Citrus Reporter Monthly July 2006

07/01/2006 02:00:00 AM
Elizabeth Ashby, editor

Citrus organizations tap new executives for guidance

By Karen McEver

It’s the same church with the same members, but everyone is sitting in a different pew. At least, that’s the way the three major citrus groups look.

Commission’s new leader

The Florida Citrus Commission, Lakeland, has named Ken Keck as the new executive director. Keck’s appointment follows a wide but quick search for a successor to Dan Gunter, who went to the private sector in April.


Keck emerged as the top choice from a group of five applicants. Keck has been with the Florida Department of Citrus for three years as its general counsel and director of government affairs. He came to the department following a three-year stint as director of legal affairs for Florida Citrus Mutual, Lakeland.

“Keck just rose to the top of the list,” said Andy Taylor, commission chairman. “In addition to having a broad knowledge of citrus, Keck possesses sharp intelligence and integrity beyond reproach.”

The search committee’s swiftness to fill the position was probably a reflection, in part, of the sense of urgency within the industry to tackle looming problems and to have a director in place prior to the commission’s June reorganization. Tipping the scales in favor of Keck is the fact that he is an industry insider and understands the citrus department, the industry at large and the politics that swirl in and around it all.

During the reorganization meeting June 21, Steve Ryan was elected chairman and Cody Estes was elected vice chairman.

Mutual finds a successor

Florida Citrus Mutual has been looking for an executive vice president and chief executive officer since the departure of Andy LaVigne in February.


Mutual’s board of directors, with the help of a search firm, had narrowed the candidates to three and was expected to announce its choice in late May. In a surprising twist, it hired Mike Sparks, a 30-year veteran with the FDOC, on May 25th. The board confirmed Sparks during its annual meeting, and he officially assumed his duties June 15.

“We are elated, excited and confident and extremely please that Mike is making the move to Mutual,” said Jay Clark, interim vice president and chief executive officer. Clark was elected president of the association.

“We’re very fortunate to have found someone with Mike’s knowledge and experience to lead Mutual and help ensure the future of our industry,” said Marty McKenna, Mutual’s president.

Sparks has an unquestioned knowledge of the industry and has, over his tenure with the FDOC, earned the respect of grower community.

Citrus Processors downsize

The Florida Citrus Processors Association, Winter Haven, made the decision to downsize the organization following the departure of Lisa Rath Jensen, who resigned in February to become chief operating for Atlantic Blue Trust Inc., Lake Wales, Fla.

The newly streamlined organization will be no less active. Kristen Gunter, who had at one time served as general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus, will replace Jensen as executive vice president.

The association is divesting its Winter Haven building in favor of smaller quarters located within the FDOC facility.

All of the association’s committees remain operable, and board meetings will continue. As part of the downsizing, the association has requested that the FDOC assume responsibility for collection and compilation of processor data for the industry.

Changes bring optimism

The Florida citrus industry is struggling in new and uncharted waters since the end of the Citrus Canker Eradication Program. To ensure its future viability, the industry has an increasing need for leadership to guide its decisions and protect both the supply side and market side of the equation. And it remains imperative that the industry interface with the state and federal government.

The hiring of these individuals—all of them insiders, and all well qualified—provides another extremely important advantage for the industry. Based on their individual backgrounds, they share the best knowledge of one another’s associations and therefore have the potential to come together as never before to form a coalition to help solve the industry’s problems.  CVM

Karen McEver is the editor of the Florida Citrus Reporter, (863) 294-3838. E-mail is

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