Tanimura & Antle Vice President and General Counsel of Labor, Carmen A. Ponce, was honored on Saturday, August 13th as our 2016 Sam Carrillo Award Recipient. The employee chosen for this award each year has the confidence to stand alone when necessary, the courage to make tough decisions, the compassion to listen to and fight for the needs of others, and the respect of her peers eagerly desiring to learn from her.
Carmen was introduced to agriculture by harvesting in the fields with her parents and decided at an early age that she wanted to pursue a career in law to help others. After majoring in Political Science at UC Santa Barbara, Carmen attended Georgetown University Law School and the School of Foreign Service where she received her Master of Science in Foreign Service and a Juris Doctorate Degree. She worked at a large law firm in San Francisco with 120 lawyers; she was one of 11 female attorneys there before moving to Monterey. In 1996, she joined our team at Tanimura & Antle and has been an integral part of our team ever since. In addition to her current role, Carmen is also heavily involved in the community where she serves on numerous boards, foundations, and committees.
This year, she is also celebrating her 20th year working alongside the Tanimura and Antle families and employees. Carmen is the epitome of a Tanimura & Antle employee who demonstrates attitude, ownership, and accountability.At the tender age of seven, Carmen harvested onions and yams in the field with her family. Carmen and her family worked in harvest for only a few weeks. While in high school, Carmen’s father left dairy work and he became a farmer, growing vegetables on 90 acres in Southern California. These experiences built the foundation of Carmen’s appreciation for the hard work we depend on so heavily in our industry.
Since a young girl, Carmen knew she wanted to pursue a career in law. Her interest sparked from a childhood memory of her parents’ meeting with a lawyer and seeing the relief her parents had after gaining legal advice. This memory helped to define Carmen’s career path; she wanted to be able to protect others by informing them of the law and their rights. So, Carmen studied hard in school, was accepted into prestigious schools, and later graduated with a master degree and law degree. Carmen also challenged herself to learn a new language in college, and she put it in practice by studying abroad in France at a French University and Law School during her junior year abroad. She never expected to use it in business but she recalls being pleasantly surprised that it came in handy when Tanimura & Antle opened a salad plant in Montreal, Canada (a French speaking Provence). Carmen has been working in law ever since and loves her career and its windy path.
Her career began at Tanimura & Antle in 1996 when she was hired by Robert Nielson, General Counsel. Over the past 20 years, Carmen has proven to be “an angel from heaven” to everyone at the company. Early on at the company, Bob Antle had the foresight to recognize that the agricultural labor law arena was going to get very litigious and the company needed a full time attorney to focus solely on employment practices. When the company hired Carmen, she hit the ground running. She immediately dealt with several cases and set up procedures to move the company forward in a positive, proactive manner. She took the reins on managing the Human Resources department and through her and her staff’s hard work and leadership, we have remained proactive on issues that have plagued other companies in our industry.
In Carmen’s role today as the Vice President and General Counsel of Labor, she manages all employment related legal matters, drafts policies and contracts, provides training and counseling as needed, and participates on labor committees for applicable industry groups. Carmen is also credited for several other healthy family activities. The Health Fair held in conjunction with the Family Fun Day, has helped numerous employees and family members detect life threatening diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Carmen has served on several boards for the past 20 years and participated in various others including: The Women’s Crisis Center Board; the Center for Community Advocacy; The First Tee of Monterey County and Future Citizens Foundation; California Bar Association, Agri-business Committee of the California State Bar; Women in Agriculture; Women’s Leadership Council (CSUMB); Western Growers’ Association, Ad Hoc Labor Committee Member; United Fresh Foods & Vegetable Association as a Joint Labor Committee Member. Carmen has made presentations and participated in panel discussions for various organizations on emerging labor issues, including H-2A best practices: Round-tables with the Department of Labor; United Fresh Fruits & Vegetable Association Washington, DC Forum; and the Agricultural Personnel Management Association.
One of Carmen’s fondest memories with us was seeing George Tanimura enjoy his 100 Year Birthday Celebration with his beloved family, closest friends, esteemed dignitaries and clients, and his Tanimura & Antle partners. She recalls that it was the last time the Tanimura & Antle patriarchs celebrated together and she was pleased it happened in grand style. Seeing the fruition of Bob Antle’s dream for Tanimura & Antle to provide housing for their employees with the completion of our Spreckels Crossing housing project is another memory she greatly cherishes.
Carmen enjoys that her work is varied, intellectually stimulating, and performed with a high caliber group of individuals that she admires. She advises others to believe that what’s in their hearts is valuable and worth pursuing. The most valuable lesson Carmen has learned during her career is that “time is your most precious commodity; use it wisely to nurture your mind, heart and soul.” She notes that she has had the privilege to work with many wonderful people. She is particularly indebted to Mike Antle for sharing his passion for his business and showing her that she had a role to play in it.
Carmen is a true champion for all and on several occasions she has spent countless hours listening to employees’ issues. Whether it is a personal or a work related problem, Carmen is always there to help. She has coached and developed several staff members on their career paths to levels never imagined possible. As an example, one individual was always fearful of public speaking and now presents to large groups frequently. Another has rewritten several documents, after a dose of Carmen’s red proof-reading pen. Carmen’s level of excellence and passion for what she does has made many of us at Tanimura & Antle better individuals.
In addition to all of her professional accomplishments, Carmen is a wonderful, dedicated Mother to her daughter, Analisa. Her commitment to not only her daughter, parents and siblings, but also to several friends is a model for all of us to follow. Thank you Carmen for your dedicated service and for all you have done, and will continue to do, for all of us.
The Tanimura & Antle Sam Carrillo Leadership Award was first presented in 2009. Sam Carrillo was Tanimura & Antle’s first harvest manager. He demonstrated true leadership and mentorship during his career with us. In the fall of 1982, and every year until his retirement, Sam played an integral role in forming our crews and building the foundation of our harvest management team. He shared his wealth of experience and knowledge with everyone around him. He led by example, taught others how to overcome obstacles, met the changing customer needs, and maintained a strong work ethic, all with a “can-do” attitude. Today, the award is aptly named after Mr. Carrillo and is awarded annually.