Distinguished Alum: Mom's wisdom served Ana Klein well

A hard early lesson helped turn her to a life of leadership and achievement.
Fri Sep 21, 2018

Ana Klein is one of five people chosen to receive a 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from Sacramento State.

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Ana Klein ’95 (Accounting), ’11 (MBA) still remembers the blazing Central Valley sun beating down on her as she labored alongside her mother in the fields of Colusa County. It had been a long and exhausting day for young Klein, which as it turned out, was exactly her mother’s intention.

“When our eyes met, my mother said softly in Spanish ‘I’m sorry for the hard day. It breaks my heart to see one of my children working in the fields. But this work is something you must experience to understand.’ ”

Klein's mother said she could go other directions.

“She told me that I have a choice in life and that if I study hard and apply myself in school, I’ll never have to spend another day, much less a lifetime, toiling like this,” Klein said.

Her mom's wisdom struck home. The little girl with big dreams became the first in her family to attend college and now is vice president and chief financial officer of Sunsweet Growers, Inc., the world’s largest handler of dried tree fruits.

“My parents had about four years of schooling between them, but they were always very encouraging and pushed me and my four siblings to pursue our education,” Klein said.

“My experience at Sac State helped shape my life with great teaching, opportunities to network and real-life learning scenarios that contributed greatly to the position I’m in now.”

After graduating in 1995 with a degree in accounting, Klein landed a job as an auditor with Arthur Andersen handling banking and agriculture accounts, including Sunsweet's. In 1999, she was offered a job to become that company’s finance manager and just four years later was named Sunsweet’s first female and youngest CFO.

She credits the MBA program at Sacramento State for developing her ability to successfully share the story of Sunsweet’s impact on the global economy.

"In my MBA program, it was great working as a team and being able to provide the story about Sunsweet to vendors, customers, distributors, or brokers to expain how Sunsweet is contributing to the economy and overall to our growers and owners,” she said.

“Many aren’t aware of the fact that California is the only state that grows prunes. Here in Yuba City, Sunsweet is a grower-owned cooperative that produces around 60,000 tons of prunes each year,” said Klein, factors that contributed to Sunsweet's status as one of the top 100 most recognized brands in the world.

Klein’s advice on career growth: “Always be looking to do that little extra. Maybe it’s not quite in your job description, but that’s where other leaders are looking for the next person they want on their team or in the next role.”

Other honors for Klein include being named 2014 CFO of the Year by the Sacramento Business Journal, and 2015 Alumnus of the Year by Sacramento State. She serves on the California Dried Plum Board and is on the board for California for Land Based Learning. - Anita Fitzhugh