Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Jack Pandol, Pandol Bros.
Originally printed in the April 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Jack Pandol lived a remarkable life filled with a determination to innovate and advance those things that stirred his interest but particularly the international produce industry, even if some risk was involved.
Over the years, he built upon his background in agriculture to make a fundamental contribution to the development of the worldwide produce trade, being on the literal vanguard of its development, but, in constantly pursuing fresh initiatives, Jack Pandol didn’t lose sight of the importance of people and relationships.
People who knew Pandol say his experience in the armed forces helped inspire his interest in larger issues, which led later to his social and political activities, and the international community, especially when it came to trade.
Born June 20, 1923, in Orosi, CA, he was the son of immigrants from the island of Hvar, Croatia. After attending Reedley High School, he fought in the Philippines as part of the 25th Infantry Division of the United States Army during World War Two, with his service extending from 1944 to 1946 and occupation duty in Japan. Over his period of service, Pandol achieved the rank of master sergeant and received commendations including the Purple Heart. After the war, Pandol returned to California and joined his father and younger brothers Matt and Steve in the family farming operation, with the siblings becoming the 3 Brothers of their flagship label. He married Winifred Zaninovich of Porterville in 1948 and settled in the town of Delano.
In the course of business during the ‘50s, Jack took on sales and marketing roles in the business, Pandol Bros., and set out on a course that included assuming a larger part in the produce industry as a leader and innovator.
With Jack Pandol as a driving force, Pandol Bros. launched initiatives including direct sales to retailers, a significant departure from the terminal market auctions business model that reigned in the ‘50s. In the next decade, Pandol began operating cross-country refrigerated truck distribution, bypassing the dominant railroads.
Rather than minutely managing his company’s initiatives, Jack Pandol had what might be regarded as an entrepreneur’s instinct, a way of discovering new ideas, understanding where they might lead and how to get there.
“It may have had to do with his military experience, but he was good at organizing things,” says son Stephen Pandol, who went into medicine and practices in California. “He always had great managers to make sure things worked financially. What he really liked was to be out there to find new opportunities where business might expand.”
In the 1970’s, Pandol made his mark internationally. He had expanded a foothold in export markets moving grapes to Asia in response to pressures on the product category in the U.S. He used cargo jets, traditional refrigerated ships and innovative ocean containers for import and export. The ‘70s was the decade that began Pandol importation of Chilean produce in an effort to provide fresh fruit to consumers in North American stores year ‘round.
With the backing of a major retail customer, Pandol took an important step beyond what had been the practices of fruit importation to the United States, actually going to South America to work with growers and develop ways to ensure that a better class of products would arrive in the U.S., one that was more attractive to American consumers.
In some cases where the tools, financial wherewithal and infrastructure to do the job up to the necessary standards weren’t available, Pandol provided equipment and made the arrangements required to keep operations advancing with the notion that doing so would generate returns down the road.
In the 1980s, Pandol established various partnerships and alliances in Asia and Latin America, committing product, money and expertise to develop the international produce trade.
Son Jim Pandol, president/owner of Jim Pandol & Co., says his father had an ability to press ahead where he saw opportunity, but part of his ability to accomplish what he set out to do was a talent for connecting with people.
“He was very much a people-person,” Pandol says. “There is a picture of my father’s third grade class my mother would show people who knew Jack. She would ask them, ‘Guess which one is Jack?’ He was upfront, in the center, sitting with the girls, and smiling. That was Jack.”
Pandol’s approach to the produce business was unique enough for the Produce Marketing Association to keep him on the board for an unprecedented four years so he could help guide development of the organization’s international division. His contribution prompted PMA to honor him with the “Produce Man for All Seasons” award.
Nancy Tucker, recently retired PMA Global Regional Vice President, says the role Jack Pandol played in becoming a voluntary leader as the organization developed its international function was important. Among other things, it led to what was initially a seminar the day before the annual PMA convention, one that eventually became part of the main show. She points out that even when it was a stand-alone event, it proved popular.
“He was a great leader,” Tucker says. “He was very supportive. I always enjoyed working with him. He was outgoing and always made you feel welcome. What I was very appreciative of: he pioneered international trade when there was no fax and poor telephone connections. It took an incredible amount of time and energy to create that business.”
John Pandol, director of special projects at Pandol Bros. and Jack’s nephew, says that when his uncle first went down to Chile, he had to coach growers as they developed their operations to the point where they could be effective in the export trade.
