Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Jay Pack, Standard Fruit & Vegetable/The Pack Family Foundation.
Originally printed in the July 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Jay Pack’s fortuitous path into the produce industry would turn out to be the industry’s fortune. Channeling his outside business acumen, he’s been a major change agent and, above all, an industry philanthropist.
Pack ambitiously built Standard Fruit and Vegetable Co. (the Dallas-based company he sold in 2003 to Fresh Del Monte Produce) into a powerhouse regional distributor with national reach.
Still, according to Pack, the team he built there was the foundation of the company’s success. It also foreshadowed what other industry vanguards recognize as Pack’s largest industry imprint: creating and nurturing a produce industry outreach program to recruit, develop and retain young leaders of tomorrow.
“Jay’s background in banking stood him in great stead to understand the business that his father-in-law brought him in to run. But I see Jay’s greatest contribution to the produce industry in a broader light,” says Bryan Silbermann, whose 34-year tenure at the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) included 20 years as its president and chief executive.
“Jay Pack understood that growing the produce industry in the decades ahead would require an influx of talented young people with the marketing knowledge and technological skills needed in the 21st century,” says Silbermann.
“It was his vision and willingness to fund a completely new outreach to college students, so that the possibilities of careers in the industry would be more widely known and great talent would be attracted.”
The Pack Family PMA Career Pathways Program gave birth to the PMA Foundation (now the Center for Growing Talent at PMA), in which Jay Pack played an integral part over the years.
The nonprofit education foundation of PMA — made possible through industry support, which Pack personified and championed — remains key to ensuring the industry continues to thrive today and tomorrow.
“Jay has an affinity for the produce business, even though he wasn’t born into it,” says Bruce Peterson, former senior vice president of perishables at Walmart. “Jay is magnanimous, and more than generous to the produce industry, particularly in building the Pack Foundation.”
“The thing about Jay that stands out in my mind is he recognized how he could bring young talented people into the business, and how to perpetuate the next level of leadership,” says Peterson (see his Vanguard profile in the October issue of Produce Business).
After college, Pack started in the banking business. Then he met Ruthie Rutchik, whose father, Marty, was involved in the industry through his company, Standard Fruit and Vegetable Co. After Ruthie and Pack married, Marty Rutchik encouraged Pack to join him and take the company to the next level.
“Because we were around Ruthie’s parents all the time, and I loved the people I met in the produce industry and loved the business and entrepreneurship I saw, we finally decided, ‘let’s give it a try,’” says Pack.
Marty Rutchik and a brother, Morris, sold the company in 1990, but the European buyer soon had to divest of all its American assets, Standard Fruit being one. Pack admits, “I was in way over my skis, but decided to put an offer in for Standard,” and, in 1992, the company returned to their ownership.
Under Pack’s leadership, the company expanded its value-added lines in potatoes, tomatoes and onions, and also started doing some acquisitions, enlarging its geographic footprint.
When the company moved to Dallas, it became a challenge to find talent, so Pack says they decided to start recruiting students from outside the industry at local universities, and train their own team.
“At the end of the day,” Pack says, “they all had this tremendous drive and work ethic and it was just refreshing.”
“Bringing in young people was certainly impactful in terms of our ability to grow and face the future.”
In 2003, following the sale of the company to Del Monte, Pack knew he wanted to stay in touch with the produce industry, so he approached Bryan Silbermann about setting up an industry-wide career development program. “One thing I requested,” Pack recalls, “was to try and measure our success, to have continual improvement from year to year. I think we were very effective in that. At the end of the sessions, we had an open format to get feedback and brainstorm, and from that we gathered data, and we changed things. And they continue to do that every year.”
“The program has really exceeded everybody’s expectations in terms of retention in the industry, the number and quality of students it’s brought into the industry,” says Pack. “And that was the overall goal from the start.”
The Jay Pack Cultivating Our Future award honors volunteers who support attracting talent by sharing their passion and insights for careers in the produce and floral industries. Rich Dachman (a Produce Business Vanguard) received it the first year, and Dick Spezzano (another Produce Business Vanguard) received it in 2019. The 2020 winner was Dan’l Mackey Almy.
Jay Pack presented the award at the virtual PMA Fresh Summit to Almy — his first student recruit at Standard Fruit — coming full circle for Pack, whose impact continues to reverberate across the industry.