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Patriarch's coin toss led Dante Galeazzi to a career with C.H. Robinson

A coin toss put Dante Galeazzi in McAllen, TX as regional sales manager for C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. What makes that even more interesting is that Mr. Galeazzi's great-great-grandfather, a farmer, held that coin four generations ago in northern Italy.

At the grim dawn of fascism and the reign of Benito Mussolini, the Galeazzi family knew difficult days lay ahead for Italy. But the family could only afford to send a lone representative to a new life in the United States.

Two brothers, both butchers, squared off at the family farm, their father ready to toss the fateful coin. Before the coin was tossed, one brother's wife stepped forward with an announcement: she was expecting another child, her second. The other brother and his wife had but one child -- Dante Galeazzi's grandfather.

Three can travel and live more cheaply than four. The die was cast and the family packed up and boarded a ship to New York's Ellis Island and the future. They made their way cross-country from New York to San Francisco. Dante Galeazzi's grandfather ran a bar, then a hardware store, then, at age 26, got into farming in the Central Valley, first growing melons, tomatoes and sugar beets, then eventually expanding into onions, apples, almonds, grapes and olives.

Two generations later, Dante Galeazzi was born in a little town called Manteca, CA. He grew up working on his grandfather's farm.

"That's how I spent every summer from the time I was 13 until the time I was 18," Mr. Galeazzi, 26, recalled. "I worked in the apple fields and the onion packingshed, and I washed trucks, laid sprinklers, plowed fields, everything. My first job was working in the onion fields, going through the sacks to make sure there were no holes in them. At harvest, I had to count in the rows how many bags of onions there were -- and there were, like, 300. My grandpa would look to make sure I counted right -- if I was off by more than five I had to count again."

That's when Mr. Galeazzi first learned to think on his feet: Next to every tenth bag, he would place a stick, making the final tally not only easy, but undoubtedly correct.

After high school, Mr. Galeazzi went to California State University-Monterey Bay, where he majored in international business and focused on international politics, Spanish language and Latin American cultures -- a move that has, obviously, proved "invaluable" in the produce business, he said.

That kind of training proved invaluable to prospective employers as well; two months before graduation, Mr. Galeazzi was offered a job in sales with C.H. Robinson in the company's Monterey office.

"It was really nice coming out of school and going to work while my buddies were still looking for a job," Mr. Galeazzi said.

He chose the business world over the family farm mainly due to the size of the playing field. At 13, he spent several weeks in Japan as a guest of family friends. In college, he spent a year in Spain as an exchange student. With that kind of global view, Manteca seemed a little closed in.

Within a year he had been offered a promotion and headed for Robinson's offices in McAllen, TX, close enough to the Mexican border to take day trips.

"I wanted to go into international business, but I never imagined my first jump would take me into something that got me so close," Mr. Galeazzi said. In Monterey, "I was talking to other salespeople of my age and not a lot of them had been farmers," he said. "They'd come from farm backgrounds, but were going into the business world. Then when I came down to south Texas it was almost like back in Manteca; you were talking to the guys who'd been on the farm and were still on the farm -- this was the world I remembered, this was the guy driving that flatbed with 20 loads of onions and dropping them off at the farmers market. They are sharp, they are educated, but they are farmers. I saw it as an opportunity to do something more close to my roots, something very familiar to me, something I grew up in and have a detailed background in. You play to your strengths."

Within a year Mr. Galeazzi was promoted to regional manager, with a territory that stretches along the Gulf Coast to Florida and up the East Coast to Connecticut. He travels the country regularly, a sought-after presenter and speaker and produce transport specialist. He even has a spot on the Texas Produce Association board, where no other member is younger than 40.

"The family business is much smaller, basically my uncle and cousin can facilitate it," Mr. Galeazzi said. "I went to college for business. I was entrepreneurial. When was the next time [the family business] could expand? Ten years down the road? I'd be 34 or 35 before I'd be holding on to something I could do something with. I'm with a big operation now, I work closely with so many other operations and I was able to achieve all this in four years. In Manteca, I'd have had another six years to wait before I got an opportunity that big."

If it seems Mr. Galeazzi is all work and no play, that assessment is not too far off the mark. He is in the office by 6:45 each morning and routinely logs 50- 60 hours per week.

"I'm not the kind of guy who wants to settle," he said. "I'm definitely a workaholic. I'm traveling making sales calls or to trade shows and organizations all the time -- in the last month I don't think I've been in the office more than six or seven days. When you like what you're doing, or you're good at it, you find you generally tend to put more time in it - and you're OK with that because you're doing something you enjoy and it gives you satisfaction at the end of the day."

Fortunately Mr. Galeazzi's fiancée, Roxann Corralejo, is understanding. The couple met in college, and she moved to McAllen with Mr. Galeazzi. She is wrapping up an advanced biology degree in Texas, and the pair plan to wed next year.

"She's absolutely supportive," Mr. Galeazzi said. "At times it does get to be a little tough on her. Probably January to late-February, I was home maybe a total of 10 days."

During his rare down time, Mr. Galeazzi enjoys golf, judo, hunting and fishing, and he and Ms. Corralejo enjoy spending time with friends, taking their dogs to a nearby dog park and, when opportunity allows, heading over to South Padre Island to relax at the beach.

"We're still young, so we like to go out and do things," Mr. Galeazzi said. But there is no question his focus is firmly fixed on the future.

"I think ultimately for me the goal is to keep doing what I'm doing at a much bigger level, to be involved in agriculture at the international level," Mr. Galeazzi said. "Maybe that's in transportation, maybe it's developing a local supply chain for retailers, providing outlets for growers. And maybe somewhere down the line after I've served my time as branch manager it's time to start looking at a vice president position. Ultimately, the goal is to keep moving up the ladder and see what else is there. It's not like there's limited opportunity."