PRESIDENT, BALLARD FISH & OYSTER CO. Inc., CAPE CHARLES
Ballard left his job as an investment banking analyst in 2008 to focus on selling Misty Points, Chincoteague Salts and Littlenecks, oysters and clams that have been his family’s livelihood for five generations, going back more than 125 years. Ballard Fish & Oyster Co., which employs more than 150 people across all its locations, is the parent company of Cherrystone Aqua-Farms and Chincoteague Shellfish Farms.
Virginia leads the East Coast in hard clam and Eastern oyster production, according to a report from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. But the multimillion-dollar industry faced hardships in 2020, with restaurants closed due to the pandemic.
A graduate of Washington and Lee University, Ballard is an associate board member on the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and serves on the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association board.
In April 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Ballard to the state’s
COVID-19 Business Task Force. This March, Ballard announced the sale of Cherrystone Family Camping Resort to Sun RV Resorts for $9.8 million.
BEST ADVICE FOR OTHERS: Advice is the most insincere form of communication.
FIRST JOB: Retail associate at Wild River Outfitters in Virginia Beach
MOST RECENT BOOK READ: “A Time for Mercy,” by John Grisham
FAVORITE VACATION DESTINATION: Norfolk Canyon, off Virginia Beach
GEORGE C. FREEMAN III
CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNIVERSAL CORP., RICHMOND
Freeman’s entry to Universal Corp., the world’s biggest supplier of leaf tobacco, came through the legal profession. A former associate with Hunton Andrews Kurth, Freeman served as Universal’s general counsel and secretary for nearly five years. He became the company’s president in December 2006, and in 2008, he took over chief executive and board chairman duties.
A former Supreme Court clerk for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., Freeman lately has been diversifying the company, including the $170 million acquisition last September of Silva International Inc., an importer of dried vegetables, fruits and herbs. Along with the acquisitions of other plant-based businesses, including FruitSmart Inc. and Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients, Freeman expects 10% to 20% of the company’s income to be in that sector by fiscal year 2022, he said last year.
Universal’s $1.98 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ending in June 2021 was up 4% from the previous year, and it was one of 39 companies based in Virginia to land on the Fortune 1000 list this year.
Freeman also serves on the boards of Tredegar Corp. and the insurance company Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia.
CEO, FARMER FOCUS, HARRISONBURG
A sixth-generation farmer who grew up helping raise poultry, Heatwole bought his first farm at 23, learned organic farming, grew his flocks and in 2014 started Shenandoah Valley Organics, now called Farmer Focus.
Heatwole leads Harrisonburg’s sixth-largest employer, with more than 500 workers. Farmer Focus now represents more than 60 family farms that are certified humane and sell USDA Organic chickens under the Farmer Focus brand. Using a product ID, customers can trace their poultry to the farms where the birds originated and read about the farmer in online profiles.
In December 2019, the company announced that it had closed a $15 million funding round with Open Prairie and other investors, led by Richmond-based NRV. Heatwole said the investment for marketing and modernizing plants would increase the company’s volume.
Farmer Focus is currently expanding further, building two facilities in Acorn LC Industrial Park, a move expected to create 110 jobs.
NEIL A. HOUFF
PRESIDENT AND TRANSLOADING OPERATIONS MANAGER, HOUFF CORP., WEYERS CAVE
Houff studied agriculture and economics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1996 and joining his family- founded company — which grew from a dairy farm in Weyers Cave — building on specialized equipment that applied liquid fertilizer. Houff’s Feed and Fertilizer was founded in 1975, becoming a prominent Shenandoah Valley business. It rebranded as Houff Corp. in 2017.
The employee-owned company has its roots in agriculture, offering crop protection, seed sales and fertilizer. It also provides industrial services, including transloading, storage and third-party logistics. It expanded its transload operations to Clifton Forge in 2018, serviced by CSX Corp.
Houff Corp. also aligns with sister companies Blue Ridge Petroleum Co. and IDM Trucking Inc., which together form Railside Enterprises Inc. Houff serves on the board for IDM Trucking, which hauls more than 12,000 loads per year across the mid-Atlantic region. He’s also active in the Virginia Crop Production Association board, and last year he was appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam to his second four-year term on the state Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services, on which Houff serves as vice president.
WAYNE F. PRYOR
PRESIDENT, VIRGINIA FARM BUREAU FEDERATION, HADENSVILLE
Pryor leads Virginia’s largest nonprofit agricultural membership organization, with nearly 130,000 members. A Goochland County hay and grain producer, Pryor was elected to his eighth two-year term as the federation’s president in December 2020. His organization counts more than 500 employees in Virginia.
He serves as board president and chairman of the Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co. and as president, CEO and chairman of Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. Pryor also serves on several agricultural insurance boards, and he’s active in other areas of the industry, including serving in leadership roles for the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation & Rural Sustainability, as well as the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. Additionally, he’s a member of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Leadership Council.
One of the Virginia Commonwealth University alum’s current goals is to expand broadband access in rural areas, a focus of Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, which is advocating for full coverage in the commonwealth by 2024.
CEO, SHENANDOAH GROWERS INC., HARRISONBURG
In June, former Starbucks Inc. Chief Marketing Officer Ryan was tapped as the new CEO of indoor agricultural company Shenandoah Growers, replacing Tim Heydon, who led the business through its major expansion over the past 20 years and will transition into an advisory role for the company’s board of directors.
Ryan has an impressive resume, having previously overseen brand management at The Walt Disney Co. before joining Starbucks. He also has served on Kaiser Permanente’s board since January 2020.
Founded in 1989, Shenandoah Growers provides organic herbs and leafy greens to more than 18,000 retailers nationwide, all grown indoors with a vertical farming system employing hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics. Ryan says that the company has “the strongest track record and the best technical and biological know-how” in the indoor-grown agriculture market. The company made some major leadership hires this year, including Chief Operating Officer Cameron Geiger and Chief Financial Officer Mike Buckley, who hail, respectively, from Walmart Inc. and Postmates, as well as Chief Science Officer Tessa Pocock.
A Harvard graduate, Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in history and literature.