George Szczepanski of IFPA named executive director at NWA
After 19 years leading the National Watermelon Association as executive director, Bob Morrissey will retire this coming March. He will be succeeded by George Szczepanski, a 12-year veteran of the Produce Marketing Association and the newly formed International Fresh Produce Association, who currently holds the position of director of production, supply chain and environmental policy.
The transition will become official in February at the conclusion of the National Watermelon Association convention in Asheville, NC. Morrissey will stay on for another month after the convention wraps to ensure a smooth transition.
“It’s been a long and successful road for us,” said Morrissey, “and I feel great about where things stand for NWA. The last two years (COVID-19) were the toughest that I have seen in my entire produce industry career, with just about everything changing in one way or another, and it verifies that it is the right time for me to move on. Actually, the timing is perfect, as the search committee identified a fine, young candidate to move the association forward for years to come.”
Morrissey announced his intention to retire four years ago, and the NWA launched a search for his replacement over a year ago. A search committee, chaired by John Gee of Eagle Eye Produce, had a strong pool of applicants to consider before whittling down the options.
“We had a rigorous interview process with input from our 11-member search committee representing the entire country coast to coast,” said Gee, “and George emerged as the best candidate. His education and his experience at IFPA were big factors, especially his work in Washington, DC.”
Szczepanski is a graduate of St. Joseph’s University with a bachelor’s degree in food marketing, and the University of Delaware with a master’s degree in agricultural and natural resource economics. Prior to joining PMA, he worked on a wide variety of critical industry issues and initiatives, including international trade economics, international marketing, agricultural investments, global trade and retail solutions. All told, he has 15 years of experience in the produce industry.
“I’m excited to join this association, which I’ve admired for many years,” Szczepanski said. “The positive influence that NWA’s advocacy work has had on public policy, and the solid programs that they have in place with pest and disease research, food safety and promotions is impressive. There are challenges ahead for agriculture, which means that the relevancy and importance of the NWA will be more important than ever.”
During his nearly two decades at the helm of NWA, Morrissey grew the association and implemented a number of upgrades to its communications programs, created numerous new member services, recognition programs and boosted the profile of the NWA’s annual convention, which Morrissey is fond of calling “the Watermelon Family Reunion.”
He also implemented an annual research grant program, created a viable food-safety program and ramped up the association’s extensive lobbying efforts.
“Bob’s tireless efforts and contributions to the association and to the watermelon industry have been monumental,” said Gee. “We’re grateful for his leadership, talents, integrity and stewardship over the years. Our entire leadership is grateful for his service and dedication, and we look forward to a smooth succession to new leadership and a bright future with George.”
As for what lies ahead for Morrissey, he said he will wait for that to come to him, but any opportunity to serve would be outside the watermelon industry.
“I want George to be viewed as the man in charge,” he said, “and he does not need me to be hanging around. I wish for George to be more successful than I ever was at NWA. Hopefully with the foundation that we have in place, that will be the case.”
Szczepanski lives in Claymont, DE, with his wife, Laura, 4-year-old daughter, Maddie, and two-year-old son, Jay.
Top photo: George Szczepanski