Every year, we frequently share details on this platform around the Peruvian table grape season, the new varieties, broken records of cartons produced, technology advancements, and so on. For the first time, we are turning the conversation to the people leading Vanguard‘s North American thrust for our Peru Production. We are excited to share some details of the team that is Vanguard Direct.
We connected with the Vanguard Direct team including Gene Coughlin – Vice President of Sales, Ethan Williams – Sales Manager, Denise Smith- Sales Support Manager, and Tammy Collum – Sales Representative, to take a closer look at what makes the Bakersfield office and team so unique.
Vanguard Direct started in 2017, with Gene and Denise as the first two original founding team members. Since then, the team has grown to 10 full time staff and 6 seasonal staff members that come in annually during peak selling seasons. With no hyperbole, the group of tenured grape industry experts that Gene and Denise have compiled at the helm of Vanguard Direct is truly a produce dream team.
When Vanguard Direct came to be, all the now staff were thriving in various leading produce industry positions in California and other corners of the USA. We asked each of them what compelled them to leave their former roles and join the burgeoning venture that was Vanguard Direct.
We started with Gene. “It was a unique opportunity to start a new company – start from scratch. Knowing we were a true team with the growers in Peru, we knew we had a uniquely TRUE vertical integration offering for our customers. It was and still is very enticing.”
For Denise, after being in the business for some time, it was exciting to be on the grower side again and to bring the product directly into the USA. Additionally, it provided the opportunity to once again work with a number of people from her Sun World days – Gene, Tammy, Ariana
Tammy Collum was located in Chicago, but knew of the growth happening with the Bakersfield team. She knew the product was top of the line, and Vanguard’s growth was happening in the best region on earth to grow grapes. She took her passion for grapes and brought it to the Vanguard Direct team, splitting her time between Chicago and Bakersfield.
Ethan had previously been at Pretty Lady Vineyards for 8 years, some of which were undertaken alongside Gene. He eventually felt compelled to make a transition that would generate new challenges to grow from. With Gene at the helm, Ethan was instantly comfortable with the Vanguard Direct direction and jumped keenly into the new opportunity. “When I saw Vanguard was focusing their rapid growth strategy on premium table grape varieties, I knew we would succeed.”
With such a well-established roster of industry veterans that have been instrumental in the table grape industry, there was an understandably high level of optimism in the Bakersfield office. Additionally, it provided several of the team (Gene, Tammy, Denise, Ariana Rivera, and Kimber Dupuy) to once again work together stemming from their days at Sun World and as a Sun World Licensed Importer, bring the knowledge of those varieties to the group.
Why Bakersfield, California for Vanguard Direct’s home office base? Besides the convenient fact that Gene already resided in Bakersfield, the region is ground zero for the United States’ table grape industry. The personnel were largely centered in this region, with our core team already living near the office or being close enough for frequent in-person collaboration.
‘‘We own it” is our tagline at Vanguard Direct, and one we proudly wear. It guides us in our business. When people are buying our grapes, we may be in Bakersfield, and our fields in Ica, Peru or other parts of the world where we represent growers with the same varieties we have in Peru. However, when you work with Vanguard Direct – we are the grower,” shared the Vanguard Direct team.
In talking team dynamics, Gene shared, “When building our team, we knew we wanted a team that worked well together and got along. This is a high pressure, high stakes industry and that can end up being a challenging place to work when you don’t have the right team chemistry. We are lucky to not have that problem here.”
The “we own it” culture is also a fun one. The team regularly comes together for lunches and events to celebrate the team’s tireless pursuit of generating value for Vanguard Peru and for their customers.
The photo above was taken in Bakersfield on May 8, 2023, to celebrate the completion of the 2022/23 Vanguard Peruvian table grape season.
Front Left to Back Left
Jordan Root – Transportation Supervisor
Andrés Duque – Operations & Logistics Supervisor, West Coast
Dirk Winkelmann – President
Craig Stauffer – CEO
Gene Coughlin – Vice President Sales
Ethan Williams – Sales Manager
Front Right to Back Right
Tammy Collum – Senior Sales Representative
Sergio Sarabia – Operations & Logistics Supervisor, East Coast
Ariana Rivera – Food Safety Coordinator
Manuel Yzaga – CEO, Vanguard Perú
Kimber Dupuy – Sales Support
Denise Smith – Sales Support Manager