When Fernando Aguirre, Chairman and CEO of Chiquita Brands International, walked out on stage for his presentation at CSCMP's Annual Global Conference in Philadelphia, he was pulling a pallet jack loaded with boxes of bananas. He then proceeded to demonstrate, to appreciative laughter, that he knew how to operate the equipment.
That set the tone for an interesting, and at times inspiring, speech by the executive, who rose from modest circumstances in Mexico to eventually head the giant produce grower and seller. Aguirre told his life story, including tales of how his parents, mentors, and managers influenced the course of his career. He also peppered the presentation with scenes from his experience on the TV show "Undercover Boss," including stints harvesting lettuce, driving a forklift in a warehouse (he completed driver-certification training beforehand), and working with an import coordinator at one of Chiquita's offices. Aguirre's personal experience with supply chain operations and the people who make them work proved to be "life-changing and inspirational" and influenced some of the changes he has implemented at the company, he said.
He also talked about his leadership philosophy, "LEAD"—learn, execute, adapt, and direct—and how a company's success depends on the "passion and commitment" of employees. Aguirre arrived at Chiquita six years ago, tasked with rescuing the company from bankruptcy. He quickly recognized that company employees lacked a sense of purpose and commitment. In response, he instituted a corporate mission to improve nutrition worldwide, as well as programs to recognize individual and team contributions, improve productivity, and open up direct communication between employees at all levels worldwide.