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Rocky's Dominic Russo gives credit where credit is due

Dominic Russo always knew that he was meant for a life in the produce industry.

Mr. Russo, 26, has been buying and selling for Rocky Produce Inc. on the Detroit Produce Terminal for almost seven years. Before that, he put in some time at the receiver-distributor, owned and operated by his family, "every day in the summertime and after school ever since I was a little kid."

He remembers restacking pallets of 10-pound boxes of limes, emptying garbage cans, sweeping floors and answering phones from about age six. "I graduated to loading and unloading trucks when I was about 12," he said.

Mr. Russo began working full-time for Rocky Produce after spending three years studying business administration at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. "I was always destined to be here, but there was a need for me to be here sooner rather than later," he said.

While his academic experience has been helpful in his current position, he said, "For the most part, everything is hands-on. You learn from your mistakes."

To that end, working in a family atmosphere has been invaluable. "I get guidance from my dad and uncles," Mr. Russo said. "For the most part, they cut you loose and let you go; you master [the job] as you go. More than anything, the diligence and consistency on their part help me out."

Rocky Produce distributes product throughout the northern and western sections of Michigan, north into Canada as far as Toronto and south into Ohio and Indiana. Clients include independently owned markets, chainstores, corporate foodservice, the independent wholesale foodservice trade and even roadside stands. Mr. Russo can?t give enough credit to the older generation at Rocky Produce, both family members and longtime employees.

?Many of the employees at Rocky Produce who I grew up with are still with Rocky Produce. I think that says a lot about our company," he said. "It's nice for me now to be able to work with the guys who have taught me things throughout the years."

First and foremost as a role model and mentor is his father, Mr. Russo said. "He pretty much taught me how to work hard by showing me more than by telling me."

His grandfather, who only stopped working within the last few years because of health reasons, is another inspiration. "He still likes his daily reports," Mr. Russo said.

In addition to buying and selling, Mr. Russo helps oversee day-to-day operations at the company with his cousin, Tom Russo.

Mr. Russo enjoys the fast pace of the industry. "We put in 10- to 12-hour days, occasionally longer at certain times of the year," he said. "No breaks " my first break is when I walk out the door.

?And that?s the way I like it," he asserted. "There?s just too much action in this business. If you take a break, you might miss something."

Mr. Russo gives his all to the company, which he acknowledged can work as an advantage or as a disadvantage. "I have a lot of energy " it's in my nature, it's in my blood," he said. "But sometimes that?s double-edged. Sometimes you have to take a step back and let things catch up to where you want them."

Mr. Russo expends a lot of energy during his down time as well. His greatest accomplishment outside work, he said, was climbing California?s Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States at 14,497 feet, two years ago.

Mr. Russo also enjoys kayaking on local lakes and rivers, and is planning a whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River for this summer. Other recreational pursuits include mountain biking in summer, snowboarding in winter and travel any time of year. He recently returned from a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. "It's my favorite place in Mexico so far," said Mr. Russo, who has also visited Cancun, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas. "It's mountainous and foresty with a nice beach and a nice downtown. Day by day, the place grew on you until the time you were ready to leave; you just fell in love with it."

While in Puerto Vallarta, Mr. Russo fit in horseback riding and four-wheeling on ATVs in the nearby mountains; he also visited a plant in Jalisco where the process for making for tequila was demonstrated. "That was pretty interesting," he said.

Mr. Russo said that he feels blessed to have the opportunity to travel and particularly appreciated a trip with his parents, older and younger sisters, and younger brother to Europe last summer that included Italy, France and Spain. "That was a very special time for our family," he said.

Work also offers great opportunities for travel, he said. Rocky Produce is represented at most major conventions. "We?ll be going to the United [Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association] convention in Chicago April 29." Such trips "give you a chance to see your suppliers and shippers face to face. It builds your relationships and friendships."

Mr. Russo is aware that the produce field is an intensely personal business.

Although his long-term goals are to add structure to Rocky Produce and look into what new technologies the company can take advantage of, "to a certain extent, technology will always be limited because it's the relationships that make this business work. Certain sounds and tones of voices tell you what you are working with," he said. "It's an intensely personal business, and that is the greatest thing about it."

On a personal note for himself, Mr. Russo added, "I believe and my family believes that we work hard " we work the way we work " because we are able to and all glory and honor and praise are the Lord?s. And that?s the way it should be because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

?Life is short. Work hard, play hard."