OBJ’s 2020 CEO of the Year: Michel Sallin

OBJ’s 2020 CEO of the Year: Michel Sallin

Michel Sallin is looking to the future after four decades in the agricultural business.

Sallin is CEO of Groveland-based agribusiness IMG Enterprises Inc., the holding company for Cherrylake and IMG Citrus, a family-owned operation with divisions in citrus, real estate, landscape construction and landscape maintenance. These days, he mostly spends his time involved with high-level, strategic decisions — and working on his succession plan to transfer the company leadership to the next generation.

In the past year, the firm — one of Central Florida’s top privately held companies as well as one of the region’s fastest-growing companies based on revenue growth between 2017-2019 — made substantial investments into the Florida citrus industry at a time when most other industry players were divesting, Sallin said. It was a risky move, but Sallin said risk management has been his main focus in the last 30 years, and it’s led to great success.

“We took a counter position because we believe in the future of fresh Florida citrus, especially Florida grapefruit — which is the best in the world. We also believe that successful and sustainable organizations are built during crises.”

For his accomplishments, Sallin was chosen as one of Orlando Business Journal‘s 2020 CEOs of the Year. The honorees will be recognized at an Oct. 22 virtual awards celebration. And you can read the full coverage in the Oct. 23 weekly edition.

Here’s more from Sallin:

When did you first step into a management role, and how are you a different leader today versus then? I started this business 40 years ago. During the first 15 or 20 years, I focused on building and growing the business. Then, my focus shifted to building strong empowered teams that could continue to grow the company. I focused on strategies, long-term planning, and building our company culture, identity, and differentiation.

Which of your business accomplishments in the last year makes you most proud? I finalized my succession plan, which is built around a co-CEO structure and self-managed teams.

Business executive you would like to spend 10 minutes with: Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. I admire his entrepreneurship, innovative thinking, embracement of new technologies and his focus on building a strong corporate culture to enhance the employee and customer experiences.

Hot topic in your field: Finding new technology for improved precision agriculture that will help us be more efficient while also overcoming the challenges of the HLB disease (citrus greening) that is impacting the Florida citrus industry severely

A new skill you would like to learn: Read music and play the piano

Who’s had the biggest influence on your leadership style? Probably Stephen Covey, but it would be unfair to omit Michael Hammer, Michael Porter, Jim Collins, Peter Drucker, Gary Hamel, Peter Senge, Hsieh or Frederic Laloux

If your leadership style was a work of art, what would it be? A symphony with everyone playing in harmony

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned during the Covid-19 pandemic? It is impossible to anticipate the next disruption to your business or where it will come from. Building resilience into your business and maintaining a state of preparedness at all times is essential. When faced with adversity, leading your organization by drawing attention to your organization’s preparedness and inviting your team members to look for the opportunity in the crisis will inspire and reassure your people, giving them the courage to act on the many opportunities hidden within the crisis.

What advice would you give to other business leaders about having meaningful conversations in the workplace about racial inequity? Focus on respect for people. Have a zero-tolerance policy for racial inequity: It is not only the right thing to do, but it is the best way to build a successful sustainable business. All people are equally deserving of respect and share the same basic humanity. Building a culture of trust, collaboration, open communication and mutual respect can be done. Being in agriculture, we have always had a diverse employee base regarding ethnicity, education levels and skillsets. We believe this diversity is a special strength. We are making great efforts through our recruiting, training and event programs to promote cultural identities, equal opportunity, integration, mutual respect, understanding and appreciation. In our culture, inequity based on race or gender is totally unacceptable and would be very detrimental to our business’s success.

Michel Sallin

  • Age: 69
  • Years in top position: 40 years
  • Education: MBA, HEC Paris Business School in France
  • First paying job: Truck driver in Johannesburg, South Africa, working for a small company moving furniture
  • 2019 revenue: $84.6 million
  • Central Florida employees: 323
  • Total employees: 489
  • Favorite cause: Sustainability. When dealing with the environment, your business, family, community or any project, promote the proper balance to maintain quality of life for generations to come.

Article first published by: Orlando Business Journal