Todd Fryhover, new Washington Apple Commission president, does not see himself as an individual leading a group. “We’re a team here, and that’s a little different concept than in the past
When Todd Fryhover started working part time for the Washington Apple Commission, he had no notion that within two years he would be named president of the organization.
He started out helping with the export program on a contract basis, then became a full-time project manager, and was promoted to export director just a month before being appointed president.
"I had three different business cards in six weeks," said Fryhover. "When I stepped in at the Apple Commission, never, ever, did it cross my mind—and I mean ever—that I would be sitting in this position right here," he said during an interview at his office. "If you had told me two years or even a year and a half ago that I was going to be president of the Apple Commission, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy. Why would I do that?"
Fryhover grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, and at the age of 12 got his first job in the fruit industry dumping cherries for Chere Best in Wenatchee. He went to the University of Idaho on a football scholarship and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and agricultural business.
After college, Fryhover joined Chief Wenatchee, working first in quality control, then in purchasing and shipping. He was assistant operations manager before moving into sales. As a 25-year-old, he joined the sales team at Dovex Export Company, Wenatchee, lured partly by the opportunities to travel internationally.
In 1994, he formed a new marketing company called Sun Chief Marketing with Mike Nicholson and Bill Knight. Fryhover was the managing partner and focused on international sales. After ten years, the partners decided to wind down the operation. "The down side, for anyone who has their own business, is it’s 24-7," Fryhover said.
And it was a time when the industry was consolidating and changing.
"The domestic market was becoming the focus, as it should be, with 70 percent of the fruit moving that way, and we weren’t matching up with that," he said. "We could see it really made sense for our growers to be aligned with someone who was stronger on the domestic side."
While running his own business, Fryhover had invested in real estate with his father, and planned to devote his time to that. He found, though, that while the real estate business was busy in the summer, he had little to do in winter.
He called Dave Carlson, then president of the Apple Commission, and asked if he could help out during the winter. Carlson said he would hire him on contract for six months and for the first three months he probably wouldn’t travel much because he’d be in training.
"A week after that, I was on a plane," Fryhover recalled. The commission’s representative in Malaysia was extremely ill, and he went there to find another representative.
After three months at the commission, Fryhover was offered a full-time job. He emphasized that he needed time to devote to his wife, Siobhan, son, Reid (16), and daughter, Claire (14), and to coaching football at Wenatchee High School, which he has done for the past three seasons.
Fryhover said it was because of a person who coached him in high school that he was able to get a scholarship. His parents were separated, and without the scholarship, he probably wouldn’t have gone to college. Now, he coaches football to return that favor.
"For ten years after playing college football I never even watched football on television—I had no interest in it," he said. "But what I do have interest in is taking one of those kids that are maybe swerving to the left when they should be swerving to the right and getting them back on the path. That happened for me, and that’s the reason I coach."
Carlson agreed to work around Fryhover’s other commitments and gave him the new staff position with the title of project manager.
"What’s that?" Fryhover remembers inquiring.
"It means whenever I have a project, you manage it," was Carlson’s reply.
The projects turned out to be the bigger issues that are outside the day-to-day activities of the export program, such as lack of access in China for apple varieties other than Red and Golden Delicious, and delays in unloading cargo at St. Petersburg, Russia. He also was involved in redeveloping the commission’s Web site.
Carlson had headed the commission since it downsized in 2003 to focus primarily on exports. Last summer, the board placed him on administrative leave and began looking for a new president. The board has never said publicly why it asked Carlson to step down, other than it was looking for a new direction.
It received about a hundred applications for the position. Fryhover thought long and hard before applying. Far from being his own boss, as he was in the past, he’d be working for a board of directors and ultimately all the apple growers in Washington.
"Let’s face it," he said. "You have 3,500 bosses, so I had to convince myself that that’s what I really wanted to get involved with."
But Fryhover said that throughout his life, as doors have opened, he’s gone through them. "I came to the realization that this is a great opportunity.
"We’re trying to open up a new chapter," he said. "The number-one priority for me, moving ahead, is the effectiveness of the export program. That’s my job."
He will spend 75 to 80 percent of his time on export work. The commission is not hiring an export director, so he retains those responsibilities. One of the reasons he considered the president’s job was because of his thorough knowledge of the export markets.
His responsibilities include making sure that the promotions programs are working as they should and looking at how they could be more effective. Last year, the commission received $4.8 million in MAP funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service. Fryhover said he has a good relationship with FAS and his ability to communicate with the growers, the packers, and the federal government should be an asset in securing the highest possible amount of MAP funds in the future.
The other 20 percent of Fryhover’s time will be spent on outreach to the industry. "I think the Apple Commission has been off the radar a little, especially since 2003," he commented. "The board of directors has indicated that there’s a disconnect between the Washington Apple Commission and its growers and sales desks, in particularly. We need to bring this program to the people who fund it.
"There are a lot of good things that have been put in place by my predecessors," he added. "My job is to take those things, repackage them, and take them to the growers and the sales desks. The growers need to know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it. The sales desks, we need to be completely transparent with. They need to know our reps, they need to know the promotional activities, and they need to be able to feel the Apple Commission’s presence in some of these international markets."
He knows where the board wants the organization to go and how to get there, he said. "Now, it’s just keep your head down and work hard. That’s something I’ve always done. I don’t have an agenda. My agenda is the grower’s agenda. I’m here to serve."