We Produce-Industry Lifers

Originally printed in the December 2020 issue of Produce Business.

“So, what is it like working with your family… I mean… what is it really like?” This is a question I get asked frequently. While there are many perks of working alongside family, there are also many challenges. This is why many family businesses do not make it past the second generation. My family has defied the odds. We’re same family-owned and operated since our inception in 1906. We’re four generations strong and in 2021 we will be 115 years old.

We made it through two pandemics (1918 and currently COVID-19), the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of the early 2000s. People often ask me what the secret to our longevity is, and I answer that I believe it has something to do with the passion we have for our business and our industry, as well as the deep sense of pride we have in our everyday work.

Family secrets aside, something that we also do well is that we all have our own specialties within the business. This has allowed us not to tread (too hard) on each other’s “territories.” Sometimes we have differing opinions as to how things should be done, yet at the end of the day we still come together to work as a team.

I work alongside my Dad, cousins, and husband on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s tough. Not only do we all have to get along at work, but we also have to get along at home. Some days there are major disagreements at work which end up making their way home. It’s often difficult to keep work at work!

The expectations and pressures of “making your parents proud” and “living up to their standards” is a real thing.

I have been working in the family business for 15 years, and since day 1 my Dad has told me that our “work is never done.” I am pretty sure this is how it is for most people working in family businesses. The expectations and pressures of “making your parents proud” and “living up to their standards” is a real thing. “Work is never done” means even after you’ve completed your daily job tasks, there is always something more that can be done.

Maybe this is the true secret to our success?! When you feel like your job is never done, your job becomes entwined with your every aspect of life. Being in the produce business means always being “on call,” like that of a Doctor. There’s always a phone call coming through in the middle of the night from a supervisor, a truck driver who has broken down over the road, or a plethora of many other reasons why I sleep with my cell phone on next to my bed.

The past 15 years in the industry have gone by quickly. Perhaps that is because I feel like I’ve been in the produce business my whole life. My earliest memories involve going to work with my Dad and then throughout high school and college, I worked my breaks from school there. Something I hear about a lot in family businesses is that children of business owners often face pressure from their parents to join the family firm. Many times this is the downfall of a company. Forcing people to be there who don’t really want to be there means they are often uninspired and participate for the wrong reasons.

While this may be the case for some, it was not the case for me. My Dad never pressured me to come into the company, he always said that it was there for me should I choose to go that route. He also told me that if I wanted to be there, be prepared to work hard.

Another topic of interest in regards to multi-generational family businesses is succession plans. There are many firms that specialize in succession planning, and many companies utilize these firms to provide a smooth transition from one generation to the next. In my family business, there is no formal succession plan. The past generations of Levins in the business have worked until they no longer could work – retirement is not a word in the Levin family dictionary. I think this way of life is true for many in the produce industry. The phrase “work to live or live to work” rings true for all produce industry lifers.

Tracie Levin is the controller for her family’s wholesale produce company, M. Levin and Company, Inc. She has been working there for the past 14 years and is involved in all facets of the company’s daily operations.