Deborah Walden-Ralls, Eller Executive MBA ’13
By Liz Warren-Pederson
Deborah Walden-Ralls was born and raised in Sahuarita, Arizona, where her grandfather founded Farmers Investment Company/The Green Valley Pecan Company. Though she spent her childhood on the farm, she never expected to work there after college, and at first, she didn’t.
After graduating from Judson Boarding School, Walden-Ralls got a job with the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale, and completed her undergraduate degree in hotel and restaurant management at Scottsdale Community College and Northern Arizona University. She joined commercial printing firm Wallace as a sales rep, but then she got married and started a family – which prompted her to rethink her career.
“I thought, what can I do that works with my children’s schedules?” she said. She decided to teach. After completing a graduate degree in education from the University of Phoenix, she taught second grade at Friendly House in South Phoenix. Then she had an opportunity to teach sixth grade in Coolidge. “It was a way to get back to my small-town roots,” she said.
Then, a year into teaching in Coolidge, her father came to her and asked for help. “He used to talk about my brother taking over, and I’d be like, ‘What about me?” she said. “But it wasn’t even in the back of my mind by this point. Then when he came to me for help, I knew I should give it a try.” She agreed to give him a year – but that year will be ten years in July.
Walden-Ralls came in as a project marketing manager focused on the farm’s retail business. “I gutted the store, revamped the space, and created a new website,” she said. “I grew up knowing all our employees, so making a change like that, and having success, was a way to make a mark.”
In many family businesses, she said, the next generation doesn’t carry on the business. But her brother came on a year ago as an assistant farm manager. “Having him back is awesome – this is something we’re doing together,” she said. Their father is still president and CEO, and she said her grandfather worked until three weeks before he passed away while her uncle didn’t retire until he was 85.
The business has changed dramatically since her grandfather founded it in 1937. “We’re a global company now,” she said. The Green Valley Pecan Company has buyers in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. She was ready to build her international business acumen. “This was the right time to pursue an MBA,” she said. “And I’m ready to move up to the executive team.”
The Eller Executive MBA has already proven useful, as Walden-Ralls has been able to apply the knowledge immediately. “It’s made me more confident in my abilities,” she said.
Top photo by Dan Lamont.