President and CEO
Seattle Fish Company
Location: Denver, CO
Industry: Seafood and Specialty Gourmet
Derek Figueroa has a fish story to tell, only this is not about the one that got away.
And so begins his tale.
Seattle Fish Company, founded in 1918, is led by example through Figueroa, President and CEO. He said that he was shaped from early age lessons taught to him by his parents and grandparents, and that one of his favorite stories is how his grandfather and his great uncle had a small shoeshine business when they were young. Shining shoes in the town square, the brothers would each shine one shoe and then compete for the payment by having the customer judge which shoe was shined the best.
“This example from my grandfather resonated with me and taught me the value of service, customer experience, and competition,” Figueroa said.
It is his early life lessons in conjunction with his entrepreneurial spirit that has served him well over his tenure at Seattle Fish Company. Starting as an employee on the dock in a summer position, he was able to work his way throughout the various positions of the company gaining an appreciation for how each job, and each person, influenced success. That unique perspective provided him with the opportunity to learn the business and the culture of Seattle Fish Company from the ground up.
“From my experiences growing up in the business, I connect in an authentic way with my own employees,” Figueroa said. “I am a life-long learner, and an MBA and MS in Finance served a catalyst for my growth. I am able to combine the lessons I learned inside the company and those from my graduate work into a framework for increasing leadership at the company and in our community.”
On a mission to sustainably feed people, Seattle Fish Company is driven by the leadership aspiration to “Lead the Growth of Sustainable Seafood”. Responsible for the strategic and operational leadership of the 100+ year old company, Figueroa is a strategic, results, and relationship-focused leader with thirty plus years of experience in sales, marketing, finance, and operations. He has helped to make Seattle Fish Company the oldest and largest purveyor of high-quality, sustainable seafood to restaurants, hotels, caterers, and grocers throughout Denver and the Rocky Mountain area.
“Seafood in a landlocked state is unique, but that allows us to serve as an industry leader in our state and to punch above our weight on a national level,” Figueroa explained. “But we are undergoing a seafood renaissance! The supply chain and shifting consumer demands brought about by this pandemic will endure and seafood is well poised to take advantage of that.”
And for Figueroa, leading a business and an industry throughout a pandemic reinforced the truth that vision, mission, core values, and leadership aspiration truly matter. Increasing our investment in living our North Star and expanded transparency through open systems management will be key in attracting talent.
Over the next five years Figueroa plans to leverage Seattle Fish Company’s expertise in seafood and gourmet products by investing in the fledgling manufacturing division and growing that division to be 20% of sales.
“This shift meets consumers where they are by providing much needed meal solutions and reduces our exposure to disruption by new distribution entrants,” he said.
Figueroa added that industry leadership means contributing in a pre-competitive manner to promoting the seafood industry and positioning seafood as the protein of choice.
“Examples here include leading our national seafood industry trade association and serving on the executive committee of the Colorado Restaurant Association.” He added, “Sustainability is not marketing- it is making and inspiring real change that benefits our planet. This is a particularly strong passion of mine.”
An engaged leader and tireless advocate for the local and national seafood and hospitality industry, Figueroa serves as the incoming chair of the industry trade association, the National Fisheries Institute. Other former board service includes the Colorado Restaurant Association, Project Angel Heart, Colorado Restaurant Foundation, American Culinary Foundation, and the Seafood Industry Research Fund. Additionally, he has been honored with several awards from The Colorado Restaurant Association & Colorado Restaurant Foundation (Professional of the Year 2010, Reaching for The Stars Award 2012 & Distinguished Service Award 2016), as a Denver Business Journal Forty Under 40 leader in the business community, as an Ocean Hero by the Marine Stewardship Council, co-founder of the non-profit Sea Pact, and Volunteer of the Year for the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
“The world needs strong leaders who model principled action, exhibit integrity, foster collaboration, and inspire action,” Figueroa said, then shared some truths he learned from his former mentors who guided, challenged, and supported him. “Never stop learning. Surround yourself with smart people who are unafraid to challenge you. And don’t be afraid to take reasonable risks.” He also suggests getting involved by joining a board, a committee, a volunteer group, or a trade association. Invest in mentoring other people to help facilitate their growth and development.
“Focus on creating a people driven organization with a culture that believes in developing people,” he said. “And perhaps most importantly, remember that leadership is a journey, not a destination.”
Spoken by a true industry Titan, these are words to live by, not throw back into the sea.
"Sustainability is not marketing- it is making and inspiring real change that benefits our planet."