IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Though the head of a leading East Coast growing and shipping operation is planning to retire, Larry Lipman isn’t planning to completely leave the industry.

Lipman, chief executive officer of the Lipman Family Cos., the entity that owns tomato and vegetable grower-shipper Six L’s Packing Co. Inc. and produce repacker and distributor Custom Pak, plans to retire sometime between Dec. 31-March 1.

Though he’s relinquishing his CEO title, the 61-year-old Lipman plans to remain involved in the family-run business and continue as its chairman of the board.

He said he intends to serve as a consultant. Lipman said he doesn’t want to remain in charge of day-to-day operations.

He said he will likely miss everything about the business he helped expand.

24-hour business

“To be honest, in this business there are a lot of things you don’t like that happen, but you have to be a problem-solver,” Lipman said. “Though you go home and have another life, you’re pretty much available 24-7 in the business. The key is having good people that work under you that make you look good.”

Though he started working for the family-run company when he was 11 years old, Lipman began full-time after graduating from the University of Florida in 1969 with an accounting degree.

In 1994, he was promoted to CEO after working in many positions, including chief operating officer, production manager and tomato sales manager.

As of late November, the board of Six L’s hadn’t chosen a successor.

Lipman said it was time to leave the business he loves and do other things with his life.

During his leadership, Lipman helped transform Six L’s from a regional tomato grower-shipper into a national tomato and vegetable packing and repacking outfit by creating its Custom Pak repacking operation and by making many other changes necessary for the company’s survival and expansion, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers.

At the industry forefront

Weisinger, who worked with Lipman at Six L’s for 27 years before starting his tomato and vegetable brokering business in 1992, said Lipman in some cases saw what other people were doing and thought that might work with his company, and in other cases started new growing and packing opportunities.

“Larry has been at the forefront of this industry,” Weisinger said. “He always wanted to be in this business. He never wanted to be in anything else. Larry loves this business.”

Since Lipman became CEO, the company has expanded its vegetable and watermelon growing and shipping, and last year entered the Florida spring potatoes deal. 

The Lipmans also have their own research and development operation that has a scientist developing new varieties.

No one could say the Lipmans have remained content with their business.

“We are not getting smaller,” Lipman said.

“We look at the business as a long-term project and that this is the business we want to be in. We don’t make sudden moves to get a lot bigger. My feeling is the day you stop looking to expand is the day you go backwards. We are looking for opportunities all the time.”

Industry competitors said Lipman has contributed mightily to the Florida tomato deal.

“He’s a brilliant man,” said Ed Angrisani, partner with Taylor & Fulton Packing LLC, Palmetto.

“The way I see it, he took a very small company and made it into one of the biggest produce companies in the eastern U.S. He’s also a very hard-working guy.”

Bruce Provent, operations manager of Immokalee Produce Shippers Inc., said Lipman supported local small growers such as Richard Levine, Immokalee Produce Shippers’ founder and president.

“Larry really tried to help small businesses such as Richard’s when he was starting out,” Provent said.

Retiring CEO plans to remain involved with Six L’s