Considered by many a leader in his field, peers call Charlie Eagle a representative of the produce industry.

In his more than three decades of selling and marketing specialty produce, the vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., has seen that segment’s sales blossom from a small niche program to larger sales.

Leaving the custom luggage manufacturing business, Eagle in 1979 entered the produce industry by co-founding a greenhouse herb growing business after a friend in foodservice distribution told him about someone that was considering growing herbs.

Always into food, Eagle said he and his partner, Burt Pedowitz, founded Atlanta Culinary Herbs, growing herbs and later expanding into specialty produce.

Visiting European-trained chefs showed Eagle their strong demand for herbs and specialty items such as baby vegetables.

Eagle soon expanded his herb and specialty business to Chicago and Orlando, Fla., where he had greenhouses.

In 1998, Eagle sold his Orlando and Atlanta operations to Orlando-based FreshPoint and started a FreshPoint specialties division called Specialty Link. He retired around the time when Houston-based Sysco offered to buy FreshPoint.

While sourcing Guatemalan baby vegetables during the 1980s, Eagle befriended Robert Colescott, a professional baseball player and produce warehouse worker who would start Southern Specialties in 1990 as a specialty produce grower, importer and shipper.

Impressed with its growth, Eagle in 2001 joined Southern Specialties.

Eagle, 63, credits his coworkers with the company’s success and says good leaders require dedication and a sense of humor, which can serve as a relief valve in a high pressure industry.

“It’s important to let people see that we’re not carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders,” he said.

“When people see that you enjoy what you’re doing, it encourages them. People in our company are empowered through their knowledge of the product and the industry.”

Tim Meissner, Southern Specialties’ chief operating officer, said Eagle remains involved in many areas of the company and offers needed levity.

“Despite the difficulties and challenges we face in this business, he brings a wealth of experience and that element of making business fun,” Meissner said.

Rich Dachman, vice president of produce for Sysco Corp., Houston, worked with Eagle at FreshPoint and later in a supplier-customer relationship.

“Charlie’s so well-known and he really is truly one of the great ambassadors of the business,” Dachman said.

“At FreshPoint, he always found ways to get product from A to B when no one else could. He’s incredibly innovative and always looking for ways to do things differently.”

Eagle says produce salespeople have to be cheerleaders for the industry. He calls himself a brand ambassador for his company and says it’s easy to work for a company that he really believes in as well as an industry that provides an important national role.