NEW ORLEANS — For fresh produce wholesalers, finding leaders both within and outside of family ties is important, said Mike Salisbury, vice president of business development for Lookout Ridge Consulting, American Falls, Idaho.

Salisbury spoke at a May 2 wholesaler-distributor workshop at United Fresh 2011.

The workshop also included Brendan Comito, chief operating officer for Capital City Fruit Co. Inc., and chairman of the United Fresh Wholesaler-Distributor Board.

TJ Murphy, vice president vice president of Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., Bronx, N.Y., said Baldor Specialty Foods started in 1991 with two trucks and now the firm uses more than 200 trucks a day. That calls for a continual focus on creating better management systems, he said.

“Our upper management team is reinventing ourselves every day,” he said.

Lisa Strube, director of finance and administration at Strube Celery and Vegetable Co., Chicago, said 12 family members work at the company, six of which are in their mid- to late 40s. She said it is important that the family prepares for transitions the company will go through as a new generation takes the reins of the business.

Nick Mascari, director of new business development for Indianapolis Fruit Co. Inc., Indianapolis, said that Indianapolis Fruit, founded in 1947 by Joe Mascari, now has 1,000 employees spanning five different companies.

That makes succession planning very important, whether leaders come from within or outside the family, he said.

Industry imperatives

Salisbury said his firm has worked with more than 1,500 families in leadership and business succession issues over 32 years.

Leadership is different than effective management, he said.

“Leadership is the ability to influence people by impacting their hearts, minds and actions,” he said.

Salisbury said an effective leader is articulate, is willing to act, is willing to deflect the credit to others and accept blame, willing to take risks and is energetic, motivated, enthusiastic and positive.

Wholesalers and distributors who want their children to consider becoming part of the family operation should take the time to explain the business to them in fairly precise terms by the time they are 15 years old.

Building internal processes for improving skill sets of potential leaders is critical, he said. If family members aren’t suited for leadership roles or don’t want to take the challenge of learning new skills, he said executive talent should be hired outside of the family.

Panel members said it builds confidence to work outside the family business for several years before joining the company.

Challenges are steep to keep a family business successful from one generation to the next, he said. Salisbury said a recent survey showed that only one out of three first generation businesses make it to the second generation, and only 10% of those remaining business make it to the third generation.

Family wholesalers must find leaders to preserve business

Tom Karst

Tim Fleming (left), executive vice president of Strube Celery and Vegetable Co., Chicago,  visits with Mike Salisbury, vice president of business development for Lookout Ridge Consulting, American Falls, Idaho, after a May 2 wholesaler-distributor session at United Fresh 2011.