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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Jack Pandol’s Son, Jim Pandol,
Reflects On A Life Well Lived

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 10, 2010

Our pieces, Remembering Jack Pandol, and Touching Tributes To Jack Pandol, brought notes of appreciation:

Thanks for the extra coverage on Jack Pandol… He was a worthy soul to praise.

— Stanton Kaye
Chairman and President
Infratab
Oxnard, California

Also notes from some who were very, very close to Jack:

I thank you for all the nice tributes you have printed about Jack Pandol. I spent 22 years working at Jack’s side and am very proud, as many others are to have been a small footnote in his special life shared by so many.

— Darrel Fulmer
Owner/Partner
Sun Fresh International.
Vlisalia, California

Yet after we ran all the official eulogies and the many kind comments that people sent in, we felt that there was more to tell about this most influential man. So we reached out to Jim Pandol, Jack’s youngest child who worked side by side with Jack for many years. Jim was kind enough to make an extensive contribution to help the industry better understand Jack Pandol and better understand the dynamics of a family business:

INTRO PART I

There are several ‘Pandol’ offices and entities now. Fewer of them are connected to Pandol Brothers today. In the last several years, Pandol Brothers Packing closed, Agricel (box making) closed, Pandol Chile closed, Agro Fro sold, Pandol and Sons closed/liquidated. A lot has changed over the past few years.

Below are a few things I wrote in two parts. First Part, my thoughts and things remembered that were important to me. Second Part, I lay out some thoughts of what he meant to the industry. There are some wartime things I also included. Please forgive some overlap between the two parts.

PART I

DAD AND BOSS

Beyond being my ‘Dad’, Jack Pandol was also my boss for most of my life. This was a unique relationship that I had with my father that my siblings did not have.

Pandol and Sons was a farming company and Pandol Brothers does marketing and sales. My father ran Pandol Brothers while his two brothers, Matt and Steve, ran the farming.

I started working on the farming side when I was 8 years old, working summers and weekends. When I was 19, I started working in marketing for Pandol Brothers, when I was not at school. When I finished university, I went to work at Pandol Brothers full time. In the earlier years, I did not report directly to my father but we would always talk about the business… what we were doing, and why.

My father was an entrepreneur of the greatest kind. He always had ideas of what we could do and how to get them done. I and the rest of the staff would work toward executing his ideas to make them happen and keep those happenings under control. I have said many times that Jack Pandol is one of the greatest visionaries of our industry, but God help us if we leave him to take care of the details. Such is typical of great entrepreneurs. I learned a lot from those visions — the possibilities of what could be done and what we eventually accomplished.

I eventually took the reins of Pandol Brothers in 1994. Now I was answering directly to my father. Being new in the position, I took a conservative approach. He still wanted to move full speed ahead. We bumped heads at times. However, after a few years, I could see that the programs and methods that I was trying were working — and my father saw it too.

During the few years before his health failed in 1999, he was accepting me as an accomplished professional and he was still near the top of his ‘game’. Since I was the youngest of his kids, it was a lot to overcome being the ‘baby’. My greatest professional satisfaction was being accepted as his peer. I was getting compliments from him as to what I had accomplished — the company was doing better than it ever had. I look back at these years that we worked together with the most satisfaction. I had gone from being his ‘baby’ to being his partner.

COOKING

My father loved to cook. He often cooked for large charity events — Boy Scouts, fund raising for athletic teams, etc. These events meant cooking for hundreds of people at times. I helped him on many of these. I learned to cook from him. He never measured out anything — everything was by feel. That is the same way I do it myself still today. I look back on those times and miss working with him. Since so much of his life centered around work and always being on the go, working with him either cooking or in business was our ‘father/son’ time.

Even today when I am cooking with someone, I have my memories of maneuvering around the kitchen helping my father. These thoughts bring back warm feelings of family.

UCLA — HOSPITAL

When my father became very ill in 1999, we almost lost him. He spent about 5 weeks in the hospital and a large part of that in ICU. He was having hallucinations sometimes. Dad was in his late 70’s at this time and being ill etc., he probably looked like he was in his 80’s.

