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Family business growth opens new opportunities

Note to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: When you add "multi-multi- tasking" to your list of definitions, the appropriate photo to run adjacent is that of Hannah Taylor.

In early April, while seeing to last-minute details for her May 11 wedding in Othello, WA, Ms. Taylor was simultaneously finalizing plans to attend the May 5-8 United Fresh Marketplace in Chicago. She had only recently returned from Japan's Food-Ex show and was also gearing up for her family farm's July harvest and production month, when her workdays are 16-plus hours long. A lesser person might stress out ever so slightly, but 26-year-old Ms. Taylor was remarkably composed.

"I love what I do," she said. "I love being involved in the family business."

The third of seven daughters born to Ivan and Corette Taylor, Ms. Taylor is the only sibling directly involved in TPG Enterprises, parent company of the "Tart Is Smart" line of cherry and cherry-blend juices.

"But everyone is involved at some point," she said of her family's Othello-area farm.

"I grew up on the farm, and it has been a part of me my whole life. My parents involved me in farm work at a very young age, and I started helping move irrigation pipe before I could even carry a pipe by myself."

Ms. Taylor recalled, "When I was 7, I remember going with my sisters and dad to change irrigation pipe in an alfalfa field. Every summer since then, my parents had all of us kids working on the farm, but my most memorable steady job was when I was 12. It was the first time I fully participated in cherry harvest, and it was my first experience driving a tractor."

In the 1980s, the farm grew wheat, corn, hay and apples; in 1997, TPG was launched and Montmorency tart cherries added to the manifest. Now the company handles a full range of product, including asparagus, sweet cherries, dried fruit, sliced apples and pears. The "Tart Is Smart" juice line was introduced in 2004, and organic product became available this year.

It is Ms. Taylor who oversees production operations during harvest months, and while she is obviously comfortable in her leadership role at TPG, she admitted that she did not expect to find herself back in Othello after college. "I attended Brigham Young University in Utah and graduated from the Marriott School of Management in 2003," she said. "When I was in college studying business, I told myself, 'I will never go back to work on the farm.'"

But as her own business acumen was developing, so was her parents' business.

"TPG was beginning to expand into new value-added markets, and there were more opportunities for me as a business manager," Ms. Taylor said.

Moreover, she had sampled urban life and discovered something important about herself: "As my college years were wrapping up, the simple, wholesome life of agriculture was appealing to me."

She has been at TPG ful time for four years, initially in record-keeping and handling human resources tasks such as hiring and firing.

"My most pressing duties now are managing our sales and marketing people," she said. "We outsourced a lot of work to brokers and marketing agencies before, and it's my job to manage those projects."

Acknowledging that the produce industry "is largely a man's playing field," Ms. Taylor said that she does not consider her gender a disadvantage at all. "I don't see success in this industry based on 'woman' or 'man' but rather on ability and talents," she said. Born into the technology age, she possesses the skills necessary in today's marketplace.

"I've grown up in the technology era, and it's a part of life I use every day," Ms. Taylor said. "I am also in a position that allows me many opportunities to travel and become a part of the global industry."

Still, she tempers her career ambition with core values that came with her Mormon upbringing. "I want to have a family," she said.

She met her fianc?, Jake Shaw, through mutual friends after she returned from BYU, The two share many interests including outdoor activities such as camping, fishing and water sports.

Mr. Shaw holds a managerial position at a facility maintenance company, and the couple will remain in the Othello area.

Looking to the future of her own job, Ms. Taylor predicted that in five years there will be even more consumer focus on TPG's product line, and she said that the firm's niche market will further embrace organics and natural value- added products.

"There are so many opportunities in life," she said, adding that such opportunities come to those who apply themselves.

"The greatest thing I learned from my upbringing was hard work," Ms. Taylor said. "It wasn't something I was taught one day and did the next, but rather it was the result of consistent opportunities that working provided.

"Now I have a good work ethic, I take responsibility, and I have confidence in my abilities," she added. And so do the rest of the close-knit Taylor family members.

"Two of my sisters are in Utah, one is in Idaho and four are in Washington," Ms. Taylor said. But while the others have pursued paths away from the farm, Ms. Taylor has seen her abilities put to their best use right at home.

"And as long as I'm here, I want to continue to add value," she said.