With a buoyancy and seemingly endless reserve of energy, Elyse Lipman takes great pride in the journey she’s cut out for herself as chief executive of Lipman Family Farms.
“I grew up really proud of this company and my grandfather Bill Lipman, but I didn’t necessarily have it in my sights,” says Lipman, who has been at the helm of Lipman since January 2023 when she succeeded Kent Shoemaker following his retirement.
Lipman Family Farms was founded as a field-grown tomato operation in Southwest Florida. Today, it has operations in four countries and partners with a global network of farmers to market quality produce year-round.
Lipman joined the company in 2020 as chief strategy officer after being recruited by Shoemaker. “We all are where we are because someone saw us. Kent is a big reason why I am here today. Not only did he help me see the real opportunity at Lipman, but he gave me a runway,” she says.
In that challenging role, Lipman developed and enhanced the company’s strategy, emphasizing the company’s core values and goals while striving for ongoing expansion.
“The board went through an exhaustive search to succeed Kent Shoemaker following his 13-year career as CEO,” says Lipman. “I’m honored to be in the position to work with such a strong team of industry titans. My top four lieutenants have a combined 110 years of industry experience, and we have over 300 employees with over 20 years of tenure with Lipman,” she explains. “Many of these people I’ve known my entire life, and I look forward to continuing building on that.”
Lipman Family Farms, which is North America’s largest supplier of tomatoes and fresh vegetables, has a vast global network of strategically located farms, packhouses and shipping facilities.
“Lipman started as a farming company, but now we are vertically integrated crossing all of North America. There is a high level of professionalism,” notes Lipman. “There is so much history, a lot of pride and real human connections.”
The company is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2023, and under Lipman’s direction, is embracing technology in a big way.
“We celebrate the successes of our last 75 years as a company while also looking towards the next 75 years ahead of us,” explains Lipman.
Aside from being the organization’s CEO, Lipman is a fourth-generation Lipman Family Farms family member. She has turned heads with the many achievements she has managed in a relatively short amount of time. In her previous roles in strategy for the company, she championed improved product offerings, making a firm commitment to operate sustainably, and led the acquisition of Lipman’s first owned greenhouse in Mexico, a 75-acre structure growing tomato and vegetable varieties.
Lipman possesses a strong sense of self, and she is highly astute when it comes to problem-solving. A great communicator, she makes it a point to get to know the employees and in many instances, their families.
“People are at the core of every company,” says Lipman. “At our company, culture is such an important part of what makes us successful. That is our real strength — we pride ourselves on acting small, and we appeal to team players. We don’t have multiple layers of management.”
Lipman is fully aware that some of the challenges that affect the business of Lipman Family Farms are beyond her control, but she is comfortable in her abilities to work things through by staying focused and asking a lot of questions.
“The industry is often faced with macro challenges that are out of our control, requiring us to be adaptive and resourceful on a regular basis. Outside of that, sometimes our own success can be our biggest obstacle,” she says. “We always strive to challenge the status quo — to think about what more we can do, or how we can think differently about our market opportunities, competitors and customers with an eye on the long-term goals,” she says.
In her youth, Lipman’s desire was to become a photo editor for National Geographic — a goal she turned into a reality. “My dream job was to become a photo editor for National Geographic, which I ultimately had the opportunity to do due to disruptions going on in publishing and technology,” she says.
A highly driven, Type A personality, Lipman got her undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics, & Economics from the University of Pennsylvania before earning a Masters in Journalism from New York University, which she accomplished while working full-time at publications in New York City. This in turn enabled her next step: moving to Washington D.C. and setting up shop at National Geographic.
With an impressive resume that includes academic credentials people dream of, including an MBA in Innovation Management from the Wharton School, Lipman readily admits she likes to surround herself with the best and the brightest. “I continue to seek out and enjoy environments for learning with people who are dedicated, passionate and experts at what they do,” she says.
During her journalism years, Lipman learned a few other things after living in Argentina and Peru — in addition to learning Spanish. “It gave me a great view of the world,” she says. “I also learned what a powerful tool technology was. It became so clear to me that technology was disrupting a lot of industries.”
Before coming on board, Lipman worked at the prestigious World Economic Forum, where she played a pivotal role in launching its Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Her focus was on emerging technologies and fostering collaborations among diverse stakeholders.
Curious by nature, Lipman is even-keeled and leads with a growth mindset. “It’s being okay with not having all the answers. We can all only accomplish so much as individuals.
“We need others to achieve great things,” she says. “As CEO I have the privilege of working with brilliant, passionate people who are experts in the field. I try to offer a fresh perspective and help us think about what more we can accomplish if we set our sights higher and work better together.”
Clearly a multitasker, Lipman can’t sit still for very long. “I tend to have a good amount on my plate at any given time,” she says. About three years ago, that plate runneth over when Lipman and her husband, Story, became parents to a daughter, Ella Meriwether.
“Story is my No. 1 sounding board. He balances out my lofty thinking, helping me keep my feet on the ground with my head in the sky.”
Spending time with Ella and Story is what fuels Lipman and paradoxically relaxes her at the same time. “Being a mom puts so much in perspective,” she says. “Not many women get to work and be a mom – it’s a hard balance to strike. Doing something that I love makes me a better mom to my daughter, even when I’m exhausted. My husband and my daughter, that’s what I choose every day.”
Throughout her career, Lipman has learned to never back down from a challenge. “I always try and improve myself and the organizations I work in,” she says. “I have had incredible opportunities. I’ve been able to explore the world, but I haven’t followed a linear path.”
Moving forward, Lipman knows that what has built and evolved Lipman Family Farms for four generations is still relevant today, maybe more than ever.
“As a company spanning 75 years of my family’s heritage, I’ve witnessed how the business has changed, evolved and grown in many incredible ways,” says Lipman. “I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to build our business for generations to come. As we look ahead, one thing that will always remain is our commitment to being a people-focused company and remaining ‘Good From The Ground Up.’”
To many outside observers, it would seem that Elyse Lipman leads a charmed life, but in reality, it’s rooted in the principles that Lipman has stood for her entire life — hard work, dedication, passion and love of family.