Adam Wooten dedicated to family and to family business
- by Christina DiMartino | November 08, 2009
For Adam Wooten, operations manager at his family-owned business, Wayne E. Bailey Co., a major producer of sweet potatoes, a typical workday has him moving through numerous divisions at the company's Chadbourn, GA, facility.
"I confer with the receiving manager to make sure product coming into our facility goes into curing rooms according to specifications," said Mr. Wooten. "Then I review logistics to make sure it is on track. There are a lot of trucks arriving at the facility during harvesting."
Mr. Wooten also spends a lot of his time with the quality manager on the packingline to ensure that orders are being filled correctly and that food- safety programs and quality specifications are firmly in place.
"As we ship product, I work with the shipping manager to help ensure that trucks are getting in and out of the facility on time and that the orders and paperwork are in order," he added.
After graduating in 1996 from Columbus Christian Academy in Whiteville, NC, Mr. Wooten entered North Carolina State University, from which he graduated in 2000 with a degree in agriculture business. He joined Wayne E. Bailey full time immediately after graduating.
His training at the company has been ongoing since he was a young child. "Throughout my entire childhood, I worked either on the farm or in the packinghouse during Thanksgiving, when our production is ramped up," he said. "When I was a young teenager, I starting out repairing wooden bins, and at one time or another over the years I've worked in just about every aspect of the business.
"I never made it to Daytona Beach or Cancun for spring break during college. I made it to the bagger machine at the Wayne E. Bailey facility," he added with a laugh.
Mr. Wooten, his brother George III, company farm manager; and twin sisters, Sara Bailey Wooten and Mary Margaret Wooten, represent the fifth generation of family members.
Adam Wooten is married to Megan Wooten, who works as administrative assistant to his father and company owner, George Wooten. How the couple met is a meant-to-be story.
"My cousin, Hampton Avant, was attending the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina," said Mr. Wooten. "Not long after I graduated from college, during a family gathering, he showed us some photos of a tailgate gathering he and some friends had in Charleston. Megan was in one of the photos. I commented to Hampton that she was pretty, and that I wouldn't mind meeting her."
Megan was then a student at the College of Charleston, working toward a degree in marine biology. Shortly after seeing the photo of her, Mr. Wooten traveled to Charleston. His cousin introduced them.
"She was still in school, and I was working at Wayne E. Bailey, so we had a three-year long-distance relationship," said Mr. Wooten. "In 2004, we were married at the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens in Charleston, right by the river. I'm sure Megan never thought she would end up working in the sweet potato business."
Ms. Wooten's employment at Wayne E. Bailey was originally meant to be temporary. Mr. Wooten said his dad needed some organizational help, so she offered assistance. But the temporary situation has now extended to four years.
Ms. Wooten's love of the water was the inspiration for the couple to make their home on Lake Waccamaw, NC, about 20 miles from Wayne E. Bailey. They take full advantage of the lake in their spare time.
"We both love boating, swimming and water skiing," said Mr. Wooten. "My grandmother had a house at the lake while I was growing up, so my family spent summers and many weekends there. We still have family get-togethers at the lake."
The couple also likes to travel. They spent their honeymoon in Hawaii, and they hope to return again.
"We visit New York City every year in the winter," added Mr. Wooten. "We love to see the beautiful Christmas decorations. The city and businesses do an outstanding job with their creative displays."
Last year the couple also visited the Grand Canyon, which Mr. Wooten said was "awesome." Afterward, they spent a couple of days in Las Vegas.
Wooten family members are dedicated to one another and to spending quality time together. Every year, usually close to the July PMA Foodservice Conference & Expo in Monterey, CA, the family gathers at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Salinas, CA, for the Spirit West Coast, a Christian music festival that features artists, lectures, workshops, children's shows, petting zoos and comedy acts.
"People come from all over the country for the festival," said Mr. Wooten. "It's an annual event for my family. Megan and I usually take the first part of the week to travel somewhere, such as San Francisco, and then we meet up with the family when the event starts."
Mr. and Ms. Wooten have planned a trip to snow ski next January. The chosen location is a toss-up between Vail, CO, and Lake Tahoe, CA. They both are intermediate to advanced skiers.
Mr. Wooten played baseball on community and school leagues from age 6 through high school. "I did not play in college, but I continue to love the sport," he said. "Today I play some recreational softball when I have the opportunity."
Both Adam and George III love to hunt. They and friends hunt deer and duck, usually on the family's farms.
"We also have an annual family dove hunt on Labor Day," said Mr. Wooten. "Our family, cousins, uncles and friends always join in. We plant sunflowers that attract the doves. It's a fun time, and it gives us another opportunity for our family to bond."
Mr. Wooten credited his father, George, and his mother, Alice, for all he knows about the sweet potato industry and for his dedication to family.
"I always wonder how dad handles everything he does and with such efficiency," said Mr. Wooten. "My mom has been integral to my beliefs and my devotion to our family. I could not ask for better parents. No matter how busy they were while we were growing up, they never missed a ballgame or any other event we were involved in. They are totally supportive of us and have been outstanding mentors."
As for the future of the fresh produce industry, Mr. Wooten acknowledged that it is in a period of change that will have lasting effects.
"Food safety will continue to be a major focus," he said. "There is already a growing demand on the producing end. Wayne E. Bailey works to stay ahead of - not on - the curve of initiatives. If it's even suggested, but not required, we put it into place."
Labor, he added, has also created added challenges to the industry. The company harvests manually to ensure its consistent level of high quality, and that takes a lot of people.
"Customers are also inquiring about our sustainability practices," said Mr. Wooten. "They may eventually require their suppliers to have environmentally sound practices in place. At this point, there are a lot of questions being asked, and it's apparent that sustainability is on everyone's mind today."