Career Path

John Toner V

"It's not going to happen overnight," says Toner, a vice president at the United Fresh Produce Association.

tonerPOSITION: Vice President of Convention and Industry Collaboration, United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

EDUCATION Hampden-Sydney College, majoring in economics.

MY FIRST INDUSTRY JOB I was the mark boy for the Northern Lake George Yacht Club, dealing with mark positioning and dealing with highly competitive sailors. But then I also worked at Safeway in the grocery department, which set me up to understand the produce business. When you say my first industry job — if it relates specifically to the task at hand, I started as an accounting temp
at United Fresh in 2000.

MY THREE PREVIOUS JOBS Vice president of convention, director of convention sales, and director of exhibit sales at United Fresh.

WHAT I DO I’m the vice president of convention and industry collaboration, and I’m responsible for making sure that our convention increases in recognition, in terms of scope, in terms of revenue, and just making the convention bigger and better. I’m also responsible for navigating our partner relationships and partner organizations, and helping them achieve their goals. And then I’ve got responsibility for revenue generation on all of our events — if we sell sponsorships or tabletops or any sort of marketing exposure for companies to participate at a meeting or event.

MOST INFLUENCED IN MY CAREER BY  Tom Stenzel, the president and CEO of United Fresh; and my grandfather Del Dhein.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THEM Tom Stenzel has been my president and CEO ever since I’ve been working. Tom has given me the abilities and invested his time and energy in ways that allow me to succeed. Tom has also allowed me to fail and learn from my mistakes, so we can grow as an organization and I can grow as an individual. It’s also been a real learning experience to see how to use different techniques to motivate/move an industry forward, which is not a very easy thing to do.

My grandfather gave me some fundamental lessons in business that I continue to use today. One first valuable business lesson he gave me is: If they don’t know your name, they’ll never do business with you, which I think is fundamental. Number two: If a transaction has three zeros, shake the guy’s hand; if it has four zeros, see the guy’s office. If it has less than three zeros, it’s a transactional relationship, which means there’s probably not a long-term relationship involved, so you want to be nice to the person, you want to do business with the person, but at the end of the day you don’t really need to invest that much time and energy, whether it’s a buy or sell relationship. If it has four zeros, which means it’s 10,000 or above — and remember, I’m talking about my grandfather who passed away 10 years ago but stopped working in 1990 — it was a relationship thing, and there was going to be an expectation that whatever you were selling was going to allow that company to do something else. Vice versa, if you were buying, that product or service would allow you to do something else, and by doing so it would allow both organizations to grow.

MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT MY JOB  The ability to please people, to put a smile on someone’s face, and to create awareness for opportunities within our industry or awareness of their surroundings within our industry. To allow someone who has a bold idea to get in front of the people that can make decisions based on a vision. Nothing excites me more than seeing synapses go off in someone’s brain and say, “Aha, I got it, I can do this!” If you can empower that person to do something, they can change the world, or at least their definition of the world.

MY NEXT BIG CAREER GOAL We just formed a new partnership with the Global Cold Chain Expo. Some of my focus is on building that event, where we see plenty of blue water.

In terms of my career, I have a two-and-a-half-year-old, so making sure that whatever I am doing positions myself so that his future will be bright. That’s not something I had a focus on before I had a child. I actually apologized to our board shortly after having a child, because before I thought my job was to ask people for money, and now my job is to ask people for time. Because time is more valuable than money, and if people are willing to invest their time, the revenue equation will continue to grow. I’m always looking at new time-management strategies that allow me to spend more time with my son, so he is as successful as he can be.

MY ADVICE FOR YOUNG MEETING PROFESSIONALS It’s not going to happen overnight. How to use words and how to influence people takes time to learn, so spend some time watching how organizations make decisions, see how they deal with issues, and make sure you’re looking at other companies in the same time and space to see how they’re making decisions to grow their business. Make sure that you always understand what your value role is and not necessarily what your job functions are. If you can understand what the value that you bring to the organization is, you will grow in success.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.