Tim Vaux Reflects On DuPont,
Leadership And Jeff Gordon
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 23, 2007
Our piece, Tim Vaux To Leave DuPont, brought an outpouring of interest and concern from the many who have participated in United Fresh’s Produce Industry Leadership Program. Here is an assortment, some sent directly to the Pundit and others that Tim shared with us, of the things people are saying about Tim:
With such strong concern, we followed up with Tim to gain a perspective on his years with Dupont and the future of the Leadership program.
Interview with Tim Vaux, Director of Food Industry Relations, DuPont Crop Protection.
Q: In your tenure at DuPont, you’ve been a true advocate for the produce industry. What will your departure from DuPont mean for the industry? Will your interest in produce-related endeavors continue?
A: Unfortunately DuPont is restructuring and this time I was one of many who are affected. About 1500 globally will be part of this restructuring. It’s been a great 27 years and I have no regrets. The company has been good to me and my family and I believe I have been good for the company in return. I’m not ready to be put out to pasture however.
This will open a new chapter in my life. I’m not sure what it will bring, but time will tell. My ideal job would be to lead a medium sized produce company into the future by creating a strong vision with a focused team to create value for its customers.
(l to r): Kori Tuggle, Ocean Mist; Tim Vaux, DuPont;
Jerry Butt, Mixtec; Lisa Strube,
Strube Celery and Vegetable Co
Q: Since you won’t be at DuPont to continue championing the leadership program, what will its future be?
A: As far as the Produce Industry Leadership Program goes, it is fully funded through this year. I am hopeful that DuPont will continue their funding. It’s unclear at this early stage as to how or if my duties will be sliced up and assigned to others. The leadership program funding has to go through the normal strategic planning process as well as the budget process within DuPont. Unfortunately, I’ve been the champion for it and now won’t be there to make the case for continued funding. I received many voicemails and emails from alumni of the program and I’m sure the alumni association will make some plans to help support ongoing leadership programs, as well.
Q: Could you share your reasoning for why DuPont should continue supporting the program? What was the impetus for getting involved originally and what benefits have accrued?
A: Initially the program really evolved with United in mind. I was looking to showcase our current products and new ones at the time. Tom Stenzel had just been named president of United and was articulating goals he had in the area of member networking, developing and retaining new talent in the industry, and government relations. Those objectives would be ideal for development of a leadership program. At DuPont, we had done education leadership programs in other industries — corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybean — but this was new territory.
That’s initially how it started. It’s evolved. Every year is different but retains core elements. We try to gear the program to the unique mix of people the committee selects. We take a look at the makeup, the demographics of the group, the age ranges and experience, maybe one year there are more growers than retailers or distributors. We ask what they want to get out of the program and before the first session we take their feedback and make the program as relevant as possible.
Q: How did you see the program benefiting DuPont?
A: At first it focused on our ag crop protection products, then we brought in sanitation products, then value-added packaging, and more recently our Qualicon diagnostic business, where we do quick testing for E.coli, salmonella, and lysteria.
We saw this as an opportunity to showcase our products, exposing potential customers to new products we had to sell. This was a way to get a faster launch with key grower/shippers influential in the industry. It provided one DuPont approach to the produce industry and to the way we approached trade shows. We still have new products to launch in the pipeline, so there is a continuing need for the program.
Q: Are there mechanisms within the leadership program itself that enhance the industry’s understanding of what DuPont can offer produce companies?
A: We include a trip to DuPont headquarters in the program, where participants are exposed to all our R&D resources. Anyone who comes to DuPont leaves with a new respect and understanding for the company.
At the Top Tim Vaux DuPont
Second row from top (l to r) Mike McGee, L&M;
Beth Berman, United Fresh; Ken Roth, Roth Produce;
Mark Petersen, CH Robinson;
Diane Holt, Custom Pak; Rebecca Wilson, Tom Lange
Third Row from top (l to r) Gregor Shanks, Weyerhaueser;
Larry Meuers, Meuers Law Firm; Lisa Strube, Strube Celery & Vegetable; Jennifer Verdelli, Verdelli Farms
Bottom Row (l to r): Keith Johnson, Kroger;
Phil Herbig, WesPak Sales; Jerry Butt, Mixtec;
Al Finch, Diversified Citrus Marketing;
Greg Andersen, Driscoll’s Victoria Kuhns, United Fresh
Q: Are you able to quantify the leadership program’s benefits to DuPont in terms of product sales or other tangible financial numbers based on a cost/benefit analysis?
