Joe Procacci’s Lasting Impact

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thought

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of ThoughtIt is widely known in the produce trade that Joe Procacci‭, ‬an industry icon‭, ‬passed away on Nov‭. ‬17‭, ‬2017‭, ‬at age 90‭. ‬Less recognized is that it was just six days later‭, ‬and just before Joe’s funeral‭, ‬that his brother‭, ‬Michael‭, ‬just shy of 95‭, ‬passed away‭. ‬Some might see coincidence‭, ‬as they were‭, ‬after all‭, ‬advanced‭ ‬in age‭. ‬But in their passing‭, ‬we see a lesson regarding how to conduct business and how to live one’s life‭. ‬For Joe and Mike were not just brothers‭; ‬they were best friends and business partners their entire lives‭.‬

This columnist was introduced to Joe Procacci as a teenager‭, ‬and my father told me that Joe was both smart and bold‭. ‬For he and‭ ‬my grandfather had both sold Cuban tomatoes‭, ‬but when Castro took over and our growers fled‭, ‬it was the Procacci Brothers that decided to buy thousands of acres in Florida and go into the tomato business‭. ‬This decision would ultimately lead to the family controlling around 20‭ ‬percent of the tomato industry in the United States and in due time would turn the family into a highly successful real estate developer‭, ‬building the enormous Vineyards Country Club in Naples‭, ‬FL‭, ‬with 39‭ ‬gated communities encompassing almost 3,000‭ ‬homes‭.‬

Joe’s accomplishments are legend‭. ‬In a day when innovation cannot be emphasized more‭, ‬this is a man who‭, ‬almost singlehandedly‭, ‬developed the grape tomato industry in the United States‭. ‬Like all visionaries fighting against those who could not see‭, ‬Joe had to‭ ‬battle‭, ‬again almost singlehandedly‭, ‬the entire Florida tomato industry to win approval to market the UglyRipe tomato‭. ‬

One thing Joe understood that entrepreneurs often don’t is that the success of an enterprise often depends on the political and regulatory environment‭. ‬So‭, ‬he was integrally involved‭ ‬in industry and regulatory issues‭. ‬He was a founder of NAPAR‭, ‬known as the savior of the PACA Trust‭, ‬and he was instrumental in‭ ‬getting the political support that made the new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market possible‭. ‬He and his brother both lacked‭ ‬high school education‭, ‬but both were savvy in a way much more educated men often fail to recognize‭.‬

There is a trendy management theory that the key to success is saying No‭. ‬The Harvard Business Review‭ ‬had a piece titled‭: ‬“Help your team stop overcommitting by empowering them to say No‭,‬”‭ ‬and the business shelves at book stores sag under the weight of books like‭ ‬“The Life-changing Power of NO‭!‬”‭ ‬We don’t think Joe was much for any trendy theories‭, ‬but he lived his life‭, ‬and was an example for all‭, ‬of viewing business and life with a broader perspective and finding the ability to say Yes‭.‬

Success and happiness in life are consequences of a tapestry of interactions that create relationships, and it is in those bonds that one creates value… and finds joy.

The issue is not so much should one do wasteful things‭; ‬of course not‭. ‬It is whether things should be viewed in that discrete way‭, ‬with each proposal evaluated based on its own utility‭. ‬That’s not the way Joe lived his life‭. ‬Joe never said No to me‭, ‬not once in more than 30‭ ‬years of engagement‭. ‬This was not because every idea I had was brilliant or every proposal worthy of support‭.‬‭ ‬It is because Joe believed in family‭, ‬and so he viewed his interactions with me in the context of a seamless web of connections‭ ‬beginning with our shared roots in the East Coast produce trade‭, ‬which made us like family‭. ‬

So‭, ‬he responded to our requests to support our new magazine‭, ‬to help launch our trade show‭, ‬to make a call‭, ‬do an introduction‭,‬‭ ‬put in a good word‮…‬‭ ‬not as individual requests to be evaluated with rigorous scrutiny‭, ‬but‭, ‬rather‭, ‬as part of a deeper relationship‭.‬

To me‭, ‬that is the gift‭, ‬the insight‭, ‬that Joe’s life leaves us‭. ‬That our success and happiness in life are consequences of a tapestry of interactions that create relationships‭, ‬and it is in those bonds that one creates value ‮…‬‭ ‬and finds joy‭. ‬And on a broader plane‭, ‬the prerequisite for that‭ ‬“Yes”‭ ‬to mean something‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬being true to one’s word‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬he emblazoned that upon the landscape‭.‬

You want to know an unusual fact‭? ‬Both Joe and his brother Mike had homes in the Vineyards‭. ‬It seems like a small thing‭, ‬but most developers want to be anywhere but in the midst of thousands of people they sold homes to‭, ‬because they know they won’t be well-liked ‮…‬‭ ‬because they know they may not do right by everyone‭. ‬Joe and Mike had no such concerns‭.‬

Joe was a gentleman‭, ‬humble and quiet‭. ‬That he loved the industry and enjoyed being in it‭, ‬there was no doubt‭. ‬But his greatest‭ ‬pride and most intense joy came from his family‭. ‬Joe did not die until he got to hold his first great-grandchild‭, ‬Viviana‭, ‬and we doubt that is an accident either‭. ‬Likewise with his brother Mike‭, ‬perhaps allowing himself to pass after first his wife and then‭, ‬finally‭, ‬Joe was gone‭. ‬One sees in all this both the steely determination and the interconnection of love that characterized‭ ‬their lives and created their success‭.‬

Though I felt horrible about missing it‭, ‬I didn’t make it to Joe’s funeral‭. ‬I can hardly forgive myself but I take this solace‭: ‬it was my mother’s 80th birthday‭, ‬and we had gathered from near and far to celebrate her life‭. ‬Knowing the emphasis Joe placed on relationships and on family‭, ‬I’m pretty sure Joe would have urged me to stay with Mom and celebrate her life‭.‬