Leaders in the Industry – Joan Daleo

Show That You Belong


If you ask those who know Joan Daleo what she is known for, the answers are between “leadership” and “Christmas Cookies.” Yes, the CEO of St. Louis foodservice distributor Ole Tyme who sits on industry boards, is on the Executive Committee for PRO*ACT. A sought-after speaker is an excellent baker, shipping thousands of cookies during the holidays.

“Guilty.” Sheepishly admits Joan when pressed on her baking prowess. “My parents loved sharing this gift with family and friends, and my husband and I do too. Plus, it takes my mind off the inevitable recall that happens smack dab in the middle of the season.”

Joan Daleo’s sense of humor is warm and deliberate. Deliberate is a word that describes Joan well. A veritable living example of someone who works intentionally, growing Ole Tyme’s business reach throughout the St. Louis region since taking the reins from her dad in 2000.

“My parents started Ole Tyme in 1973 as a produce retailer, and from day one, I was bagging groceries after school and stocking shelves in the summer,” Daleo recalls. “But, when I was a little girl, it wasn’t my mindset to run a company. What I saw from my vantage point growing up was women went to work FOR someone. That little girl would be terrified to sit in the seat that I am in right now.”

But her journey to the top isn’t one of birthright; it includes stops at Reed College for her undergraduate and at the headquarters for a major utility, where Joan chaffed at the slow pace of the corporate world.

Soon, she came back to St. Louis and earned her MBA from Washington University in ’92 – studying at night while learning the ropes for the family business during the day. “I had no intention of staying at Ole Tyme – I always thought I was built for bigger things. But, there were many ways to contribute – accounting, sales, customer service, purchasing. It was exciting as I was able to apply what I was learning right away to make the company more efficient and profitable.”

When asked what the landscape for women in the industry was like in 1993, Joan slowly drawled, “well, I have a lot to say about this. When I arrived on the national scene – there were so few women in leadership. People often only promote or give opportunity to people that look and think like them. It’s natural. But it has led to less diversity in leadership. Not just gender or racial diversity, but the diversity that comes of ideas, perspectives, and styles that serve to strengthen companies.”

“The whole industry has been handcuffed by the lack of diversity. We are losing out on the bright minds and thoughtful perspectives that are propelling companies in other sectors.”

Joan paused before adding: “but this isn’t the fault of one group of people. We all need to intentionally, actively work against those tendencies. I want women to show that you belong, bringing their creativity, experience, and perspectives to their position.”

“If I were starting today, I would jump at every opportunity to sit on boards, attend meetings, and learn from others. The exchange of ideas and perspectives is vital to challenge conventional norms, and if there is an industry beholden to conventional norms – it’s fresh produce.”

Joan is anything but conventional, taking creative approaches to sourcing, customer service, and operations – which has led to admiration across the industry. “Joan commands respect with her education, experience, and passion for this industry – when she talks, people listen,” shared PRO*ACT CEO Chip Walker. “Her understanding of every aspect of this industry is unrivaled – which leads to people from across the supply chain reaching out to her for advice and mentoring.”

When asked about the future, Joan excitedly stated: “The future is bright! I see a willingness for this new generation to work against the self-selection bias that exists. They see the advantage in inclusivity – in diversity. Those companies that are codifying a way to attract and develop employees in an inclusive way are leading the industry.”

Thanks, Joan, for the example of leadership in our industry!


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