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Tursi Leaves Wal-Mart For Seald Sweet

Amidst our frequent discussion of change at Wal-Mart, we have chronicled the exodus of produce expertise and leadership from its executive ranks:

DiPiazza Resignation Raises Questions About Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart’s Bruce Peterson Resigns

Wayne McKnight To Leave Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart Loses Another Star: South Africa’s Danie Kieviet To Leave

Now comes word that Steve Tursi, Merchandise Manager for Vegetables at Wal-Mart, has submitted his resignation as well. He is going to be joining Seald Sweet, working out of New Jersey.

To those following Wal-Mart, the only surprise is that he exited before a few other folks said their farewells.

We are sure that well-respected Seald Sweet CEO Mayda Sotomayer has big plans for Steve. We also recognize that there is a super upside for him in being associated with Seald Sweet’s parent company Univeg, which is growing fast including having just bought the giant German distributor Atlanta AG from Chiquita. We also suppose that a chance to return home — Steve is a Philadelphia boy — was mighty appealing.

Yet the truth is that with the changes in Wal-Mart’s procurement system and the cultural shifts at Wal-Mart, there was no place for Steve to go in produce at Wal-Mart.

No replacement has been named yet, and it will be interesting to see the direction Wal-Mart goes. Once upon a time Wal-Mart used to promote internally in the produce ranks. Lately it seems as if everyone is an outside hire or a transfer from some unrelated department.

Back in June 2005 Steve was the recipient of a PRODUCE BUSINESS 40-under-Forty award. Here is what Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, said of him at the time:

Steve Tursi, 36
Merchandise Manager for Vegetables
Wal-Mart Stores

On the fast track for seven years at Wal-Mart Stores, Tursi has played a key role in shaping and driving a wide range of consumer, food safety and supply chain initiatives.

Wal-Mart executives describe Tursi as having a solid track record for recognizing and developing multi-faceted partnership alliances to drive comprehensive produce industry business solutions.

Tursi was not only awarded the coveted Wal-Mart Stores Produce Buyer of the Year but also the Perishable Buyer of the Year for 2002. “Working for Wal-Mart has enabled me to be instrumental in two areas where the agricultural industry has experienced significant change in the past seven years contracting versus traditional FOB as the pricing model, and alternative packaging RPCs,” he explains.

Tursi’s active participation in industry organizations includes speaking for United and PMA on RFID technologies. He is an original member of the Southeast Produce Council and also dedicates time and commitment to educating current and future produce leaders by participating as a repeat guest lecturer at the Cal Poly Agriculture Business School. “This has enabled me to give something back to the agriculture industry and possibly help future agriculture industry employees,” he says. He also gives back to the community through fundraising activities for the Children’s Miracle Network and Big Brother organization.

In his hometown of Philadelphia, Tursi began his produce career, stocking shelves for Acme Markets during high school, and continued working there through his college days. After college he moved to Florida and worked as a buyer for American Stores, before Wal-Mart came calling. A United Leadership Program graduate, Tursi has a master’s degree in business.

While continuing his career at Wal-Mart, Tursi says, “Long-term I would like to be an adjunct professor at an agriculture university or for a food marketing program.

Hopefully I would be able to influence the leaders of tomorrow.”

Since that recognition, Steve has gone on to bigger and better things. He has become a member of the Board of Directors of PMA and married the ever-charming Nicole Reznik.

Wal-Mart has done well recently, partly because stressful economic times have expanded its market and partly because a decision to slow growth by reducing the speed at which it rolls out supercenters is de facto the same thing as raising the return hurdle rate on new investment.

Yet our sense is that Steve Tursi made the right move. His heart was in a way of dealing with vendors and thinking about produce that could be traced back to the Bruce Peterson regime. For better or worse, that is not the future at Wal-Mart.

For a man not yet 40, a brighter future lies in trying new things.

We wish Steve every success.

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