beautiful and radiant family.
Please feel free to share my tips with any young person who has just graduated and is moving into the “real world.” You can also read my entire speech here.