Sylvia Sanchez, HR Director

Saticoy Lemon Association

As the story goes, when life gave Sylvia Sanchez lemons, she turned them into a rewarding career in human resources for the world’s largest lemon cooperative, Ventura, Calif.-based Saticoy Lemon Association, which handles 9.5 million lemons a year marketed under the Sunkist® label. But that’s not how the story began.

Despite growing up in Ventura County surrounded by its fertile agricultural lands, and having a grandfather in the produce-hauling business, Sylvia earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cal Lutheran University. She worked for the local District Attorney’s office for a time and might have ended up in that field. But private-sector wages, combined with the need to pay off her student loans, led her to management positions with an HMO and a large staffing and recruitment company. HR caught her interest and, when a friend referred her for the position at Saticoy Lemon Association, she was happy to fill the role.

“I didn’t envision working in HR or agriculture from the outset, but I’m thankful for the path I’ve taken and I love what I do,” says Sylvia, who has been HR Director for the past eight years. “I have tremendous respect for the farmers who produce our fruits and vegetables, and all the hard-working labor that makes our industry thrive. It’s amazing to see how our lemons get from the tree to the end user. Before coming here, I never would have imagined everything that goes on behind the scenes in our operations to make that happen.”

Effective communication is a big part of the operation’s success, and her own success, Sylvia says.

“Being a woman in a predominantly male environment is something others might find challenging, but a lot of it comes down to understanding different communication styles and finding the right communications mix that works for a team. I work with a lot of great people, women and men. In the end, it’s about appreciating one another’s unique qualities and preferences.”

As a member of the inaugural UnitedAg WomenAg Leadership Academy, Sylvia has learned a lot about her own qualities, preferences and communication style through her academy activities. “Each time we get together, I’m always learning new things – about myself, my industry and my profession,” she says. “For example, I’ve learned to more confidently embrace opportunities for career growth and advancement, which I had sometimes shied away from.”

Moreover, Sylvia says the academy is helping her and fellow women ag leaders to better prepare for and manage ongoing changes in the industry, in terms of economics, technology, regulation, and recruitment and retention.

“We all see that many experienced executives and managers will be retiring soon. It’s up to us and our industry colleagues to find ways to capture this knowledge and experience and pass it along to the next group of ag leaders, many of whom will be women.”
Sylvia Sanchez