“What you see is what you get” could have been coined for Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc.

“I wear everything on my vest,” Wileman said. “Whether I’m meeting with a vice president or a clerk, they know where Ross Wileman stands.”

He wears the vest comfortably. Perhaps it is a reflection of the small town values learned in his native Fillmore, located just 30 minutes from Mission’s corporate headquarters in Oxnard, Calif.

“He hasn’t changed at all other than the color of his hair,” said Steve Barnard, president of Mission Produce, whose relationship with Wileman dates back to their high school days.

The growth of Mission Produce verges on spectacular since Wileman joined the staff 25 years ago. Timing was everything, Wileman said of the company that was less than two years old when he came aboard.

“Getting in on the ground floor allowed me and other key people, like Steve, to really mold the framework, the style of the company, and paramount in our minds was to build a company based on quality, service and commitment to the customer,” he said,

When Wileman, 63, joined the company, it marketed only avocados. The fruit remains the company’s primary commodity, but it has added asparagus and processed avocado products, the newest of which is the Frontera brand all-natural guacamole mix, a joint venture with chef, author and restaurateur Rick Bayless.

Mission Produce is by design something of a risk-taker, Wileman said, as evidenced by the company’s opening its purse strings more than a decade ago for a new concept in avocado marketing. It was a move spearheaded by Wileman.

“We made a capital investment of strategically placing ripening centers throughout the U.S. so that we could deliver just-in-time avocados,” he said.

It was left to Wileman and his marketing staff to assure skeptical retailers that the product would arrive in a ripe condition and that the product would increase sales.

“They were scared to death of shrinkage,” he said.

That Wileman convinced retailers that just-in-time avocados were the future of the commodity came as no surprise to Barnard.

“He has a knack for taking an awkward or uncomfortable or even volatile situation and softening it,” Barnard said. “He knows the industry inside and out, and he’s a great asset to Mission.”

Wileman’s management style seems to reach back to his small town roots where trust and delegating responsibility ranked high.

“I like to hire good people, give them the tools to perform and get out of the way,” he said.

Wileman’s self-deprecating humor also reflects his Fillmore roots.

“If I get in the way, I screw it up,” he said.

It is humor contradicted by his personal track record. Leadership has been a way of life for Wileman. He was a three-sport athlete in high school and captained all three teams. He piloted helicopters during his military service in Vietnam and survived being shot down three times.

“He’s so crazy the Viet Cong sent him back,” Barnard joked.

In Wileman’s view, his athletic and military achievements pale by comparison to the growth of Mission Produce, and he puts the spotlight not on himself but on the staff.

“That our customers view us with the utmost respect, that’s what I’m most proud of,” he said.

The Wileman family is now in its fifth generation of growing fresh produce in California. His agriculture background has served him well, Wileman said.

“It’s where there are rewards for hard work,” he said.

The rewards Wileman most enjoys these days are relationships.

“In fresh produce, 80% of the people I meet are the nicest people on the planet,” he said. “That 80% is what drives me day in and day out.”