“Jack started going down in the mid ‘70s, and I went down first time in ‘83,” John Pandol says. “They had not figured out very basic things because they hadn’t been involved in the whole product chain.”
The international trade as it developed with Chile got a boost out of work Pandol had done in Asia earlier. Indeed, that part of the world became a significant export market for Pandol Bros. beginning in Hong Kong and China and continuing into Japan and the rest of East Asia.
When Pandol Bros. first got involved in international produce trade, refrigerated reefers and other basic elements of the cold chain were in operation but not organized into the vast operations seen today, John Pandol notes. Jack Pandol recognized that establishing the kind of businesses he envisioned would require him to hurry up the organizational process, and so he invested to lead international produce trade forward, even if the return on that investment might be further down the road.
Sometimes that meant providing tools for growers in Chile and other countries where Pandol was involved. Sometimes that meant investing in expandable polystyrene container productions in the U.S. to improve logistical processes. In the last measure, though, Pandol returned his focus to the growers and larger initiatives that moved quality produce around the world and particularly back to U.S. retailers.
“The whole cold chain was not very developed in a lot of these countries,” says John Pandol. “We said, ‘You need to get it cold and keep it cold before you get it on the boat.’ It was basic blocking and tackling, and just a willingness to take risk. He said, ‘We’re in this, we’re partners and eventually it will work out.’”
Back in the U.S., with Jack’s encouragement, Pandol Bros. began embracing the new selling environment that developed in the 1990s when retailers wanted suppliers to manage inventory for them. As a result, the company began managing inventories for multiple customers using then emerging Internet-based tools to keep tabs on accounts. This was true even though Jack Pandol himself did not use computers.
Still, Pandol couldn’t stay home for too long at a stretch. A happy traveler, Pandol spent as many as four months each year visiting producers and domestic and international customers. His desk and office walls were testimony to his globe-hopping — filled with stamped passports and piles of foreign coins. Pictures of Pandol with foreign heads of state were among the pieces of memorabilia decorating the walls.
As Jack made the world his home, Jim Pandol says his mother deserves credit for his father’s ability to travel and build the business over the years.
“She held down the homefront,” he says.
Over the years, Jack Pandol won recognition for his extraordinary efforts. Chile honored him with the Bernardo O’Higgins Presidential Order of Merit, awarded to foreign citizens who have displayed extraordinary contributions to the country’s arts, sciences, education, industry, or business sectors, or to humanitarian and social cooperation. The order includes five ranks of honor, and Jack was awarded the highest, Grand Cruz, placing him among heads of state, high ranking diplomats, Nobel laureates and other distinguished persons. In 1989, Jack and his brother Matt were inaugurated as knights into the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem.
Pandol was deeply involved in his local community. He raised money for local youth needs, including funding to help his son’s high school wrestling team organize a trip to attend the Munich Olympics in Germany. In an annual act, he hosted a dinner that benefitted the Boy Scouts. Among the recognitions for his efforts, Pandol received the Golden Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts, the organization’s highest honor, for his years of service.
“He felt the values the Boy Scouts taught were important for kids to learn,” Jim Pandol says.
Jack Pandol also served on Delano’s Board of Trade and coined the town’s motto, “The International Community,” celebrating the contribution to Delano made by people from so many national backgrounds.
From the 1960’s through the 1990’s, Pandol took a role in central California politics, cooking for or selling tickets to any number of campaign events, which put him on a first name basis with a generation of politicians. He served on state boards, committees and commissions appointed by governors Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, and he accepted federal appointments.
Dr. Stephen Pandol says the experience of war established a particular spirit in his father, which he describes as a major change of perspective. In his father’s case, Pandol says, it may have been his way of accepting risk in pursuing a particular goal.
“He would take risks even when he hired people to tell him not to do things,” Pandol says. “He would override them.”
Although the war was a trial, Jim Pandol says it never affected his father’s ability to connect with anyone. He referred to the other soldiers he fought as people, not the enemy. “He realized they were people like me,” Pandol says. “They have their families and aspirations and don’t want to be out here in this blood and suffering. They want to go home just like me.”
Near the end of his life, and although he was very ill and suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, Jack Pandol remained a people person in his hospital bed.
“When he’d see people, he would light up, and he would know their names,” Jim Pandol says. “People were important to him.