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Bryon McDougall fills big boots at family business

Bryon McDougall, director of operations for McDougall & Sons, loves a challenge. "Every day's a new day, and every day is different," he told The Produce News.

And he manages to cram an awful lot into each day. "I had all my excitement when I was young," he laughed. "I'm 28 going on 40."

Mr. McDougall is a member of the fifth generation to work the family enterprise in Wenatchee, WA. His grandmother's family, the Horans, was among the early settlers who came to the Wenatchee River Valley in the late 1800s and began cultivating tree fruit. "From what I know, it was a small operation," he said.

Years later, the original homestead -- which has been designated as a historic site -- is still standing near the current packing facility. The state of Washington also maintains the Horan Natural Area at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers. The 100-acre site, half of which was originally a Horan family pear orchard, is now a wetlands preserve and a favorite spot for bird watchers.

The drive and ambition of his ancestors run in Mr. McDougall's veins. Before he was a teenager, Mr. McDougall had a bird's eye view of the family operation. When he wasn't involved with summertime athletic activities, he was helping with cherry production. "I did what they needed an 11- and 12- year-old to do," he said.

Although he graduated from Wenatchee High School, Mr. McDougall was a seasoned traveler at a young age. He attended school on both the East Coast and West_Coast, and played hockey in Phoenix and Seattle.

"I was pretty well travelled by the time I was 17," he said. With high school behind him, Mr. McDougall was awarded a golf scholarship and attended Tulane University in New Orleans, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in business.

"In athletic endeavors, I've always had tremendous support from my parents," Mr. McDougall stated. "It was never a foregone conclusion that I could come back" [to work at the family business].

Mr. McDougall was asked about the factors that tipped the scales for him. McDougall & Sons revamped its cherry lines during the 2001 season. "As we progressed, I got more involved with everything," he said. "That kind of solidified my decision to come back to the company."

McDougall & Sons is a major producer of apples, pears and cherries and is one of four warehouses with an ownership interest in Columbia Marketing International, also based in Wenatchee.

As director of operations for McDougall & Sons, Mr. McDougall said that his work is cut out for him. "I try to plan out the week to meet the needs of CMI," Mr. McDougall said. "Everything a warehouse encompasses comes across my desk."

The family influence remains strong. The company was formed in 1977 by Mr. McDougall's grandfather, Bob, who retired last year. Mr. McDougall's father, Stuart, is company president, and his uncle Scott is vice president. Mr. McDougall was asked what it's like to work so closely with family members. "Actually, it's been very good," he replied. "We have great relationships in and out of business."

He doesn't anticipate any kind of career change, and expects his involvement with the company to broaden in the coming years. In fact, he is already thinking about what lies ahead. As a fifth-generation producer, he said, "[I understand] people have made sacrifices."

As for the future, he said one of the bigger challenges is labor. "It's a big unknown," he said. "We have to be sure we have enough people. Finding enough young people coming back to the industry -- that's been a challenge."

When Mr. McDougall comes home, he has two lovely ladies greeting him at the door. He and his wife, Mary, tied the knot a year-and-a-half ago. "She's a local girl I met after I came home from college," he said. Their daughter, MacKenna, is four months old.

Although his days are full, Mr. McDougall still manages to hit the links and has become an avid cyclist.