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The sky's the limit for Marcus Koornneef

The sky is certainly the limit for Marcus Koornneef, both in the produce industry and in life in general.

Mr. Koornneef, 23, currently handles sales and purchasing for Toronto-based Koornneef Produce Ltd., and even though he remembers being exposed to the produce industry since he was old enough to walk, he still wanted to try other occupations before committing to the trade.

"Growing up with both my dad and uncle being partners in the business, I was going with dad to the market since I could walk," he said about the family business, run by his father, Fred, and Uncle Adrian, which since April has been located in a stall at the Ontario Food Terminal's Buyers' Court but for two decades was located outside at the terminal's farmers market.

"When I was done with school for the summer, I'd go with him a few times a week. He would joke that it was more like baby sitting for him because I'd get into trouble and goof around."

By eighth grade, he started working at the family business putting orders together and helping unload trailers in the morning during his summer breaks. During his last year of high school, he was faced with a tough decision: going to college or going into the family business.

"My dad sat me down one day and said, 'Listen, we really want you to go to school. The job is always here for you. In this day and age, so much can change, and an education is something that no one can ever take away from you.' Alhough at first I was resistant, that really pushed me to go to school."

Mr. Koornneef went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, a small private school that he said provided a more intensive education than many colleges. He majored in business and economics and earned a bachelor of arts degree in business in May 2007.

During his third year at the college, he studied abroad at Hoogschool Zeeland in the Netherlands, where he studied international business and finance. "It was an amazing experience. There were only three of us from North America; the rest were from Europe and Asia," he said. "It was an eye-opener, and we got to do a lot of traveling."

After he graduated, Mr. Koornneef decided to stay and work in Michigan in real estate doing property assessment, background checks and title work. "I would work in marketing to mortgage and loan companies," he said. "It was mostly like what I'm doing now; it was an aspect of sales, trying to sell your services to these people and convincing them that our services are better than anyone."

He said that it was a "unique" experience for him because at the time, "the real estate market in Michigan was crashing hard, sales were down 80 percent across the state, and I saw the bad times that people have to go through."

He continued, "I never doubted I liked produce, but I wanted to try something different. I didn't want to hit a point in my life 10 to 15 years down the road and say, 'I wish I had done something else.' "

Since joining the firm in August 2007, Mr. Koornneef has already started to make his mark on Koornneef Produce.

"Our invoices have always been hand-written that we would then input into our accounting system afterwards, which would create lot of extra work with some errors," he said. "We are now implementing a computer software program with hand-held units for point-of-sale that enter directly into our accounting system with laser-printed invoices to make the company more efficient."

He added, "We'll have a new inventory system that will input items into our system as they enter the warehouse and [are] removed automatically when sold," he said. "Up until now, our inventory system was making mental notes of what was in coolers. We never really knew to the case what was there."

Alhough his job keeps him quite busy, he still tries to keep an active lifestyle. Since the family firm deals with a lot of seasonal products, Mr. Koornneef said that he gets a lot of time off in the winter, giving him a chance to take advantage of Canada's numerous winter recreational activities.

"I've always been into snowmobiling," he said. "I go on trips to northern Ontario and Quebec with my dad, and I do a lot of snowboarding. I made a trip out to [British Columbia] in February to Whistler and Mt. Washington in Washington state."

He said that he likes to travel and got to do a lot of traveling in Europe while he was in college. It was during a trip to Switzerland that he got interested in skydiving.

"I've gone skydiving three times, once in Switzerland and twice here," he said. "It's piqued my interest. It's hard to find time to do that, but it's something I really enjoy. It's quite the rush."

He said that he is also "big into road cycling," and during college in January 2005, he took "quite a trip," a two-week cycling tour in Australia during which he rode 1,500 kilometers on the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Adelaide with 36 other students and two professors.

His dad also has a boat, and he said that he often goes boating, camping and wakeboarding with his family.

"Of course, being in this industry, golfing is a necessary skill, so I do a lot of golfing as well," he joked.

Mr. Koornneef will soon be marrying his fianc?e, Lindsay, whom he met through friends, Oct. 17, a day that he will have his feet firmly planted on the ground.