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Nick Mascari working his way up in the family business

"There is never a dull moment in the produce business," said Nick Mascari, new account sales representative for Indianapolis Fruit Co. Inc. in Indianapolis. "And no two days are the same. You have to love this business to work in it. But the people are the best in the world, and I knew from a young age that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I cannot see myself working in any other field."

Mr. Mascari is the son of Mike Mascari, company president and one of five company owners. Throughout school, he often came to the office with his father, sometimes making $20 to do miscellaneous jobs. In his teen years, he drove trucks and worked in receiving and loading. He also worked as a picker to fill orders.

Being hired at Indianapolis Fruit Co. is not an easy task, even for the president's son. After meeting the job placement criteria, Mr. Mascari joined the company on a full-time, permanent basis over a year ago.

"The company owners have a mutual agreement about their kids working in the business," said Mr. Mascari. "We must have a minimum of three years experience with outside companies. There must be an opening in the business - they will not create a job just to accommodate us. A college degree is also required. And finally, we must achieve some level of success in the jobs we held during the three years of employment outside of the company."

In 2006, Mr. Mascari graduated from Indiana University's School of General Studies with a bachelor's degree. He then went to work for Dole Fresh Fruit in Westlake, CA, as a technical service and marketing representative.

After about a year, he accepted a job with Chiquita Fresh North America in Indianapolis, where he was employed for about two-and-a-half years. At both companies, he was responsible for visiting North American customers' facilities to provide ripener training and support; collaborating with sales forces and research and development personnel; planning and organizing work schedules; and was involved on special projects and banana-related experimentation. He is currently taking courses at Ball State University in Muncie, IN, toward his master's degree in business administration.

"When Indianapolis Fruit hired me, my title was new account sales," said Mr. Mascari. "But I am working in every possible area of the business in order to get as much exposure and experience as possible."

Mr. Mascari is also "working" on getting engaged. He and his "to-be" fianc?e, Chelsea DeRose, have dated for two-and-a-half years, but he has known her for much longer.

"Chelsea is one of my cousin's best friends," he said. "We're looking at rings right now, but that's as far ahead as we've planned for the moment. She just graduated from college with a double major in fashion merchandising and marketing. She now works as a manager at Nordstrom's, but ultimately she wants to own her own women's clothing boutique."

Ms. DeRose also shares a favorite pastime with Mr. Mascari: snow skiing. Each year he joins his father, family members, friends and associates from the Young President's Organization, of which he is a member, on a ski trip. His father is a member of the World President's Organization, an affiliate member group of the organization.

"I've skied in Aspen and Snowmass, Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole and other places," said Mr. Mascari. "And I'm looking forward to skiing in British Columbia and the Swiss Alps."

Two years ago, Mr. Mascari took Chelsea to Lake Tahoe for her first ski trip. "After a couple of days of lessons, she was hooked," he said.

He also loves sailing and was on the sailing team during school, where he led the recruitment of new members, helped to manage social and networking events, and raised funds for the team.

His involvement in groups and associations extends much further. He served as student council representative, handling organizational leadership and supervision. In 2001, he was a liaison to the Italian State Police during the World Police & Fire Games in Indianapolis. As a mayoral campaign assistant to former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, he collected and compiled important voter data and assisted during campaign events. He also taught business to second-grade students by taking a fun approach that they could understand. And he served as mentor to probationary kids in the Youth Empowerment Program.

Mr. Mascari credited his own mentors for everything he knows and believes today.

"Joe Mascari, my great uncle, founded Indianapolis Fruit Company," he said. "My grandfather Frank Mascari retired two years ago, but he continues to come into the office at least a couple of times a week to check on customers, go through the coolers and make sure we're doing things right. John Cunningham, director of sales, and the entire Indy Fruit merchandising team - which is truly my extended family - have also been an intricate part of helping me to grow into the position I'm in today. But it goes without saying that my dad has been my greatest mentor, and he continues to teach and guide me every day."

Food safety, said Mr. Mascari, is the biggest change and challenge the produce industry faces today. "We work relentlessly to stay at the top of the game," he said. "In the future, cutting fruit in the back of grocery stores will be a thing of the past because of food-safety concerns, and retailers will turn more to their suppliers for value added and fresh-cut produce. Indy Fruit is prepared to take on the responsibility.

"Independent retailers are facing tougher competition today, and ultimately it will be survival of the fittest," he continued. "Our business model is evolving to meet these changes.

"Going forward, it's a matter of finding ways to generate business and to continue to grow," added Mr. Mascari. "We are breaking into new areas today. We recently broke into Atlanta, for example, and we will continue to expand our network in the future."

Young, intelligent and determined people coming on board at Indianapolis Fruit Co. is sure to help propel its growth in the future. While most of the children of the company's owners are still in school, a few besides Mr. Mascari have joined the staff. Jenny Piazza, daughter of Pete Piazza, company partner and president of Piazza Produce Inc., the company's foodservice division, also located in Indianapolis, recently joined Piazza Produce's staff. "My sister, Antonia, also just started working at Piazza Produce in marketing and sales," said Mr. Mascari. "Marcus Agresta, Pete Piazza's son-in-law, is director of sales for Piazza Produce. He plays a very important role in the company."

Asked what he hopes to accomplish in his future, Mr. Mascari was quick to respond. "My ultimate goal is to be president of the company," he said. "Dad is really supportive when I tell him that. But he doesn't show me favoritism, that's for sure. If the people I work with didn't see me growing up around here, they would not know that I'm related to him. I am treated the same as everyone else, so the pressure is on me to perform to the best of my ability."