October, 2005

Cover & Feature Stories

Connected

After 20 years, I suppose I’m entitled to a mid-life crisis. And I acknowledge with certain sadness that it is starting to dawn on me that my shot at being President of the United States may be slipping away. But, by and large, I fly off to Atlanta with every bit the optimism and a lot more gratitude than I flew off to San Francisco when we were launching this magazine 20 years ago.

Professionally, although it certainly is true that I haven’t done all I had hoped I would by this time, that is more a testimony to the enormity of my ambition than it is about Produce Business. The truth is that in an arena where successes are rare and most people are out of business by their third year, we launched a magazine, built a company and have provided a valuable service to our constituents. This magazine has been a source of sustenance to our employees and suppliers and, in our own little way, perhaps we made the industry my family has toiled in for so many generations a little stronger.

Every once in a while, I get a phone call, an e-mail or a visit from someone who thought it was important to let me know that something we did here helped them. Mostly it is business — how we were their “bible” in building their store or career. More than once, I’ve received the Friday evening call because some CEO decided to launch an initiative on something or other, and some vice president of produce got the assignment. We work all weekend to give him everything he needs to be brilliant on Monday. Then people ask how come I have so many friends in the industry.

Sometimes it is policy that we affected. A member of a national board called me one day and said a piece I wrote on country-of-origin labeling filled him with outrage, and though he had originally thought the issue was concluded he realized he couldn’t let it sit. So he pushed for an effort and eventually changed law.

It wasn’t the first time I had been told that. Makes you feel like you have a little part in changing the world.

Mostly though, I think I’ve come to appreciate the personal. This year when my friend Joe Nucci died, I shared that sadness with my friends and with the trade, as I had shared my joy at my wedding and on the births of my sons. We publish in this issue a few of the letters sent following the column I wrote about Joe, but I couldn’t share the phone calls, the more personal notes, the more intimate discussions.

A grower/shipper came up to me at a trade show once. He just sort of wanted to shake hands. Around my age, with a wife and children around the same age as mine, he just wanted me to know that he felt connected.

And I suppose it is that connection that has come, as much as anything, to define what we do. To be so integrally a part of something, yet remain independent enough to speak objectively, is a special trick.

The head of produce for a very large retailer and I are very close friends. He once told me that he had initially cultivated our friendship because he loved talking produce but found that everyone he dealt with who was knowledgeable in the area kept telling him that his every initiative was genius. Fifteen minutes into our first meeting, I told him that a joke he told wasn’t funny. Nobody had told him that in ten years.

To be respected in what you do is an honor and, although we have won hundreds of awards in the past two decades, it is that respect that is my greatest professional pride.

I carry it especially proudly because it comes not just from any industry, but from the industry my great-grandfather Jacob, my grandfather Harry, my uncles Sydney and Bill, and my father Mike always labored in.

I didn’t know my great-grandfather, but I remember my grandfather in his retirement sitting by the pool in Tamarac, bragging to his neighbors about his boys and their accomplishments in New York. How many units they had on the market, how many countries they exported to, all the things they did in the business that nobody ever did before. And I like to imagine him in heaven, still sitting by the pool, now showing off the magazine and bragging about his grandson to the neighbors.

It would be a shame and probably a sin to reach a 20th anniversary milestone without thanking those who have made it possible:

Associate publisher Eric Nieman has been the driving force behind our sales effort for almost two decades. He has the golden Rolodex and never forgets a birthday. He has traveled the length and breadth of the nation on our behalf and is forever preaching the virtue of marketing to the trade. I owe him a great deal.

Fran Gruskin, another decade-plus veteran, is one of those people whose life, whatever sadnesses might befall them, is always rich with friends, family and joy. She has added that sense of joy to the Produce Business team and to the industry members she encounters. She has helped define our style.

Diana Levine typeset the very first issue of Produce Business with her own two hands. Twenty years later, she is the stealth worker of the company, quietly accomplishing all by herself what others would require a team to even attempt. We have at various times worked with her husband, a couple sons and a few daughters. She has become family in every way.

Ellen Rosenthal joined us a bit over a decade ago. She has the soul of a produce peddler and has taken to our industry like the proverbial fish to water. She travels from wholesale market to wholesale market, from growing region to growing region, like a modern day Johnny Appleseed spreading the gospel of Produce Business and building the community of the produce trade. I can’t imagine us without her.

My wife Debbie took to the project as if she invented it and has added a new dimension to the magazine as she added a dimension to my life. I come home, listen to the answering machine and find a panoply of famous produce names calling our house, not looking for me, but calling to speak with my wife. And, of course, she gave me William and Matthew, who in moments of frustration always provide a reminder of the importance of thinking about tomorrow.

My comrade in this venture since day one is Ken Whitacre. He was my fraternity brother in college and is my closest friend. I asked him to join me on this adventure because I knew he was looking for an opportunity and I knew him to be creative and hard working. I didn’t realize he was brilliant, a mind to behold, and a friend beyond measure. If I die tomorrow, high up on the list of things I have to be grateful for is that God gave me the chance to know what real friendship is. I simply don’t have the words to tell you how much I owe this man.

Finally, none of this would have been possible without my parents, Mike and Roz Prevor. There seems to be no mistake I can make in my life, no failure I can produce, that lessens their faith in their eldest son and his ultimate success. And in facing the future there is nothing more empowering than having that love behind you.

The best thing about launching a business at age 24 is that when you celebrate your 20th anniversary, you are only 44. Heck, Harry Truman was still a haberdasher and Ronald Reagan just a B movie actor. Who knows what the future holds for Produce Business or Jim Prevor.

We have a computer disk full of great plans for the future. New ways of serving and building this industry we love. It has been a great 20 years, and I thank everyone who has played a part. In the next 20 years, I hope we can all work together to improve this industry, have a bit of fun and help a lot of dreams come true. pb