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Sill and Driscoll an unbeatable combination

Valerie Sill is a Gemini, and that may explain a few things -- if you believe in astrological explanations.

Ms. Sill recently relocated to Watsonville, CA, from Annapolis, MD, to take up her new responsibilities as business manager for Driscoll Strawberry Associates. Like the namesake zodiac twins, Ms. Sill wrestles with things head-on. She's versatile, changeable and willing to move across the country in a heartbeat.

And the 30-year-old Ms. Sill is also capable of quiet reflection as she looks at where she's been and where's she's going.

It wasn't so long ago that Ms. Sill was a young girl in her native Chicago. Her father worked for ConAgra, and she was exposed early on to the wonders of the marketplace.

"I recall those days when dad would go to the grocery store," she told The Produce News. "I was able to see through my dad's eyes."

Fast forward a little to when the Sill family relocated to Panama for three years. "My father was working in meat-packing operations," she stated. "You certainly get a whole new perspective living in a foreign country."

Bump up the timeline again and the family is living in Southern California. Ms. Sill is attending the University of California at Davis, working on a degree in psychology. Even as she was exploring the inner workings of human behavior, she was finding a healthy outlet through a summer internship working for a tomato processor outside Sacramento helping with product movement. The following year she interned for the same company as a field representative interacting with growers and inspectors.

"That gave me a chance to work with a variety of people," she laughed. "I certainly used my psych background."

Now it's 1999, and Ms. Sill has her bachelor's degree in hand. One part of her Gemini disposition is reflecting. But the other is looking forward. She came on board with Driscoll's as its new category development manager "not 10 days after I graduated UC-Davis."

Ms. Sill said that she and Driscoll really hit it off, and she was only 24 when she relocated to Annapolis. "At the time, we were looking to evolve our relationships with customers," she stated. "We wanted to extend how we service those customers and create a unique relationship based on interdependence."

While she laughs at her own observation that she was a "guinea pig" in the newly created position, she has no doubt about what she brought to the table. "I knew that with my psychology background, marketing would be a good fit."

Since its inception, the program has grown, and Ms. Sill said it's been gratifying to be part of that company dynamic. "We are looking at growing business profitability for retailers. We want to create measurements and programs to meet their goals," she explained.

Ms. Sill was one busy young woman, spending 50 weeks out of the year on the road doing a job she loved. And somehow she also managed to squeeze in enough time to pursue a graduate degree in business management at the Washington, DC, campus of Webster University.

This past May, Ms. Sill moved back across the country to California and is rising to the new challenges of her position as strawberry business manager. She works with sales and marketing teams "that ultimately deliver back to the company and growers."

She said, "If our growers are successful, our customers will be successful. My job is to represent the marketplace."

Ms. Sill is serious about what she does. But her Gemini nature doesn't mean her personal life has taken a back seat. She said it's good to be spending less time on the road, and she's scoping the market to buy a house. Right now, she's drawn to home improvement, which is something she interestingly says, "I'm not very good at." It's the challenge that excites her.

Since she has family in California, Ms. Sill said that settling down there would give her more of an opportunity to enjoy the quiet life. Her ideal weekend? "Being with my family and romping around with my two nephews."

Here comes more Gemini duality: Maybe because she spent so much time being serious about her studies and work, she enjoys flights of fancy. She confided, "I read as many girly novels as I can."

When asked to reflect on her life, Ms. Sill recalls two moments -- separated in time, but distinctly joined. She recalled the day her moving van set out from California to make its way to the East Coast to start her career with Driscoll. "Adulthood kind of begins here," she thought.

This year, her reassignment brought her full circle as she returned to California. "It was a similar feeling when the moving van went back," she commented.

True to Gemini form, she sometimes struggles with balancing her professional and personal lives. But Ms. Sill said that things are blending well, and sometimes do so in interesting ways. "I'm in heaven having a cat in my lap at a meeting," she mused.

When asked to look down the road a little, she didn't hesitate to answer. "I hope I'm still at Driscoll's," she replied.