Leadership: From ditch digger to celery innovator

By Patricia Olsen

Family business writer Patricia Olsen interviews Sammy Duda, President and CEO, A. Duda & Sons, Oviedo, Fla.

Generation of family ownership: Fourth. David Duda, my cousin, retired as CEO at the end of last December. The board had gone through a selection process with the help of an outside firm and selected me as his successor in June 2022. After working with David for six months, I started in January of this year. I had worked in various positions in the company since college and most recently was president of our fresh food business.

Employees: 1,100.

Size of Company: We have four pillars: (1) Duda Farm Fresh Foods and our international business, which comprises 40+ patented celery varieties; (2) Duda Ranches, which has the citrus, cattle, sod and sugar cane business; (3) The Viera Company, our community developer of Viera, Fla. (master planned with about 30,000 residents) and its home building division; and (4) our commercial properties portfolio, about a million square feet of stores such as CVS, Verizon and O’Reilly Auto Parts.

First job at this company:  Digging ditches for the celery fields 30 hours a week as a summer job.

At what age? 13. You probably couldn’t do that now.

Most memorable things I learned from my father: He was also CEO at one point. My dad was very curious. If you’re curious, you’re always seeking to do things better.

Best thing about this job: It’s an honor, but also working with people to achieve results and help them succeed. The job is synergistic; it's fun to watch people succeed and to put projects together and succeed with them.

Our greatest success: We're the world leader in celery, in both volume and intellectual property.

Best advice I ever got: Be your best self. It’s not enough to be yourself.

On my wall: I play baseball in a league and I’m a baseball fan. My children gave me a glass case with six of my bats displayed in it that is mounted on the wall.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Leading a team that’s changing or redefining the celery category.

Our mission statement: Our mission as a diversified land company is to grow Christian faith and business integrity, land values and vibrant communities, families, people, and relationships, healthy food products, sustainable wealth and balanced financial returns for future generations.

Advice for other family business leaders: Communication is essential for any business leader ―c ommunicating the good and the bad.

Emerging from the previous generation’s shadow: In a family company there's always the shadow and the legacy; you're on the shoulders of the previous generations that got you to this point. I don't know that I'll ever be out of that shadow, and I don't know that I want to be. You're trying to enhance the legacy and the success that your predecessors achieved.

Books I think every business leader should read: Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. The lesson is that the data doesn’t often support what our eyes tell us, so don’t be fooled by your eyes. It caused me to look at business in a different way.

Concepts I live by: Try and understand people. I have a curiosity about why people think the way they do that hopefully leads to a better understanding.

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