Tim O’Connor, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Potato Board in Denver, has accepted an offer to lead a marketing agency dedicated to the Mexican avocado industry, formed jointly by the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association and the Association of Mexican Avocado Producers & Packers.
"With the creation of the Avocados from Mexico marketing group, the Mexican avocado industry will have its own world-class marketing agency," stated a March 8 press release announcing the new group and the naming of Mr. O'Connor as CEO."AFM is being jointly created" by MHAIA and APEAM "to combine resources and develop and manage a common brand for the Mexican avocado industry. Tim takes the helm on April 1st."
Adrian Iturbide Mejia, chairman of MHAIA, said in the release, “We are very excited to bring Tim on board. Tim has extensive experience in the produce industry and we are confident that as our new CEO, he will be able to build AFM from the ground up and take the lead in developing new strategies for increasing demand and consumption for avocados from Mexico. Creating AFM is one of the most important decisions the Mexican avocado industry has made since we began promoting avocados in the United States in 1997. We conducted a nationwide search for our CEO to ensure we found the most qualified person and we are very pleased and fortunate to have found Tim.”
Ron Campbell, executive director of MHAIA and head of government relations for APEAM in Washington, DC, added, "These are exciting times for the Mexican avocado industry. We have done extensive strategic planning over the past two years with the goal of aligning and consolidating MHAIA and APEAM human and capital resources under one umbrella. We also worked and will continue to work very closely with USDA/AMS to set the appropriate guidelines in place for AFM's programs. Bringing Tim on board sets our dreams into action."
“The 14 years I’ve spent as CEO of the U.S. Potato Board has been one of my life’s greatest experiences,” Mr. O'Connor said in the release. “So it took a fabulous career opportunity to pull me away. Building AFM from scratch and developing a new marketing strategy and programs for Avocados from Mexico is exactly that incredible opportunity. My interest in and excitement about becoming AFM’s CEO increased at every turn during their recruitment process. They’re ready, and I am too.”
Avocados from Mexico, a name that has been used in the marketing campaigns of both parent organizations, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the MHAIA "formed for the purpose of advertising, promotion, public relations and research for all stakeholders," the release stated. "Under agreements," MHAIA and APEAM "have combined resources to fund and manage Avocados from Mexico with the intent to provide a focused, highly effective and efficient marketing program in the United States. AFM will be headquartered in Denver."
In an interview with The Produce News March 11, Mr. Connor elaborated on why he sees his new position as a great opportunity. "It really checks all the boxes," he said. "It starts with avocados are a terrific product. It goes down the path of a complete from-the-ground-up, zero forward start up. Avocados from Mexico is a new entity. I don't have anything today to walk into. There is no office, there is no staff, there is not even a bank account. It is a complete start-up. This is highly appealing. "
Previously, MHAIA and APEAAM, were "running their own programs somewhat redundantly, while trying to coordinate as much as they could but still two different groups representing avocados from Mexico were bound to step over each other and not be as efficient as they could be, so they looked at that and said we really need to do this differently. They made a lot of really brilliant decisions getting to where we are today," and in the process "a lot of things that would have been obstacles and got in the way of some groups from making the right decisions did not impede them at all. They made every decision right."
When the recruiter called Mr. O'Connor and told him, "There is a position here with your name written all over it," explaining that AFM "wanted to hire the right person to lead it and let that person put it together, those were the things that made it exciting," he said. In addition, "there is enough budget to really get off to a bang start."
With more avocado trees planted in Mexico yet to come into production, there would be "great budget expansion" in the future "and the opportunity to grow demand in an exciting category. It is just all there."
Per capita consumption of avocados is low but rapidly expanding, Mr.O'Connor said. "Lighting that rocket launcher and taking that thing off is going to be a very rewarding experience."
Mr. O'Connor said that he has spent the last 26 years "doing nothing but food marketing: 14 years for the potato industry, 12 years before that for the beef industry. I know food marketing well."
Mr. O'Connor is a business school graduate with an undergraduate degree in agriculture from Western Illinois University, an MBA from University of Illinois, and a strategy and competitions degree from Harvard Business School. His core competency, he said, is "getting the strategy right, doing the marketing work and putting a world-class staff and team of agencies together," and using cutting-edge tools to measure progress against specific metrics.
The U.S. Potato Board has already formed a search committee and retained a recruiter to start a nationwide search for its next CEO. They will "try to have someone in the position by July 1, which is the start of their next fiscal year," Mr. O'Connor said.