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Seald Sweet reels in a great catch in Patrick Norris

Deal-making was his game, and now the citrus industry is likely to be his fame. When 29-year-old Patrick Norris was interviewed by David Mixon, chief marketing officer, and Mayda Sotomayor, chief executive officer, of Seald Sweet, headquartered in Vero Beach, FL, they expressed enthusiasm over the prospect of welcoming into the industry a young person who did not have experience in the produce industry.

"I did have experience in deal-making, however," said Mr. Norris, now sales manager at Seald Sweet. "My previous position was land acquisition agent for Indian River County Real Estate Acquisitions. It was my task to engage in imminent domain deals for property designated as needed for public utilities, highways, railroads and other public necessities."

Last year, Indian River County decided to turn to outside sources, and it closed the acquisition division. About the same time, a friend of Mr. Norris was employed by Seald Sweet, and mentioned a job opening to him.

"I did some research and spoke with several people who worked with or were familiar with the company, and I was impressed by the fact that everyone I talked to had only positive comments about the firm," he said. "Even people who leave the company to go on to the next chapter in their lives have only positive things to say about Seald Sweet, including that it is a leader in the produce industry. If I was going to enter a new career in a new industry, I definitely wanted to work for a leader."

Ms. Sotomayor and Mr. Mixon gave Mr. Norris their professional advice upon hiring him about six months ago, stressing the key factors: be kind to clients, maintain service as an imperative and move fruit. They said they liked the idea of training someone from the ground up so that his business practices would be in line with what the company expects from its staff members.

A native Floridian, Mr. Norris took to the ocean early in life. He loves to fish in his free time. He and his wife, Jennifer, a first-grade schoolteacher, enjoy offshore fishing together and with friends. Their seafood of choice includes marlin, dolphin, red snapper, grouper and snook -- all deep-water fish that are typically sizable catches. He, like most avid fishermen, has a few "fish tales" to share.

"A group of friends and I had an incredible day a couple of years ago," he related. "We caught five grouper and 12 red snapper. They ranged in sizes of up to 48 inches, and were between 50 and 150 pounds each. That's an outstanding day of catch by anyone's point of view -- just a downright lucky day. It wore us out, and we were glad to get back to shore alive, but we ate really well for months."

Another of Mr. Norris' fishing tales is of the day he caught a pelican by accident. The very large bird species lives predominantly on the water. "The hook caught him, and caught me by surprise," he said. "I reeled him in slowly, trying to not hurt him and figuring I might be able to cut him loose when I got him to the boat. Fortunately, he shucked it loose himself when he was about 10 feet from the boat. He took off, seemingly little worse for the wear, and I was really grateful."

A die-hard Miami Dolphins football fan, Mr. Norris' dedication is apparent. He said he was celebrating in mid-December because the team had just won its first game of the season. "You can't give up on your team, no matter what," he said. "You just have to wait it out, knowing it will turn around in time."

Besides fishing and football, Mr. Norris likes to socialize with friends. And he's making many new ones in the produce industry -- something he said has helped to already convince him it will be his lifelong career.

"The clients are great people, and my colleagues could not be more wonderful," he said. "I love the fact that every day is different, and the challenges are from momentary and small to great and diverse. If a packinghouse puts the wrong order on a truck, the right order on the wrong truck, neglects to pack an order or packs half an order, it's my job to call the client and explain. It's also my job to stay on top of every step in the progression to make sure these things happen as seldom as possible. Clients typically understand that some errors are beyond our control. It's aggravating to everyone involved when they arise, but we do whatever we possibly can to satisfy the customer and move on."

Mr. Norris said that going to Seald Sweet's packinghouses, which are located from Fort Pierce north to the Frostproof area near Tampa and Orlando, enables him to stay close to the process, and helps to reduce the error factor. "It feels good to be here at Seald Sweet," he said. "I feel it's where I belong. Currently I'm dealing with smaller chainstores, brokers and wholesalers. My past experience in deal-making seems to be helpful here - and it suits my character and personality. Just six months into the business, and I'm sure I want to make my career the produce industry."

During the summer months, Mr. Norris, along with his wife and friends, love to go to the Bahamas on weekends and holidays.

"The ocean off south Florida and the Bahamas is absolutely beautiful, and we are fortunate that it's our backyard," he said. "We fish for the same basic fish species in the Bahamas as we do in Florida, but it gives us a different vista to enjoy."