My pal Wes Liefer, vice president of Pura Vida farms in Brea, Calif., grew up around fresh produce. Wes mentioned his dad, Dale Leifer, formerly of Westlake Distributors, was his mentor in learning the business.

Later on, Wes also turned to a family friend, Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting Inc., for advice and guidance too.

In our business, mentoring doesn’t get much higher caliber than that.

Most produce managers or supervisors don’t have access to such industry giants. However, the mentors who can help are often more accessible than we realize.

When trying to find a good produce mentor, look to the next levels in your organization. Most of the time a supervisor also has worked through the ranks and has the benefit of added knowledge and experience. Typically, that supervisor is more than willing to help.

However, we have to ask them.

To get a mentor’s help, first you need to ask for it


My advice is not to wait for the supervisor visit to seek assistance. If seeking counsel only while they are in your store, their time will be limited. It is better to ask if the supervisor is willing to let you ride along with them as they tour stores.

This will be a sacrifice on your part, but if you’re willing to devote, say, a midweek day off in exchange for one-on-one direction, it will be worth every minute. Most supervisors are generous and want to share their knowledge. A day on the road, visiting stores and talking in the car between stops is better than any seminar.

If you’re a clerk, your produce manager or a nearby manager at another store could be a good mentor.

The grizzled veteran manager with the colorful reputation would likely be flattered if you approached them to help mentor you and help advance your career.

Depending on what career stage you’re in, this could be a trial-and-error period with several steps. Sometimes another clerk will mentor you to a point, then a produce manager and later a director or supervisor may take you under their wing.

Don’t be afraid to give them a call or knock on their door. You might imagine what some will say in the process: They will mutter that you’re just trying to earn brownie points. Pride and petty jealousy only hold a person back. You can’t worry about what others think.

Finding a mentor isn’t an exact science. With the amount of knowledgeable people around, start by asking who is considered the most respected, the best at what they do and the one person the company can’t seem to do without. If that’s the person you want to emulate, then that’s the mentor you want to connect with.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail

How has a mentor influenced your career? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.