A: Over the years, I’ve tracked product purchases by program participants. I must say the program more than pays for itself each year in increased revenues; that’s the hard return. There’s the soft return also.
Q: Are you referring to marketing and image promotion here?
A: I call it the Jeff Gordon factor. Jeff Gordon is a NASCAR driver of a DuPont Chevrolet. Ask them how they calculate their return on investment. Every time he’s in a commercial for Pepsi or milk, he’s in his racing uniform and the DuPont logo is prominently displayed. At tradeshow events, alumni travel around the show. As a result we come out with good public relations.
It’s been more than that. We really do need to give something back to an industry that’s been very good to us.
Q: How much money does DuPont actually invest in the program?
A: I don’t think I should give exact numbers, but I can say it’s a sizable investment.
Over the years since we started in 1995, we have spent well over a million dollars. We are right in the middle of Class 12, and recruiting for Class 13, which has already been funded. The money from DuPont is already in United’s bank account.
Diane Holt, Custom Pak; Mark Petersen, CH Robinson;
Tim Vaux, DuPont; Lisa Strube, Strube Celery & Vegetable;
Phil Herbig, Wes Pak; Jennifer Verdelli, Verdelli
Q: What’s your prediction for the future of the sponsorship, now that you’ll be leaving?
A: I’m not sure who’s going to take on my responsibilities, and who will absorb the leadership program, which is just part of what I do. Once we have someone identified, it will be important for me to train them in all the components.
Q: Do you have other partners in the program that could carry on your knowledge base?
A: Julie Krivanek, a consultant out of Denver, and I are the two constants of the strategic planning, sessions and program development since its launch. I tease her that we used to be the godparents, but after 12 years, we’ve become more like the grandparents. The most gratifying part of the program to me has been watching how people have developed over the years. I get a lot of pride when I read that someone got promoted, knowing that the leadership program helped develop the skills that made it possible.
Q: Are there new products at DuPont that could help the produce industry?
A: A new family of insecticides coming out in 2008 , are revolutionary products, and they’re a lot safer than traditional products. The core product within the group, Rynaxypyr, is the most exciting new thing we have coming next year and it needs to be prominently exposed through the program to the grower participants.
Q: Will DuPont be taking a more aggressive role in working with the produce industry on food safety issues, which have enveloped the industry since the spinach E. coli crisis?
A: We’re seeing groups coming out with different ideas on how to approach building confidence with consumers. I’m on the United Board, which three weeks ago put forth a strong federal mandate edict. This is unusual. This industry doesn’t typically ask for mandatory regulations, opting for voluntary measures.
At DuPont, we have so many resources and technologies in our food safety testing diagnostics business working in meats and cheeses. Maybe the time has come to focus on produce. I’ve invited them to come in May and be part of the DuPont booth. They use DNA-based technology. What’s unique about it is the speed in which the testing takes place. When working in fresh produce, you can’t wait around three or four days for a result.
A lot of times, companies will send out product while they are waiting and then run in to complications if there is a problem and they have to call it back later. Our tests are able to turn around in 24 hours. I’m getting calls weekly on food safety issues and am getting more information on ways we can help. Early on, our food safety tests were considered to be too expensive, but now customers are reconsidering.
The situation with Tim, restructured out of a job after 27 years, is becoming quite common. Is it a lack of loyalty or is it that competing in today’s hyper-competitive world allows little margin for error?
Tim is an exceptional person who has won exceptional loyalty from those he has interacted with. Hopefully DuPont will continue to fund the United Leadership program but, whether they do or not, the program is too valuable to let die and it has too strong a constituency to close down.
That may be Tim’s most lasting legacy to the produce trade.