Ethan Williams joined Vanguard Direct’s Bakersfield office as a Senior Sales Associate and was promoted to Sales Manager after his first full year. Ethan really knows his grapes! Over 11 years Ethan has held positions that might be defined as traditional sales and marketing. He also brings to the role some real “boots in the dirt” vineyard experience.
Let’s get to know Ethan a little more!
VG- Has California always been home, or did you re-locate for work?
Ethan: I am the third generation of Williams to be raised in Central California. My grandparents migrated over from Oklahoma during the dust bowl in 1930. I ventured to San Luis Obispo for my undergraduate degree, which was followed by my first produce career working for a vegetable grower and shipper in Santa Maria. However, I eventually found my way back to Bakersfield when offered an opportunity to join one of the best table grape growers in the country. That is where I met Mr. Gene Coughlin, who is now Vanguard Direct’s Vice President of Sales, and our relationship is what led to my transition to the Vanguard family in 2020.
VG – Have you always been destined for fresh produce? How did your career begin?
Ethan: A career in produce never even crossed my mind growing up. My family was not involved in the industry whatsoever, yet we had many friends who were. When it came time for college applications, my top choice required me to select a major when applying. I was only 17 years old with no idea how I wanted my future to play out. The combination of a love for science and growing up in a town heavily dependent on agriculture led to a degree selection in agricultural science.
When I arrived to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I fully embraced the beach lifestyle of flip flops and tank tops. Surrounded by students who grew up on ranches, dairies, and farms, I’m pretty sure I was viewed similarly to Pauly Shore’s character in the movie Son in Law. It wasn’t until a summer internship spent in 110-degree heat assisting with California table grape harvests that I found a love for the industry. I’ve never seen a greater work ethic than that demonstrated by those who spend 6 days per week labouring in extreme temperatures to pick and pack a beautiful box of fruit. It was a very humbling experience for me that led to a desire to work alongside them and eventually become an advocate for them in the sales department.
VG – We are well into managing a global pandemic – what have been the greatest challenges? Any positive outcomes of a change in SOP?
Ethan: From a sales standpoint, I feel the greatest challenge has been the lack of physical interaction with current and potential customers. We have evolved quickly by making connections through video conferencing, but in-person communication will always be superior in building relationships in my opinion.
Because we operate with personnel located in several states and countries, our operating procedures were already designed to accommodate many of the restrictions that the pandemic brought with it. This includes daily video calls and group messaging that ensure we maintain excellent collaboration and a united front in our approach. You could say we were ahead of the curve when remote work adaptations became a global requirement.
VG – Whose day do you impact on a regular basis? Who hears from you the most?
Ethan: We have a very close-knit team here at Vanguard and the way we maintain that connection is through constant communication. Whether it is our East Coast Operations Supervisor, our Procurement & Sales Supervisor in Peru, our President in Colorado, or our CEO in Washington, dialogue is continuous each day. This establishes excellent transparency of the supply and value chain, which leads to greater customer service through accurate information sharing with our partners.
VG – What has been a memorable moment of your time with Vanguard?
Ethan: Oh boy, without a doubt, the Great Texas Freeze of 2021 will forever stand out as a memorable moment with Vanguard. Being relatively new to the import deal, I proudly volunteered to spearhead Vanguard’s attempt at avoiding west coast shipping delays by utilizing the Houston port with no prior business connections in the region. It seemed to be a brilliant idea until our first wave of containers reached the port the same day the port’s power grid failed. The coordination of drayage, inspections, and transloading amidst the port’s efforts to catch up on vessel arrivals made for a very rapid learning experience, to say the least.
VG – What does your free time look like? Spending time with family, friends?
Ethan: Life has always felt short on free time, but that became even more true when my wife and I were blessed with beautiful twin babies last year (yes, their beauty came from their mama). They are growing too darn fast, so every second of free time is prioritized to being with my family and getting to witness each small feat the kiddos achieve daily.
VG – Do you have a favorite produce item? If yes how do you prefer to eat it (Snack? Signature Recipe?)
Ethan: Do the pecans in my grandmother’s pecan pie count as produce? There must be some nutritional value in it right? If not, don’t tell me!
My other favorite produce would have to be blueberries. I enjoy them so much that I worked with the University of California Cooperative Extension in college to update their commodity information pertaining to blueberry varieties, proper growing climate, and harvest methods. Whether I put them in a smoothie, in oatmeal, or just throw them back like I’m eating almonds, there’s always a good time to enjoy them.