John Oxford
John Oxford

John Oxford’s path to the produce industry has not been quite typical.

After earning an MBA, Oxford jumped on the management fast track at GE Capital, a division of General Electric. He switched jobs every 18 months or so and lived in London, Asia, Texas, California, and North Carolina. By 12 years in, Oxford was vice president in the mortgage unit of GE’s international business division.

Still, in all those years globe-trotting for a multinational giant, the seeds of the produce industry were slowly taking root.

In graduate school, Oxford met Lee Anne McGee, whose father, Joe McGee, owned Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

Joe started extolling the virtues of the produce industry to Oxford in about 1992. In 2001, Oxford finally came on board and is the company’s president and chief executive officer. (In 1997, John married Lee Anne, L&M’s marketing director.)

“It was a lengthy recruitment process,” said Oxford, 46. “He certainly didn’t hire me for what I knew about produce. But I believed we shared a common business philosophy.”

Oxford’s “outsider” status has proved invaluable to the produce industry, said Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

Oxford has served as PMA’s secretary/treasurer and chairman of its budget and finance and Fresh Summit committees.

“With his background in finance, John brings a whole different level of management expertise to what we do, and I’m sure to his own business, as well,” Silbermann said.

Oxford “thrives on data,” Silbermann said, but his service to PMA has extended beyond number-crunching. For instance, as secretary/treasurer, Oxford launched a series of monthly conference calls to update members on hot-button industry issues.

When Silbermann asked Oxford which industry events he wanted to attend, Oxford said he’d go wherever PMA wanted him to go.

“It’s always been community first and John second,” Silbermann said.

Looking back, Oxford doesn’t regret his decision to leave GE.

“It’s a dynamic, exciting industry. No two days are the same. And the people are humble, salt-of-the earth. Those are all cliches, but they’re true.”