(UPDATED COVERAGE, March 14) Tim O’Connor, president and chief executive officer of the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, is leaving the organization to lead a new Mexican avocado marketing agency.

O’Connor will become the chief executive officer of the Denver-based Avocados from Mexico marketing group, a joint creation of the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association (MHAIA) and the Michoacan Avocado Producers and Packers (APEAM).

O’Connor, who will leave the potato board March 31 and begin his new job April 1, said it took a “fabulous opportunity” to make him leave the board, where he was worked for the past 14 years.

“It’s a wonderful product with a lot of upside potential, and the startup nature of (Avocados from Mexico) is exhilarating,” O’Connor said. “They spent the past two years soul-searching, and they made every decision perfectly to set this up for success.”

Avocados from Mexico is an existing brand name used by MHAIA and APEAM in marketing efforts.

The new marketing group will take over marketing duties from both organizations and will reduce redundancies in the groups’ efforts to promote Mexican avocados, O’Connor said.

The new group will save both APEAM and MHAIA “significant” amounts of money and deliver a unified message about Mexican avocados, said Ron Campbell, MHAIA’s executive director and APEAM’s government relations director.

The search for a CEO of the new organization placed no limits on location or language, in an effort to find the best candidate, Campbell said.

O’Connor’s extensive produce marketing experience, he said, made him stand out.

“Tim was up against some pretty significant competition, and he rose to the top.”

As of March 12, O’Connor didn’t know how many staff he would hire for the new group.

“I envision it being a small staff of highly talented people.”

Looking back, O’Connor characterized his tenure on the potato board as a happy and productive one.

“It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said. “The grower leadership, staff and agencies we’ve worked with have been terrific.”

Convincing growers to pass two assessment increases and developing — and delivering on — a long-range plan are among O’Connor’s personal board highlights.

David Fairbourn, the board’s manager of industry communications and policy, said the organization would likely continue down the path set by O’Connor and others.

“I don’t think we’ll turn the organization upside down,” he said. “Tim leaves a great legacy. The industry strongly believes in the work of the board, and growers are very supportive of the return on investment they’ve received.”

The board has created a search committee to find O’Connor’s successor, but as of March 12 there was no set date for hiring someone, Fairbourn said.