Chances are if you have celery with your wings at Buffalo Wild Wings or in your salad at any of over 20 other national chain restaurants, from Chili’s to Ruby Tuesday or when you shop at your local grocer, be it Publix or Walmart, you are getting celery grown, packaged and delivered by A. Duda & Sons, Inc. As a matter of fact, 33 percent of the celery consumed in the U.S. is produced by Duda Farm Fresh Foods.
Perhaps the last steak you enjoyed was from a steer raised on Duda Ranches? Beyond their land being used for farming or ranching, over 20,000 people in Brevard County call the 14,500-acre master planned community of Viera, a subsidiary of Duda, a place where they live, work and play. Tracy Duda Chapman is part of the fourth generation of the Duda family, which settled in Oviedo after emigrating from Slovakia over 100 years ago.
Like most of the family who work in the business, Tracy has a deep sense of, well, reverence for the legacy she and the other members of her family are stewarding. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama, and her law degree at the University of Florida, she practiced law with the firm of Dean Mead before being recruited to the family business as associate counsel. She was promoted to general counsel in 2000 and later to senior vice president, general counsel and CEO of The Viera Company.
GROWING UP & GROWING IN THE BUSINESS
“My father, the former CEO of the business, always told us we could do anything we set our minds to. After completing my undergraduate degree, I did a one-year internship, which gave me an overview of everything from planting celery and running a packing plant, to working in the accounting department,” she shared. “Then I went to law school and planned to practice law, specializing in real estate and property, separate from our company. But our corporate attorney, Cal Livingstone, kept asking me to come and work with him as he had to outsource more and more work. I did, and he was not only a tremendous man, but a great mentor. When he left, I stepped into his position as general counsel.”
“When I look back, my grandfather and his two brothers were very progressive in that they decided the ownership of the company should be equal between the male and the female heirs.”
“I enjoy the corporate administrative functions, but Cal encouraged me to grow and engage in the community.” Since that time, Duda Chapman has served as chair of the Florida Land Council, is the current chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and serves on the board for Shands Teaching Hospital and the Central Florida Partnership, while also serving two consecutive four-year terms as a Jeb Bush appointee to the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission.
Since a portion of the work she was doing with the company involved government affairs, working with state and local officials as well as community representatives, she decided she wanted to move from managing legal affairs to managing projects and people. When Joseph Duda became the CEO of A. Duda & Sons, Inc. from CEO of the Viera Company, she transitioned into that responsibility.“My role at Viera is more strategic, nevertheless it was pretty intimidating when I started. Though I had been exposed to all elements of the business, being the point person in the decision making process, right as the recession was hitting, was stressful at first. Yet, I was able to bring a fresh perspective to the great executive management team there and ensure the Viera business unit stayed aligned with the overarching strategic direction of the larger company.”
A PASSION FOR THE LAND
Though hers is the first generation where women are filling leadership roles in the company, the family has always shown surprising equality. “The business was so agriculturally focused there wasn’t a clear career path for the women like there is today, with me being a lawyer or someone being in communications or quality control. However, when I look back, my grandfather and his two brothers were very progressive in that they decided the ownership of the company should be equal between the male and the female heirs. Often only those who work in the business receive ownership shares or only the men, but that is not the way they set things up.”
“I always aspired to be a part of the family business and I gravitated towards law because I thought that would bring a unique skill set into the company. Even when I was in college and a cold front would come through, I would call my dad to see if he was concerned. Usually he would say, ‘Well, you can’t worry about something you can’t control. Worrying won’t stop a freeze.” Commenting on what she looks for in business relationships she said,
“I like businesspeople who are collaborative, who want to make the best decision possible, so they want to hear different perspectives and opinions. Even if you disagree, you make a better, more informed decision. It is important to know what you don’t know and to seek out the advice and knowledge of others. “The other side of that is being willing to share the credit,” she added.
“The team made a great decision or solved a challenging problem, not me. No one is successful on their own. My grandfather and his two brothers, when they were getting married, had a discussion about staying together or going their separate ways. They decided that together, they could be more formidable and effective than they were separate. That is part of our legacy.”