As the middle child in a family of five children, 27-year-old Kevin Vines learned at an early age what it takes to stand out in a crowd.
“Growing up in a big family made it very easy for me to talk to people and also get my point across when it is needed,” said the Redlands, CA, native. “It also molded me into the worker I am today and taught me that you cannot get anywhere in life without hard work and determination.”
And that mindset is what landed him his current job in export sales to Asia at Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading, a grower, packer, shipper and distributor of fresh green, white and purple asparagus, blueberries and blackberries.
Vines first began working at the company as a sales assistant, helping other sales team members with domestic sales. In a matter of two short years, he managed to work his way up from assisting others to handling his own clients in export sales to Asia and Japan.
“I just went to Singapore and Hong Kong for work,” Vines told The Produce News in early July. “It was the first time I’ve been out there since I took over this role, so it was good to meet my customers.”
As one can imagine, traveling is an important component of Vines’ job as an export salesperson handling overseas accounts, and an opportunity he feels very fortunate to have, especially at such a young age.
“Being able to travel to all these different countries is something I’m really lucky to be doing at this age,” Vines said. “A lot of people don’t ever get to go to these places and I get to go there for work, which is pretty amazing.”
But it’s not all fun and games for Vines. He takes his job seriously, and knows the importance of hard work and determination — another life lesson learned from growing up in a large family.
“Everyone in my family has chosen different career paths but they have all put in the necessary work to be successful at what they do,” he said. “Without the role models of my parents and siblings, I would not be where I am today.”
Vines first started working at the age of 15 for a party rental company. Although his career now involves a little less party and a little more business, he credits his first real job for teaching him what it means to have a good work ethic.
“I feel like a lot of kids nowadays don’t start working until they graduate from college, so it’s sort of a shock to them,” he said. “I’ve always been working since I was really young and that’s definitely given me a lot of drive and motivation for what I do now.”
Another motivating factor in Vines’ life is his father, whom he looks up to as a role model and aspires to one day be like.
“He is the hardest-working person I know and is constantly working or thinking about something new he can do,” Vines said of his father, who he described as a dentist by trade and entrepreneur at heart. “Watching his work ethic growing up and seeing how motivated he was to succeed made me want to follow in his footsteps and work just as hard as him in order to be just as successful.”
And that is certainly the path that Vines is on. In addition to traveling overseas to visit clients, Vines also plans on attending Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong this September, as well as the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit conference in New Orleans this October. He added that the trade shows are “very eye-opening” and a great opportunity to learn more about the industry.
“A lot of people don’t realize how big the food industry is,” he added. “By just going and seeing how many people do what we do, it’s pretty eye-opening. It’s a good experience.”
And it’s an experience he’s looking forward to sharing with his colleagues. Vines noted that Gourmet Trading is keen on hiring young college graduates who are motivated and will put in the time as a sales assistant in order to grow within the company.
“That’s exactly what I did,” Vines said. “They’ve recently hired more people in our office that are on the same path as me and you can already see them starting to succeed, which is really cool.”
As for the future, Vines has every intention of continuing to work his way up the ladder at Gourmet Trading.
“You have to start somewhere, even if it is at the bottom, that just means the only direction you can go is up,” Vines said. “My dad would always tell me this and it’s always been the motto I’ve gone by. If you are not willing to start at the bottom, you will never make it to the top.”