Alumnus, NatureSweet CEO Described His Path into Business World
Bryant Ambelang, a 1990 UT Dallas graduate and CEO of NatureSweet Tomatoes, discovered his passion for business while taking a political economy class.
A book that Bryant Ambelang read as a UT Dallas undergraduate planted the seeds for his future in business.
Ambelang, the CEO of NatureSweet Tomatoes in San Antonio, initially wanted to work in public service. But in 1989, his mindset changed after reading The Road to Serfdom, by economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek, in his political economy class.
“It was fantastic. Excellent. And it changed my life,” Ambelang recently told a crowd at TI Auditorium on the UT Dallas campus. “I wrote a paper later on about Hayek and I thought, ‘What an interesting opportunity – to go into free enterprise and to have the opportunity to change the world.’ ”
After graduating with a political science degree in 1990, he launched his business career that has included positions at Kellogg’s, Pace Foods and Campbell Soup Company before landing at NatureSweet, one of the largest tomato producers in the country.
Ambelang shared his story and the rise of NatureSweet during his visit, which was presented by the School of Economics, Political and Policy Sciences. The company is working through its business practices to address issues such as U.S.-Mexico immigration, job creation, obesity and the ability to feed the world population with affordable food, Ambelang said.
“What if I told you that over the course of the last 10 years that $1 billion has been contributed to those four causes?” he said. “…That’s approximately the amount of money we’ve invested over the last 10 years in building this company.”
Ambelang said the average person eats about 19 pounds of tomatoes a year, which translates into $4 billion in tomatoes consumed. However, he said only one of five people actually like tomatoes. The high dissatisfaction rate means there is a better way to create tomatoes that taste good, which presents an opportunity for NatureSweet.
“We wake up every day and we say, ‘We want to be the groundbreaking company of the fresh tomato industry,’” he said. “Everything we do, we want to focus on being the groundbreaker. But the way we do that is through people.”
He discussed how people ranging from employees who plant the seeds to those who ship the tomatoes are instrumental to NatureSweet achieving its goals. He pointed out that the most important person in the whole chain is the consumer.
Ambelang also discussed the company’s operations in Central Mexico, where it employs more than 4,200 associates and has 1,000 acres of greenhouses. He said NatureSweet is creating wealth and advancing the standard of living for its associates living in Mexico by providing educational opportunities, affordable healthcare and opportunities for home ownership.
Ambelang encouraged students find their place in the world.
“Go do something great,” he said. “You get one of these chances called life. So go do something amazing.”
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