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Cal Poly grad growing into role with Steinbeck Country Produce

SALINAS, CA -- Much has happened to Rory Cornell in the year since he graduated from California Polytechnic Institute with a degree in agribusiness marketing -- most of it good.

Upon graduation last June, Mr. Cornell landed a job at Coastal Berry Co. in Watsonville, CA, as a "cooler liaison." But Dole acquired Coastal and Mr. Cornell was laid off in November.

Welcome to the unpredictable world of agriculture.

So Mr. Cornell reached out to Cal Poly again for help in finding work in the fresh produce industry. This time he landed an entry-level position as a sales coordinator with Steinbeck Country Produce in Salinas, CA -- a year-round grower-packer-shipper of commodities such as broccoli, cauliflower, celery and green onions -- where he started Dec. 1. After three months, Steinbeck promoted him to lead celery sales.

"I like what I do, & it's not the same thing every day," Mr. Cornell said. "I'm a talker. But [customers] have to trust on my good judgment and my word."

Mr. Cornell, 23, has "molded" himself into being a salesman, but he thinks he'd be good at marketing as well. Steinbeck handles bulk commodities, "but I'd like to try to build more of a marketing program at Steinbeck Country Produce," Mr. Cornell said. He said that the industry seems to be heading toward more marketing and innovation, and that while Steinbeck's business is not in value-added, in the future he'd like to help the company get involved in that area.

"Agribusiness aligns with my personality," Mr. Cornell said, adding that he likes the less formal approach he finds in fresh produce as compared with what his friends face in other marketing realms.

Mr. Cornell said that he could look at a graph that explains supply and demand and understand it, but that prior to working in the industry he "knew nothing about how rain affects a broccoli harvest" or how Wal-Mart" affects day-to-day consumer prices," he said.

He credits Greg Beach, Steinbeck's vice president of sales, and Chris Huntington, the company's president, with showing faith in him as he grows into his role with the company.

Mr. Cornell got his first job in the industry during college, when he worked one summer at Tanimura & Antle in Salinas driving a forklift and working with lettuce bins for packaged salads.

Mr. Cornell, who grew up in Turlock, CA, followed in his father's footsteps by attending Cal Poly. His father has worked at Foster Farms for many years as a director of live turkey production. His mother is an interim chief operating officer with the Sutter Gould Medical organization. The youngest of five children, with two older brothers and two older sisters, Mr. Cornell travels to Sacramento most weekends to see his girlfriend, Audra Torres.

While he concedes he's never been steeped in sports (he played on the golf team at Turlock High), since joining Steinbeck Mr. Cornell has started a running program with encouragement from Mr. Beach.