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Reconnecting with Ricardo

A few weeks ago, I was able to fulfill one of my bucket list items:  I visited the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.  I really didn’t know much about The Galapagos Islands but heard so many people talk about visiting them and I heard rumors that they were disappearing into the ocean, so I figured I needed to get there as soon as possible.

So, a year ago, Jack and I planned a trip there in late October.  Of course, we snorkeled, we learned about the geography and the tectonic plates that are shifting nearby under the ocean (which can make the islands appear as if they are sinking) and saw the famed Blue-Footed Boobie.

What was amazing about the 4 days we spent on a boat touring a few islands was that whether in the ocean or on the land, the animals were not afraid of humans, nor were they aggressive.  Our guide told us it was because there are no predators, so they have no reason to be afraid.  It was fascinating to get so close to so many animals.

But the icing on the cake was what happened at the end of our trip at the Guayaquil airport.

When we first landed in Quito, Ecuador, I recalled that one of my first Frieda’s company interns more than 20 years ago was from Ecuador.  His name is Ricardo and I took a chance and sent him a message on LinkedIn to let him know that we were coming to his beautiful country. I was pleasantly surprised that he answered me right away and informed me that he lived close to the Guayaquil airport. Because we ended up having a 4-hour layover at that airport at the end of our trip, we agreed to meet up in one of the coffee shops at the departure lounge.

Ricardo hasn’t changed a bit!  We recognized each other right away and sat down and caught up, non-stop for 2 hours.

He and his wife Jenny now have 2 teenage kids and he has started his own business.  In addition to a consulting business where he does freelance business analytics for several Ecuadorian companies, he is also an adjunct professor at a University and teaches students about analytics.  He has a small farm, where he grows cocoa and gave us samples to take home, to make our own homemade “hot cocoa”.

The two hours together just flew by, and as we got up to say good-bye, we hugged and I said to Ricardo “Your visit made my day!”.  He took a deep breath and said, “Karen, you made my life!”

I was stunned.  He then went on to tell me that as a Fulbright Scholar at UC Davis 20 years ago, he had identified “Frieda’s Specialty Produce” as the California company that he wanted to intern with, after graduation.  His advisor, Dr. Roberta Cook is a close friend of mine, so when she referred Ricardo to me, I immediately found a way to give him an internship for the summer.  He started as our very first Food Safety Coordinator, but when there was a company opening for a Business Analyst, he impressed us with his Excel and analytical skills and we hired him as a full time employee.  Then, we learned together about the power of analytics, and he worked for us in our California office.  When he returned to Ecuador 2 years later, he was our first remote employee (we used Skype and our VPN to stay connected) and he continued working for us for a year or two.

He then told me that he used the skills he learned at Frieda’s and became an entrepreneur and launched his own Analytics Business.  He told me that working for Frieda’s changed the trajectory of his career and his life.

His story brought tears to my eyes and warmed my heart.  My personal mission is “changing  people’s lives for the better”, and I had no idea the impact of our few years of working together.

So, as I think about my trip to Ecuador, which seemed so far away and foreign to me, I now have a very personal connection to the country.

Of course – it was also very special to experience standing right on the equator the day we arrived!

The Galapagos are only a two-hour flight off the west coast of Ecuador and are not disappearing into the ocean anytime soon. I hope you will have the opportunity to visit the place where famed geneticist Charles Darwin made his discovery of the “Survival of the Fittest”.  It is a fascinating country.

And, on your next trip, perhaps you too will reconnect with someone via social media and make a fantastic new memory!

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