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MEET WF&FSA PRESIDENT-ELECT SANTIAGO COCK-RADA

MEET WF&FSA PRESIDENT-ELECT  SANTIAGO COCK-RADA

MEET SANTIAGO COCK-RADA
UNIFLOR, RIONEGRO, COLOMBIA

1. WHAT MOVED YOU TO SERVE ON THE WF&FSA BOARD OF DIRECTORS?

Being an active member in WF&FSA has always been a priority for us in our company. We firmly believe that being close and loyal to wholesalers is a key principle and one of the foundations of our business. I personally try to participate in every event. It is an honor and a privilege to have been invited to participate, initially in both the Emerging Leaders and Logistics committees, and then to become a member of the Board of Directors, starting out as Treasurer and now as Vice President. The opportunity to have close interaction and strengthen relationships with so many of our industry allies is of tremendous value to our business and to me personally. I therefore feel an obligation to help WF&FSA be at the forefront of our industry.

2. TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPANY

Our family business started out 28 years ago as Uniflor, which is our pompom and mum growing operation next to the airport runway in Rionegro, Colombia. After 3 years in the business, we decided to create Liberty Blooms, an importer in Miami that only sells what Uniflor produces. We have strategically decided to specialize in pompoms and mums and focus our sales on wholesalers in the US and Canada. This has allowed us to be on a continuous improvement path to perfect our production processes in order to achieve our goal of offering the highest quality chrysanthemums in the market and, at the same time, become the most efficient chrysanthemum growing operation probably in the world. In our case, Uniflor and Liberty Blooms are registered brands but are not product brands. We seek to help our customers set themselves apart by providing each with an independent, exclusive product brand in their market or use their own company brand if they choose to do so. This way we can help them position their brand, which none of their competitors carries, at the top. Currently we have 37 acres of greenhouses, more than 300 employees and distribute our flowers to more than 250 wholesale locations in the US and Canada.

3. WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU IN YOUR BUSINESS?

In the past few years we have been progressively experiencing an incredible surge in productivity by implementing precision agriculture practices, which surprisingly do not necessarily involve heavy capital expenditures. We have been able to substantially reduce our production cycle while maintaining high quality standards. This translates to being able to increase our production volume by more than 30% in the same greenhouse space. Such a breakthrough allowed us to survive very challenging times when the Colombia peso appreciated more that 30% against the dollar. This would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the networking and participation in industry events in the US in particular to keep ourselves updated on floriculture best practices, research and technology. We are now finding how we can unbelievably increase our quality standards at a lower cost level by moving away from chemical and towards biological soil management and nutrition.

4. WHAT VALUE DOES BEING IN THE WF&FSA BOARD BRING YOU?

Being in the Board has allowed me to understand the industry and its evolution from very experienced members and inspiring leaders in order to gather extremely valuable insight to help me make crucial strategic decisions for my business.

5. DESCRIBE THE VALUE OR BENEFIT THAT WF&FSA MEMBERSHIP BRINGS TO YOUR COMPANY.

The biggest benefit is that we get to interact with many of our current customers and get to know new ones in a single location, in any of the events we participate in. The relevancy and good level of all the educational programs is undeniable for us; we try to not miss any of the presentations whether it is Management Institute, the Floral Distribution Conference and, now that I attended for the first time and was very impressed by it, the University of Innovative Distribution.

6. WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE THING YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH AS A BOARD MEMBER?

I want to help wholesalers believe in themselves again and transmit optimism to the new generation of owners, executives and managers in our industry. Instead of feeling they are downbeat by uncertainty and overwhelmed by technology, I want to see an industry association that helps wholesalers embrace change, take advantage of it and even dare to command the evolution of our industry to secure the prominence of them in it. Who better to do this than WF&FSA….#IamWFFSA.

7. HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE FLORAL INDUSTRY?

My father started our business when I was half way through my undergrad program in Production Engineering, so I didn’t count on that business being my future at the time. I had the opportunity to do my internship abroad as a motorcycle engine assembly line worker with Kawasaki in Japan. I was completely submerged in their Just-In-Time work culture there. On my way back I did a month of travelling with my father visiting wholesalers, on one hand, and university campuses to start selecting top MBA programs to apply to, on the other. All programs required full-time work experience so I applied to Procter & Gamble in Colombia as soon as I got back. I finished my undergrad while working there and was so happy learning about perfecting production processes and branding strategy there, I started having second thoughts about doing my MBA abroad. My father made me come to my senses and I was admitted to a heavy quantitative MBA program in Carnegie Mellon. I helped out a bit at our greenhouses before I took off for Pittsburgh and realized I could help improve many things; that is, I really liked the flower business. So it only took me the first few classes to “feel the internal calling” to come work for my family business. I started working full-time for Uniflor in May 1999.

8. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE WF&FSA FLORAL DISTRIBUTION CONFERENCE?

Undoubtedly the interaction we have with customers at the tabletop display. We are always surprised by the good amount of wholesalers, even non-members that come visit our display. Our presence there in the Fall triggers sales for the rest of our production season all the way through to Mother’s Day and Spring.

9. HOW HAVE YOU USED RELATIONSHIPS DEVELOPED AT WF&FSA TO HELP YOU AT WORK?

It is through WF&FSA that my family and I have developed strong relationships with many of our customers. I am very fortunate to consider a good selection of them our close friends and my mentors. I count on their counsel and guidance as a serve in WF&FSA.

– See more at: http://wffsa.org/aws/WFFSA/pt/sd/news_article/122680/_PARENT/layout_details/false#sthash.3gAMkCIX.dpuf

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