Molly Connors, Basin Gold Cooperative
Molly Connors, Basin Gold Cooperative

Molly Connors has a straightforward approach to success – literally.

“I’ve learned you’ve got to always move forward,” said Connors, sales and marketing manager for Basin Gold Cooperative in Pasco, Wash.

Connors said she learned that lesson while riding the wave through the rise and fall of dot-coms. She also spent some time with a boutique marketing firm in Seattle early in her career.

Her roots are deep in the potato fields, though, and Connors returned to the fresh produce industry in 2001 when she joined family and friends at Basin Gold. Her family is part of Skone & Connors Produce Inc. of Wapato and Warden, Wash.

“My brothers and cousins and I are third generation in the growing, packing and shipping business,” she said. “When I came back to the business, I fell back in love with talking to real people.”

But it wasn’t all homecoming hugs and cushy customers when Connors returned to the family fold.

“No one was shy about giving me the difficult customers when I came back,” she said.

She was just going to work for the family businesses for a “couple of months,” said Molly’s older brother, Bart Connors, chief operating officer for Skone & Connors, who also lends a hand at Basin Gold.

“We were up to our eyeballs with customers, and I was spending a lot of time on the sales desk,” he said. “It was great to be able to hand stuff over to Molly and never have to look back.

“She has earned everything she’s received. We did have some difficult accounts and she brought them along to become some of our best customers.”

Connors is thankful for those challenges now and counts some of those customers among the strongest relationships she has in the industry.

She says she is also thankful for the opportunity to explore the entire industry through her service with the U.S. Potato Board.

Connors, 36, is in her second year as co-chairwoman of the board’s domestic marketing committee. One of her favorite topics to discuss is the committee’s work with the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, which is in its first year.

The alliance consists of five major potato processors — Lamb Weston, Simplot, McCain, Heinz and Cavendish — as well as the potato board and the National Potato Council.

Its mission is to fund research into the health benefits of potatoes, particularly french fries, and educate the public about those benefits. Statistics from the board show french fry consumption dropped 18% in the past decade.

“The decline of overall potato consumption has finally come back up to pre-Atkins (diet fad) levels, but consumption is still our biggest challenge,” Connors said. “We must keep consumers aware of the nutritional benefits and affordable value of potatoes.”

In working toward that goal, Connors applies her straightforward style. She said nothing beats up-front, clear communication.

“People always need to remember we are a customer service industry, whether we are dealing with other growers or the public,” she said. “The challenge is to better your own record every day.”