Tradition Meets Innovation

Tacy CalliesProfile

A new generation of leadership at IMG Citrus takes the helm.

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From left to right: Chloe Gentry, Timothee Sallin, Veronique Sallin, Michel Sallin and Melanie Ressler

After serving as chief executive officer of IMG Enterprises for 42 years, Michel Sallin is passing the torch to his three children. Siblings Melanie Ressler, Timothee Sallin and Chloe Gentry have been appointed as co-CEOs of IMG Citrus and Cherrylake. The businesses are both subsidiaries of IMG Enterprises, a diversified Florida agri-business with operations in citrus, ornamental landscape, ecosystem restoration and real estate.

BUSINESS BEGINNINGS
IMG Citrus began in 1979 when Michel and his wife, Veronique, traveled to Florida seeking investment opportunities in agriculture. Their first investment was the purchase of 72 acres of Hamlin orange groves in Manatee County.

In 1980, while living in California, the Sallins began a brokerage business to sell Florida grapefruit in France. They developed a business relationship with a packinghouse in Clermont to supply the fruit. Continuing to purchase groves in Florida, in 1982 the couple decided to move to the Sunshine State with their three young children in order to grow and expand their citrus business.

After just a few years in Florida, the devastating citrus freezes of 1983 and 1985 destroyed all of the family’s groves, bringing their fledgling business to the brink of collapse. Because of this hardship, Michel and Veronique learned to build resilience and diversification into their operation. They chose to venture into containerized tree farming on their Groveland property and relocated their citrus operation to the warmer climate of Indian River County.

In 1999, IMG Citrus purchased a packinghouse in Vero Beach. With this acquisition, IMG Citrus officially became a fully integrated citrus company growing, packing and marketing fresh Florida citrus around the globe.

Recognition of and adaptation to changing production and market dynamics allow IMG Citrus to thrive in a challenging environment. The Sallins’ growth mindset and unwavering commitment to the industry have allowed the business to endure.

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LEADERSHIP TRANSITION
In a family-owned business, transitioning the first generation of leadership to the second generation is not uncommon. However, the Sallin family’s approach is unique because all three of the founder’s children will act as co-CEOs.

“When we decided to make this transition, there were different ways we could go about it,” Ressler says. “We could each take a piece of the company, or we could take the entire company as a family, which is ultimately the route we chose to take.”

Ressler says the goal is collaborative leadership. “Everything that comes down to strategy or the vision of the company we want to work on together, but we’ll still keep an operational role in the areas that we’re the strongest in,” she explains.

When Ressler first started with the family business, she was responsible for citrus sales to Asia. Over time, her role evolved into chief financial officer (CFO) of IMG Citrus and then eventually CFO of IMG Enterprises. Moving forward, she will maintain a strong role in finance, accounting, and citrus operations and sales.

Gentry’s involvement with the company began as a marketing intern while she was in college. She moved into a brokering role for the Cherrylake horticultural farm division after college but has since transitioned back into marketing.

Gentry has also taken on human resources and organizational development for the company, which she says go hand-in-hand. “We believe our brand is very much carried by our people,” she says. “We need to have authentic relationships and an authentic culture that our people will carry.”

Timothee has been taking on more roles to support the operations of IMG Citrus. He has been a member of the IMG Enterprises board of directors since 2005 and has spent most of his early career in sales for Cherrylake Tree Farm. In 2014, he was named president of Cherrylake, Inc., overseeing all aspects of the company’s integrated operations in horticultural nursery production, landscape construction and landscape maintenance.

As for retirement plans, Veronique says she and Michel are just looking forward to “enjoying the ride” and making time for hobbies.

Michel and Veronique will still serve on the board of directors for the company and continue to work on business-related projects behind the scenes at their own pace.

“It’s inspiring to know the company is in such great hands,” says Veronique. “We trust the children. They’ve had over 20 years of collaborative experience in the company; they know it like the back of their hand. They have a great vision for the future, and together they’re going to bring a new energy.”

SUSTAINABILITY AND SUCCESS
The siblings come together at multiple times throughout the day and have scheduled meetings every week to discuss operational updates, strategies and investment opportunities. All three also share an office space to promote further communication and collaboration.

“I believe that this really is in line with how we see our company culture in general. Work should be a collaborative environment where there is no one person calling all of the shots,” Gentry says. “When we come together and discuss and brainstorm we can generate better ideas and results.”

In the midst of the leadership transition, one thing remains constant: the family’s commitment to land stewardship.

“We have some guiding principles in terms of what this company stands for and what the purpose of the business is. The purpose of the business is to be a steward of the land so we can pass it on to the future generations and to also be stewards of the business,” Timothee says. “At the core of what we do, our commitment to sustainability is our guiding light.”

When asked what it takes to run a successful citrus operation in today’s environment, all three siblings shared their thoughts.

“Resilience, hard work and challenging the status quo,” Ressler says. “We have to keep looking at what we’re doing and understand how to grow and be successful in a greening environment. We have a lot of hope and faith that our researchers will find a solution, but in the meantime we have to figure out how to make it work.”

Gentry believes passion plays a large role in running a successful operation. “You’ve got to really believe in the product and believe Florida produces the best fruit in the world. That keeps us focused,” she says. “We want to make sure the industry gets over to the other side of this greening crisis.”

Timothee emphasizes the role of resiliency in achieving success. He says building resilience into the business and maintaining a constant state of preparedness at all times is what keeps IMG afloat. “Hurricanes, recessions and greening are unavoidable. It’s not a matter of if it comes; it’s a matter of when it comes. Leading an organization with a prepared mindset and encouraging each other to act on the opportunities hidden within the crisis will sustain the business,” Timothee concludes.

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Ashley Robinson

Ashley Robinson

Multimedia journalist