PMA keynote addresses explore the possibilities

ORLANDO, FL — With its lineup of general session speakers at its recently concluded Fresh Summit convention, the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit explored possibilities for change and disruption most often through the lens of non-agricultural pursuits.

Utilizing one of the top professional football players of all time, a well-known Broadway actor and two researchers who don’t work in agriculture, the general sessions attempted to be both engaging and mind-expanding. Even the state of the industry address by PMA CEO Cathy Burns delved deep into technology and non-traditional produce industry topics.peyPeyton Manning

Peyton Manning, one of the most decorated NFL quarterbacks of all time, used his experiences on the football field to discuss “lessons in leadership.” He opined that creating collaboration through a team effort is the most powerful way to enact change and produce a win. He noted that “aggressive discipline” and “relentless preparation” were his two most important advantages in the world of sports.

“Preparation is where I got the edge,” he said. “I knew I could out-prepare anyone.”

Using a millennial concept that both belies his status as a veteran and defines his profession, Manning said he “embraced disruption” throughout his career, calling it one of his “go-to plays.” He said resiliency and being “prepared to pivot” were necessary elements of any winning game plan.

“You can’t let setbacks terrify you,” he said. “You have to be able to change strategy without changing your goals.”

Manning was always very well known for being able to change the play at the line of scrimmage — an audible in football vernacular. This concept, he said, is a winning strategy in any endeavor. He also noted that another football — and life — truism for any quarterback is having the ability to solve a problem from any angle. Of course, quarterbacks are often put into body-bending positions that test that concept, as are leaders in any profession.

The Manning presentation was followed by Q&A discussion with Bruce Taylor of Taylor Farms, who explored further what made the famous quarterback tick. Manning continually came back to the concept of team. It is clearly what he misses most and what he credits most for his success.

The pursuit of success was also front-and-center during the keynote address featuring Leslie Odom Jr. and his life coach Stuart K. Robinson. Odom played Aaron Burr in the original cast of the record-breaking Broadway play “Hamilton,” while fellow actor, acting coach and father-in-law Robinson has helped guide him through the more challenging times in his career.

Along with moderator Kevin Coupe of The Morning News Beat, the threesome discussed “Thinking Past Tomorrow,” which was the abridged title of their session. Odom revealed that he had to back out of a very lucrative television contract to accept the role in Hamilton. At the time, it was a huge sacrifice as the television contract was money in the bank while the play was a dream with no certain future.

Like Manning, Odom credited teamwork for the success of Hamilton. He said it was a collaborative effort with everyone rowing in the same direction. Robinson advised the audience to move beyond fear as you “move forward and do what you do.” He said the fear of being wrong tends to stop creativity, which he decries.

The other keynote session was a bit of a reach when it came to connecting to the experiences of the audience. PMA’s stated goal for the session was to expose the fresh produce industry to disruptive innovation that has altered other sectors, including the medical profession.

Jaydev P. Desai, professor of medical robotics and human augmentation at Georgia Tech University, and Andrew Pelling, inventor and founder of The Pelling Lab in Canada, discussed disruption in their disciplines and how it has changed their respective worlds.

Desai took the audience through the evolution of the use of robotics in medical procedures and surgeries. He noted that the advancements have been monumental and indicated that it was the ability to accept these disruptions that has caused the advancements.

Pelling noted how his collaborative team of young researchers has tackled even seemingly ridiculous pursuits in an effort to find answers. He said one project involved trying to grow muscles in a leaf. While that was unsuccessful, it did lead to other research solving other problems. His message was that thinking outside the box is truly the entry to amazing discoveries.

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