A classical musician, truck driver, bookkeeper and CEO—what do they all have in common? They are all jobs Mary Jane Evans has held. As owner and CEO of Veritable Vegetable, a San Francisco-based distributor of organic fresh fruits and vegetables, if there is a job to do, Evans has probably done it. Even making a delivery run just before Christmas when a company driver was not available.
“We began as a very small collective, and we all got paid the same—and each of us did every job in the company,” Evans says of the early days. She joined the company in 1976. Those experiences helped make her a natural choice for the job of Veritable Vegetable CEO in the late 1980s.
But the organic food movement was not always where Evans thought she would land. She came to Veritable Vegetable with dreams of becoming a professional musician. “I was actually trying to support myself,” she says of why she joined Veritable Vegetable. “I was a classical musician. I saw that Veritable Vegetable was paying, and I needed to contribute to the household.
“When I came to work at Veritable Vegetable, my first mentor, Stewart Fishman … knew a lot about the politics of agriculture and food, and I found it very fascinating,” Evans adds.
Eventually, Evans had a decision to make: join as a chair at a symphony and try to make a music career work or stay with Veritable Vegetable. When she really thought about it, “[Veritable Vegetable] was more compelling to me,” she says. “It has been tremendously satisfying at Veritable Vegetable. I’m very happy.”
It’s safe to say that Veritable Vegetable is very happy with the decision as well. Evans has grown the company from a small collective with $5,000 in annual revenue to an organization with 135 staff members and over $50 million in revenue.
During her time at Veritable Vegetable, Evans counts among her mentors her mother, who was one of six girls, and a strong grandmother. Another big influence was Tom Howard, whom she met when Howard was working at Ryder. Howard now works for Veritable Vegetable, handling the company’s fleet. She also credits Nancy Feinstein, who worked as an independent organizational consultant.
“She really talked about leadership,” Evans says, noting that “women who tend to get into leadership roles tend to be more independent thinkers.”
To this day, though, music has remained a part of Evans’ life. She still plays the French horn for the Mill Valley Philharmonic and various chamber groups. Evans also enjoys sailing and bicycling in her free time. Regardless of the endeavor, though, Evans says one of the keys to her success is putting in the work necessary.
“One of the main things I’ve done is really study and try to understand all of the aspects of whatever I’m taking on; become a student,” she notes. “For women, I think it’s really important to stay within themselves and not [conform] to what men do. Trust in your own perspective.”
Evans has—and the organic food industry is better for it.