My mother and I came to the hospital to see him one morning. We located the nurse that had been watching him during the night. We asked the nurse how my father had been doing during her shift. She had that look of getting ready to deliver disappointing news. The nurse said that the hallucinations had continued.

He had been talking about having to go to Hong Kong to see someone named Loman. Then needing to go to Chile then to Mexico for the grape harvest etc. My mother and I brightened up and told the nurse that these were not hallucinations. Up until a couple of weeks earlier before becoming ill, he was traveling around the world doing these things that he was talking about! This was a good sign that he was getting better and wanting to get back to work.

INTRO PART II

I have long wanted to commit to writing things that have happened around the Pandol families. You have given me a little push to start.

What follows is my starting to develop a picture of how a large international farming and marketing organization is built up. I want to point out the dynamics of what caused it to develop and what caused it to unravel. I hope that it could be used by others to understand both the problems and successes that can be experienced in a business of this type.

As my grandfather, Steve Pandol, would say, “Learn from your mistakes but don’t go to school all your life.” Or, as I say, “Learn from the mistakes of others; it’s cheaper.”

What I started writing barely touches what I would really like to go into. However, the items below are the beginnings of some ideas being developed:

• His background.

• The relationships that I had with him — son and workmate.

• Issues that brought divisions between the families and lead to the closing of businesses.

• Could Jack Pandol make it in the corporate world today?

Thank you Jim for asking me to write this. I think I keep writing because it is helping through the grieving process.

Part II

Over the last couple weeks, I heard people talking about the ‘tragedy’ of my father’s death. The more I thought about it and the relationship that I had with him, I would respond that I did not think it was a tragedy. His life was one long, great ride that few could hope to duplicate.

GREATEST GENERATION

Jack Pandol (Jacob Vladimir Pandol), born in 1923, was a member of the ‘Greatest Generation’. This is the generation that grew up during the Depression and later was toughened by WW II. Relationships were crucial. The family and the country all had to work together to survive the Depression. When the nation entered the World War in the 40’s, he learned discipline and to fight for survival. Members of his military unit in combat relied on each other constantly for survival.

GROWING UP / MONEY

He was the son of European immigrants. His parents came from what is today, Croatia. They spoke the Croatian language at home. They lived on a farm. Jack started school without speaking any English. Bilingual education did not exist back then. He learned the English language and moved into the culture of the other children.

He was born into a poor, mutually supporting family. They had to work together and support each other to survive.

People would joke with my mother that she married my father because of his money. The reality was that he was poor. Her family was not wealthy, but was better off. She would respond to such comments by explaining that he was poor; pointing out that he had borrowed $5 from her the day before they were married and 50+ years later still had not paid it back. She explained that she married him because he was cute.

He grew up not having money and knowing that happiness did not come from money or fame. This was one of the more important lessons he wanted me to understand. He pushed even harder on the lesson that jealousy was a cancer. He emphasized that if family members were jealous of each other over position, pay, or whatever, it would be very destructive. It was a disease that could grow quickly. He gave me examples of where he had seen it start and aggressively put attention to the problem to end it. I had no idea that such a cancer would play a big role in the unraveling of what he built. I am not sure that he knew either.

BUILDING THE BUSINESS

They worked long hours. They spent only what they had to and saved everything they could. Eventually enough money was saved to buy land in the Delano area in 1941 and start their own farm growing grapes (my grandfather Steve, and his three sons, Jack, Matt, and Steve). The ‘Pandol’ in Pandol and Sons was my grandfather. When my father was not busy working on the family farm, we worked for DiGiorgio Corporation making boxes. There was no down time or vacation. It was always working — earn and save.

My father came home after the war. His service was hard combat in the Philippines up until the surrender of Japan, then occupation forces in Japan until the end of his tour of duty. When he came home, his father told him that between my grandfather and two uncles, they had managed the farm on their own.

Back then, grape marketing was loading railcars and sending them to the auctions. My grandfather felt that there should be a better way for the company to market their grapes. He sent my father on a trip (New York) to figure out how the system worked and they might be able to do something better. He got to know some wholesalers on the terminal markets and worked on dealing with them directly and bypassing the auction. Steve D’Arrigo of D’Arrigo Brothers Company of New York was one of his first direct customers. My father became the salesman for Pandol and Sons while my grandfather and two uncles managed the farming.

