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Cindy Seel to leave post at PMA's FIT

by Joan Murphy | February 11, 2010
Cindy Seel, executive director of the Produce Marketing Association's Foundation for Industry Talent, is leaving her post March 5 to take a new association job in the Atlanta area.

Ms. Seel will serve as executive vice president of the Printing & Imaging Association of Georgia, starting next month, and will trade in her frequent travel schedule for a one-mile commute from her Smyrna, GA, home. At her new job, Ms. Seel said she will lead the association's member value and marketing efforts and resuscitate a "dormant" foundation.

"I absolutely loved what I did, but the travel was wreaking havoc with my personal life," said Ms. Seel, a mother of two young children. "We originally guessed I'd be traveling 12 times a year, but I counted 35 trips my first year into it."

PMA has launched a search for Ms. Seel's replacement, said Bryan Silbermann, who serves as president of both the PMA and the foundation. He added that the foundation is supported by many other PMA staffers as well as by DMA Associates, so there will be a high degree of continuity while a replacement is sought.

With more than 20 years of experience in association management, Ms. Seel headed PMA's foodservice and retail divisions from 1997 to 2001 before leaving PMA the first time after the birth of her daughter.

But she returned to PMA in 2006 and launched FIT's two-year capital campaign, not an easy sell at a time when the produce industry was suffering through high-profile foodborne-illness outbreaks and an economic downturn. The campaign, dubbed Our Industry… Our People, started with a one-year goal that was extended another year to make up for the bad economic conditions.

FIT plans to publish a list of contributors and start a new annual fund in March, Ms. Seel said.

The foundation, which was launched in 2006 to attract young talent to the produce industry, spent the first two years focusing efforts at the college level by building career portals, job banks and the Career Pathways programs for graduates to consider careers in the produce industry, Ms. Seel explained. But now the foundation has expanded its mission. Young people who attend FIT's leadership symposia are eyeing ways to move to the next level, and employers are looking for ways to retain emerging leaders during each stage of their career.

"We've been focused on developing a strategy to make sure leaders are ready for the next level," she added.

FIT has been working on a campaign for emerging leaders that would help with long-term training and development. The new campaign could launch next year, she said.

"She was a huge asset in getting the foundation up and running," said Mr. Silbermann, who added that Ms. Seel was key in implementing the strategic plan for the foundation, which is comprised of three main pillars: attracting, developing and retaining talent within the industry.

He also said that Ms. Seel has been instrumental in raising $4.7 million toward the goal of $5 million set by FIT. "She brought a tremendous amount of passion and energy to the fundraising [for FIT]. It is particularly impressive that she was able to do that in the toughest of economic times."

Another major contribution that Ms. Seel brought to the foundation was the creation of partnerships with regional produce organizations like the Fresh Produce & Floral Council and the New England Produce Council, said Mr. Silbermann. Those groups now offer programs modeled after the foundation's Career Pathways program, which gives members "real value."

"We're finding that around the country and around the world, produce companies are really interested in what we are doing with FIT in attracting talent," he said.

Mr. Silbermann said that while he is saddened by Ms. Seel's departure, it comes as no surprise, as she grappled with the decision for some time. "I will miss her both personally and professionally," he said. "It will be difficult to replace her, but I am sure we will be able to find a qualified individual." John Groh contributed to this story.