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Staff reductions at Pandol Bros. reflect efficiency of new technologies

by Rand Green | January 13, 2011

Anthony Stetson, formerly vice president of sales at Pandol Bros. Inc. in Delano, CA, and Tristan Kieva, director of marketing and business development, along with a half-dozen other Pandol staff members, were let go because updated systems hardware and software recently put in place by the company reduced the number of employees needed to carry on its business, according to John Pandol, director of special projects.

Contrary to some rumors that have been circulating by anonymous e-mail, the staff reduction is not a reflection of reduced volume but of increased efficiencies, he explained.

When David Dever was hired three years ago as president and chief executive officer, "one of his tasks was to review all of our procedures and see what we are doing and where we can be more efficient," Mr. Pandol said.

Many of the software systems Pandol Bros. had in place were "older in-house software systems we built in the '80s" and have been tweaking since. But they had become archaic and had reached a point that they couldn't be adequately updated anymore by tweaking. "We realized … at some point you've just got to scrap it" and build "a whole new machine" from scratch, he said.

"We went through a three-year process" which went into beta test during the 2010 California grape season, "and really we are now able to do the same job with a lot less folks," he said.

After evaluating staff needs with the new system, the company waited until after Christmas and then "called in all the affected employees and told them the what and the why, and then had a meeting with all the others" to tell them the steps that had been taken and assure them that "everybody else is fine." Those announcements were made to the staff Jan. 6, after which "we communicated that to all of our customers," according to Mr. Pandol.

He said that it irked him that "the competition is using this as a tool to throw mud at us" by circulating anonymous e-mails.

Responding to rumors that the company's volume is down and that some family members were pulling their volume out, Mr. Pandol said that five years ago, two Pandol family members who had grape acreage split off from Pandol Bros., and two seasons ago another did. But this year "we don't see any reductions," and in fact, "we just brought in additional [California] acreage that was purchased from a foreclosure," he said.

The company's Chilean volume is down from what it was five or 10 years ago but is similar this year to what it was the last two years.

In its Mexican grape program, "we had a pick-up" in volume last year, and "I think we will be in the same ballpark" this spring, he said.

While total annual volume for the company is about the same as it has been for the last couple of years, it is down from several years ago, but Mr. Pandol does not see that as a negative. "We don't need to be the biggest guy on the block."

Pandol Bros. brought in Scott Reade, formerly from Bolthouse Farms Inc., a large carrot operation in Bakersfield, CA, as vice president of sales and marketing around May 1, 2010, Mr. Pandol said, explaining that Mr. Reade's special qualification was his expertise in programmed business and forward sales which are becoming increasingly important as day-to-day f.o.b. sales become a smaller part of the business. Mr. Reade remains in that position.

As for the recent staff reductions, Mr. Pandol referred to that not as downsizing but as "right sizing." It is "normal pruning," he said, to reduce the parts of the business that are less profitable and increase those that are more profitable."