As a central Florida teenager, Al Finch hated the chore of picking up dead and diseased oranges that fell from his family’s backyard trees.
Today, he leads Florida Classic Growers, the sales arm of the Dundee, Fla.-based Dundee Citrus Growers Association, one of the Sunshine State’s leading growing and packing operations.
In 1999, the 48-year-old Lakeland, Fla., native joined Diversified Citrus Marketing, which later became Florida Classic, after working for the Florida Department of Citrus during the 1990s as an Atlanta-based retail field merchandiser.
Finch maintains an eye for the future.
Though Cutie- and Wonderful Halos-branded clementines have cannibalized the tangerine category, Finch said new seedless mandarin varieties Dundee’s growers are planting could help keep Florida citrus competitive.
For Finch, the longtime vice president of sales and marketing who was promoted to president in 2014, a successful produce industry leader must be flexible and maintain a balance between work and personal life.
“A leader must make hard decisions concerning employment, operations and the company’s overall welfare to ensure it’s competitive in the marketplace,” he said. “A leader must be devoted, honest, loyal and passionate about his people and their customers.”
One of the early presidents of the Southeast Produce Council, Finch says it’s important to include family time.
He’s active in his church, prays daily and attends football games with his son and enjoys traveling.
Patrick Morris, a produce buyer at Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Supermarkets, has worked with Finch for nearly 15 years, starting when Morris was a buyer with Westborough, Mass.-based BJ’s Wholesale Club.
Morris said he respects Finch’s integrity.
“I think it’s great the way he’s moved up,” Morris said. “He’s done it by being honest and telling it like it is. There’s nothing hidden about him. He lays it out to you the way it should be and he’s a very straightforward honest and ethical type of guy.
“If people followed his example and everyone did business the way he does, the industry would be a lot better off. He’s definitely someone who you would want to emulate the way you do business.”