Though he was doing some direct business with wholesalers, the auctions were still an important part of the market through the 1950’s. My dad told me that he had news that the market was good in New York so he sent a railcar to New York. By the time the shipment got there, grapes from a lot of other shippers were already there and the market was depressed. Then he heard that the market was good in Chicago. He sent a railcar to Chicago but again, by the time the shipment got there, there was a lot of product from others and again had a depressed market. He started a system that we would call ‘contrarian’ today. He would ship to markets that were poor. Others tended to stay away and by the time his shipment got there, the market had improved. This might seem primitive or simplistic, but that was a ‘go to market’ strategy of the 1950’s.

Pandol Brothers, Inc. was formed in 1958 as a separate marketing company outside of Pandol and Sons. This was done because my father was starting to sell products for growers outside of Pandol and Sons. This was required by PACA rules.

Pandol and Sons grew over the next decades. At one time it had gotten to be around 5,000 acres of crop production. After Steve died in 1981, Matt died in 1998, and my father’s health failed in 1999, Pandol and Sons farming started in serious decline. The decision was made to disassemble it and distribute the assets among the families. About a third to a half stayed within the families and the balance was sold on the open market. Pandol and Sons formally came to an end less than a year ago.

Though my father ran Pandol Brothers (sales/marketing company), he always considered himself a farmer. When we traveled, he would always write ‘farmer’ in the ‘occupation’ space on immigration forms.

It was important for him not to forget where he came from. I should also mention that he kept to his Catholic faith throughout his life. Being a practicing Catholic and a lot of time spent in prayer was something that was instilled into him by his mother, Margaret.

******

An important question comes up — if a man with the personality and work habits of Jack Pandol were in the business today — how would he do?

My father came out of a work ethic and lifestyle that was simple, direct, and to the point. Though many of the people around him loved and respected him, they also referred to him as hard-headed. He knew what he was doing. Though not always right, he was right a lot of the time. He was more right than most of those who did not agree. He did not have time for much debate, let alone a concept that came along late — get clearance from a Board of Directors. Discussion was short. I can still hear his words, MOVE, GO!

In his day, he did what he had to do. He did what was right. He was a leading opponent of the UFW. This made him a lightning rod for the ire of the UFW. It also lead to the Pandol and Sons cold storage being burned down in 1973, which I helped to rebuild. My signature is in the concrete foundation.

This was a dangerous time. There was a lot of destruction of property on farms. I was not even a teenager yet. My brother Jack Jr., and a cousin, Doug McDonald, patrolled the ranches at night each armed with a .38 revolver and a pump shot gun.

My father is hailed as a leader of the industry for speaking up for the fresh grape industry. He is one of the reasons why the UFW was not successful in the long term in the grape industry. As stated above, this prominent role made things dangerous.

Could you imagine 40 years later sending your kids (teenage minors) out armed to protect your property? A board of directors of today would say keep your mouth shut — you’re bringing too much ‘heat’ on us from the union. The corporate lawyer would have said ‘too much liability’.

Could my father have been in trouble/jailed for child endangerment? Would a Board of today fire him? But, remember that my father was a man who grew up during the Great Depression — worked hard, lived frugally, and saved for developing what they had. I remember him talking about himself during the War, only being a few years older than Jack Jr and Doug, when he was sent to kill a lot of people he had no argument with.

Jack Pandol made quick decisions. No bureaucracy — that was something he hated. It was MOVE, GO and we/I went out and got things done. Rick Sunbury (ex-manager of Dole Fresh Fruit in Bakersfield) has told me on more than one occasion that he was jealous of my father’s ability to go on his own decisions. When new opportunities opened, my father could go right to them. Rick had to go through an approval process.

The Pandol Brothers board was formed after his health failed in 1999. He never had to deal with a board. I was one of five members of the PBI board, and I was the only one who had experience in the produce business. Would the board have understood what he wanted to do?? In later years when I was dealing with the board, I would try to explain the changes happening and coming in the industry. New technologies, varieties, changes in customers, and changes in consumers — everything is in flux and all interrelated. I do not think that much was understood — it was easier to look at some numbers on a paper that an accountant put together.

