PRESIDENT, BALLARD FISH & OYSTER CO. INC., CHERITON
Ballard represents the fifth generation of the 120-year-old-plus Cheriton-based Ballard Fish & Oyster Co. Before dedicating his time to the family business, Ballard worked in investment banking with BB&T Capital Markets.
Ballard Fish & Oyster Co. is the parent company of Cherrystone Aqua-Farms and Chincoteague Shellfish Farms, which produce Watch House Point, Chincoteague Cultured Salt, Misty Point, James River and Chunu oysters, as well as clams. (The company was once the largest clam producer in the U.S.)
Ballard serves on the Virginia Shellfish Growers Association board of directors and is the Virginia representative for the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. He is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization and the Virginia Seafood Council.
Virginia is the third-largest marine product producer in the U.S., according to the Virginia Seafood Council. The state in recent years has also pumped millions of dollars into the industry to produce more shellfish, which act as a natural filter in Chesapeake Bay waters.
Ballard also owns Cherrystone Family Camping Resort in Cape Charles. In April, he was appointed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 Business Task Force, which provides input for reopening during the pandemic.
GEORGE Y. BIRDSONG
CEO AND GENERAL COUNSEL, BIRDSONG CORP., SUFFOLK
This Suffolk native earned his juris doctorate from the University of Virginia and worked as an attorney before joining the family business as secretary treasurer. He became CEO of the 100-year-old-plus company in 1999.
Birdsong Corp. is the largest peanut sheller in the U.S. — with Dun & Bradstreet estimating it had more $62 million in revenue last year. George Birdsong was inducted into the Peanut Hall of Fame in 2015 and in 2016, the General Assembly commended him for his volunteer work and philanthropy.
He is active in Project Peanut Butter, which donates ready-to-use therapeutic food for children who are severely malnourished.
Birdsong also has been involved with a number of organizations, including the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Hampton Roads Business Roundtable and the Virginia Manufacturers Association. At Virginia Wesleyan University, he serves as trustee emeritus and is past chair of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges and the Obici Healthcare Foundation.
He has also served on the boards of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Nansemond River Preservation Alliance. Randolph-Macon College has a residence hall named for the Birdsong family.
GEORGE C. FREEMAN III
CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNIVERSAL CORP., RICHMOND
Freeman has been CEO of the world’s largest tobacco leaf supplier since 2008 and president since 2006. He previously served as the company’s general counsel, secretary and vice president. Freeman started his career clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. and Judge Richard S. Arnold of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Universal Corp., which reported $2.2 billion in revenue in 2019, acquired fruit and vegetable ingredient processor FruitSmart this year. In addition to leading Universal, Freeman also serves on the boards of Richmond-based Tredegar Corp. and the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia.
Freeman also is involved with the American Civil War Museum, the Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, the TowneBank Foundation, the Virginia chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges.
FIRST JOB: Driver for Gerald Baliles during his gubernatorial election campaign
FAVORITE APP: Fitbit
NEW LIFE EXPERIENCE RECENTLY: Not traveling overseas 10+ days a month
FAVORITE VACATION DESTINATION(S): Santa Marta, Spain and Kinsale, Virginia
CEO, SHENANDOAH GROWERS INC., HARRISONBURG
Heydon first became involved with Shenandoah Growers Inc. while earning his master’s degree in business administration from James Madison University. During his time with the university’s Small Business Development Center, he was approached by the company, which was seeking help after one of its founders passed away. Heydon hadn’t studied agriculture but threw himself into the company wholeheartedly. He became an equity partner and CEO in 1998 after completing his MBA in entrpreneurship. And in 2015, Heydon was named as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.
Shenandoah Growers, which produces fresh herbs, started with only 15 employees and $1 million in sales — but today its products are sold in more than 20,000 stores (including Whole Foods Market) and the company employs more than 1,500 workers. The company reported approximately $120 million in revenue last year. Under its That’s Tasty brand, Shenandoah sells organic lettuces, herb and spice purees and fresh herbs. Each year, the company produces more than 30 million certified-organic plants.
In 2017, Shenandoah Growers expanded its system of automated greenhouses and indoor LED growing rooms, opening a third facility in Sherman, Texas, in addition to existing operations in Virginia and Indiana.
ROBERT J. MILLS JR.
OWNER, BRIAR VIEW FARM, CALLANDS
A first-generation farmer, Mills owns Briar View Farm in Callands, where he runs the 2,244-acre operation with his sons, Logan and Holden. At the farm, he raises poultry and beef and grows four different types of organic tobacco, vegetables and winter wheat.
Before the farm, Mills was a conservation specialist for the Pittsylvania Soil and Water Conservation District. During his time there, a Perdue representative approached him to raise pullets, or young hens. Now, Mills raises 34,000 chickens each year, which are shipped to eastern North Carolina to lay eggs that will hatch and become Perdue chickens.
A Virginia Tech graduate, Mills was recognized by the Virginia Cooperative Extension as the 2017 Virginia Farmer of the Year. At his alma mater, he has served on the board of visitors and as president of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ board of directors (a position established by Tech).
Mills also is a commissioner for the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors and a past president of the Pittsylvania County Farm Bureau.
WAYNE F. PRYOR
PRESIDENT, VIRGINIA FARM BUREAU FEDERATION, HADENSVILLE
Pryor, a Goochland County hay and grain producer, is serving his seventh term as president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. The federation serves more than 35,000 producer member families, making it the largest nonprofit agricultural membership organization in Virginia.
Pryor is president, CEO and board chairman for the Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation AgPAC and the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability. He’s also president of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.
Pryor is a member of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Leadership Council. He was previously a member of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Advisory Committee and a trustee of the nonprofit Center for Rural Virginia.
Nationally, Pryor serves on the American Farm Bureau Federation board and has served in executive leadership for Jackson, Mississippi-based Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co.; Syracuse, New York-based Countryway Mutual Insurance Co.; Chicago-based American Agriculture Insurance Co. and American Farm Bureau Insurance Services Inc.