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New husband, new house, new promotion and a lot of work for Sunrise's Jody Hegel

Jody Hegel was recently promoted to the sales desk at Sunrise Growers in Placentia, CA, which was just one of several exciting things to happen in her life in the last 15 months.

She married Robert Hegel in August 2005, just three months after graduating from Whittier College in Whittier, CA, with a degree in business and starting a full-time job at Sunrise. The newlyweds bought a house and extensively renovated it before moving in. And now, with her new promotion, she appears to be on a fast track to a successful produce career.

It's been a lot of work, but the 23-year-old Ms. Hegel and her new husband still manage to find time for some active recreational pursuits.

Sunrise Growers is a year-round grower, packer and shipper of strawberries, and a nearly year-round supplier of bell peppers. Christine Reker, director of marketing at Sunrise, described Ms. Hegel as "just one of those energetic, Generation Next-type of people."

Ms. Reker noted that even though Ms. Hegel has only been working for Sunrise on a full-time basis for a little while, she has considerable produce industry experience as well as a family background in produce.

Ms. Hegel said that her mother, Debbie Wallace, is grower accounting manager at Sunrise and has been an employee of Sunrise since about 1993. Her stepfather also used to work for Sunrise but now works in sales at West Fresh in Los Angeles, she said.

Ms. Hegel began working for Sunrise on a part-time basis during her senior year in high school and continued all through college. She helped at times with grower accounting and at times with sales analysis. But her experience in produce goes back long before that. Since she was in fourth grade, Ms. Hegel had been helping her mother with the grower accounting on weekends when she would bring work home, Ms. Hegel said. That adds up to about eight years of experience before officially being hired.

"I actually started getting paid when I was a senior in high school, and I've been on the payroll ever since - almost five-and-a-half years now," she said.

Ms. Hegel looks forward to a long career in the produce business. "I don't plan on going anywhere," she said.

But she didn't get where she is as a result of a life-long ambition to be a produce sales person. "It just sort of evolved," she said. "I don't think anyone actually plans on going into produce sales unless they grow up with it. Most people you talk to, they say, 'Produce sales? What's that?' So it's not something I planned on or dreamed of as a child, but here I am."

The transition from accounting to sales also came about in an interesting way. When she first started with the company, even though she was working on the accounting side, "they put me in the sales office because they had no other place for me to sit," she said. "I've been sitting in here ever since then, helping them out." She did "a lot of analysis work for them" during her time in college, she said.

Since becoming a full-time employee after graduation, she has also done a variety of things. "I did accounting first. I did some accounts receivable. I was sales assistant for a while, then I went back to the accounting department, then came back to sales analysis, and now they have moved me to actual sales."

The home she and her new husband bought is in right in Placentia, just three-and-a-half miles from work. It makes for "a really nice commute," she said. The house had been a rental previously and "needed to be updated," she said. "We tore everything out and started over again."

Ms. Hegel and her husband are doing most of the work themselves, with help from various family members -- particularly their fathers.

"I don't know that I would want to call that a hobby," Ms. Hegel said, noting that she will be glad when the project is finished. "We actually did most of the work before we moved in, but there is still work to be done."

Still, Ms. Hegel and her husband take time to enjoy what Ms. Reker described as an active "California" lifestyle.

"I ride dirt bikes," Ms. Hegel said, adding that she also enjoys boating and wakeboarding.

Her favorite places to ride dirt bikes are the Dry Lakes area and, particularly, the Glamis Sand Dunes in the Imperial Valley between Brawley and the Anza-Borrego desert.