I remember specifically at a board meeting, where we were discussing customers. PBI was VERY big with Wal-Mart. Accounting reports showed that in past years, Wal-Mart had been good business and therefore a recommendation was made to take on more DC’s. I objected to such a position since I could see that Wal-Mart was changing. My position on Wal-Mart and on every other industry trend was to not look at where it has been but look into the future and see where it is going. An expression I used more than once was ‘managing a company on past information is like driving a car down the freeway but looking in the rear view mirror’.

My father had a heart for people. It was something personal between my dad, customers, and growers. Today we see bankers, accountants, and lawyers running things. For those professionals, the growers and customers tend to be names and numbers on paper.

The term of going from ‘family’ management to ‘professional’ management gets used. I remember the example of Richland Sales. The Lewis family owned it and had loyal growers. Cargill was looking at getting into the fresh produce business. Mark Lewis, now with Seald Sweet, was working at Richland at the time. Cargill thought its professional management could improve produce companies. Cargill bought Richland and ended up closing it and walking away from it about three years later.

Jack Pandol was not only my father; he was my boss for over half my life. Even during periods when I was not answering directly to him, we still would talk about the business a lot and specifically what I was doing.

It was not always easy. I was the ‘baby’ of the family. It was hard to get his respect. Darrel Fulmer was my father’s right hand for over 20 years. When Darrel left the company in 1994, I took his vacated position. I was cautious about making many changes from what Darrel had been doing. I felt that I knew the business but I did not have a lot of confidence yet and was scared to make any serious errors. I made some changes over time and after about three years saw that what changes I had made were good. Now having confidence, I made even more changes and pushed harder.

My dad did not like my cautious approach to operating the company in my first years. We bumped heads on some issues more than once. I was cautious and he was in his 70’s still pushing MOVE, GO! However, by the time we arrived into the late 90’s, he could see that profits under my watch had doubled over that previous few years. I now had the confidence to move along faster, which made him happier. The company was doing better than ever. For the couple of years before his health failed in 1999, I had gotten his professional respect. I do feel that he started to think of me not as his ‘baby’ but as his peer. These years were the most satisfying in my career. Unfortunately, this only lasted a couple of years.

In June of 1999, my father became very ill and spent 5 weeks in the hospital and much of it in ICU. Though it was never clear exactly what he had, blood clots and encephalitis were involved. He improved and was eventually released from the hospital. He never recovered fully the energy and mental capabilities that he had before the illness. He was never the same again. I felt that I had lost the professional relationship I had with my father just when we were enjoying it the most.

His health slowly declined over time. Dementia turned into Alzheimer’s Disease. During his last couple years he generally did not know who I/we were. The relationships of working together and of his being my father were both basically gone. I missed him. Now that he has passed on, I miss him more. I say to him, “You go on ahead Boss. We’ll catch up with you later”.

— Jim Pandol
Agricola James Alan Pandol E.I.R.L
Pandol Assoc. Marketing, Inc.
Pandol Family Farms
Quinto Farming
www.pandolmarketing.com

We’ve been fortunate enough to share an experience Jim had. We too had the opportunity to work with an extraordinary man who was also our father. It is decades later, and yet we remember the lessons, some intentional and some implicit, every single day.

There are many lessons in Jim’s tale, and we hope he sends more as time passes. We could speak at length about the points that Jim has made.

For now, it is enough to say that surely Jack would be pleased. We ran two articles with people with nothing but good to say about Jack and, now, we have his longtime associate Darrell Fulmer saying the same and his son, his youngest child, demonstrating how intently he listened.

There is a Sondheim song from Into the Woods called “Children Will Listen” that warns adults that children hear everything — both what you wish to communicate and what you, through your actions, do communicate. Some of the key words:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn

Jack built a great business and was an industry leader. Yet, the values he believed in will live on, not in a vineyard or a business, but through his children. Perhaps a reminder to all of us who work hard as to what ultimately matters.

Many thanks to Jim for sharing so much when the hurt is still raw. And condolences to Jim and the whole Pandol family.

Requiem aeternam dona eis,
Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis
.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

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