By Ernie Neff
It didn’t take long for senior managers at Dundee Citrus Growers Association (CGA) to recognize they had acquired a special talent when Steven Callaham was hired in 1999. Callaham came from Lake Wales Citrus Growers Association, where he had worked for four years after college. He made the move because the Lake Wales cooperative closed its packinghouse and chose Dundee Citrus Growers Association to pack its members’ fruit.
“It was recognized early on by Frank Dunnahoe, our former general manager, and my father (the late William L. Raley, then chairman and president), the great leadership potential that Steven had,” Lindsay Raley recalls. At the time, Raley was a board member; he is now chairman and president.
Callaham was quickly promoted from harvesting manager to vice president of harvesting and procurement. He became CEO in 2003, at age 32. He reports directly to Raley and the Dundee board of directors.
“He’s a very special individual,” says Raley, who uses the same words as board member David Wheeler to describe Callaham’s work ethic. Both call him “one of the hardest working individuals” they’ve ever met. “The board and myself almost have to force him to take a vacation,” Raley declares.
Callaham says he has interests other than work: “I do like to fish, but while I’m fishing I think about work.”
Raley and Wheeler both describe Callaham as a very innovative thinker. “To say that he thinks outside of the box would be a major understatement,” Wheeler says.
Callaham has initiated some of the key new programs that have kept the association’s packinghouses running while many others closed during the HLB era. “He has brought many new sources of income to Dundee CGA, including packing peaches and blueberries, warehouse leasing, and storage, just to name a few,” Wheeler says. “His initiative for the (tree) planting incentive program and the CUPS project will leave a lasting impact on the industry.”
Others give Callaham much of the credit for Dundee CGA’s continued effective operation. They say he doesn’t claim any credit for himself. Raley says the CEO is “unassuming, very modest, somewhat private and avoids the limelight.”
Wheeler adds: “Some of his personal qualities include integrity, intelligence and obviously he is a humble person. In my years of working with him, I’ve never heard him raise his voice or be aggressive toward anyone.”
Raley says Callaham has incredible patience and “a great relationship with our growers.” Callaham thoroughly “understands every aspect” of Dundee CGA’s business, from fruit production and harvesting to packing and marketing the end product to customers, adds Raley.
David Wheeler’s brother, Mark, says Callaham is exceptional for “being pragmatic, a pioneering thinker” and having the ability “to navigate many strong personalities in stressful times.” He adds that Callaham is “always going to build a better mouse trap, communicate his vision thoroughly, and won’t get mired or derailed by skepticism or negativity … At a time when many of the production and marketing practices that laid the foundation of our industry are being thrown out the window, he’s been a much-needed focused and poised leader who still consistently produces tangible results.”
Many outside Dundee recognize Callaham’s leadership abilities. He serves on the boards of Florida Citrus Packers (FCP) and Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and is a former FCP president. “But his focus is here,” Raley says.
“He is a big part of Dundee’s success, and as a board member I feel blessed to have him here,” says David Wheeler.
“He’s dedicated to Dundee CGA, the longevity of this organization and its grower members,” Raley concludes. “We’re not going to sit idly by and let HLB whip Dundee CGA.”
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