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Mariana Aguiar is Several Steps Ahead

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Story By Caitlin Hamer

Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do for a living. Other people figure it out along the way. And sometimes you find yourself receiving surprisingly astute business advice from the most random of sources: an Uber driver.

“True story,” says Mariana Aguiar, with a laugh. “We were chitchatting and his life advice to me was that if your family has a business, learn that business because they’ve already laid a foundation for you to build upon. It resonated with me.”

The family business in question? AG Food Safety Solutions, which was founded by her mother, Gabriela Sandoval. Mariana had helped at the business throughout high school, doing tasks like helping navigate Microsoft Word, but when she left to attend San Francisco State University, she had set her sights on communications. However, once she realized that wasn’t for her, she found herself undeclared until that fateful conversation with the Uber driver. But she took a slightly different approach to educating herself for a future at the family company and began pursuing a business and marketing degree.

In March 2020, just months before graduating, Mariana found herself suddenly diving into new tasks at the company at her mother’s request. “I started and I didn’t realize how much of this stuff I had retained,” she recalls. She’s been working as a consultant for the company ever since.

While the beginning of the pandemic was rough on many businesses, it proved to be a busy time for AG Food Safety Solutions. “Because we do food safety and compliance, a lot of our clients turned to us to look for answers on how to suddenly comply with social distancing regulations,” explains Mariana. “Prior to Covid, audits would be these long, 8-hour days, sitting at desks and reviewing documents. But when Covid came around, we needed to find ways to shorten the times we were sitting in offices, trying to keep up with comfort levels and rewrite policies.”

It was fitting that Mariana helped usher in this new era at the company; with her business minded approach, she also brings a sharper understanding as to why and how the criteria and programs involved in food safety are the way they are. But she’s also deeply appreciative of the perspectives of the farmers she works with. “They’re some of the most intelligent people on the planet,” she says. “One of my favorite parts of this job is what I’ve been able to learn from my growers.”

She’s also learned just as much, if not more, from her mother. “I think it’s really fun,” Mariana says of working with her mother. “And I’m really fortunate to have somebody who gets it. Having my mom understand my rough days is amazing.” And she’s fully aware of the privileged position she has, working for the family company and inheriting accounts. “With that came with an inherited trust, because they trusted my mom. And with farming, I feel that people like to see that it’s a family business.”

Of course, she’s had to work hard to maintain that trust, and she’s also had to work on building relationships with new and old clients alike. Mariana admits that in a male dominated industry like agriculture, there are times when she’s struggled to be taken seriously, both as a young woman (she’s 25) and as someone who doesn’t have an agricultural background. But her advice to other women in a similar position is simple: don’t take things personally, and make sure to seek out the people you work with who make things good, because having them around will make the bad days better.

Although Mariana is still at the beginning of her career, she’s already thinking far ahead. “In my head, there’s a 3, 5, and 10-year plan,” she explains. Among her plans are goals like digitizing the majority of the company’s large operations, expanding the company, and eventually going back to school to further her education in food safety.

“I never thought I’d work for my mom,” she admits, getting emotional when she reflects on what that means to her. “I know not everybody gets these kinds of opportunities.”