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Racing fan setting the pace at Caliman International

With his easygoing demeanor and soft-spoken words, it's hard to believe that Andres Ocampo can thrive in the sometimes-cutthroat world of produce.

But Mr. Ocampo, who is director of operations for the Plantation, FL-based Caliman International, has other qualities that enable him to lead the burgeoning company on its path of prosperity.

Mr. Ocampo entered the produce world almost by accident. He was on a track toward becoming an architect, having earned a degree in that discipline in 1998 from Universidad de los Andes in his native Bogota, Colombia. He worked in architecture for six months after graduation, but the construction business in Bogota was depressed at the time.

"My father is a Customs broker and was living in Miami at that time, so I decided to move there and go for my MBA," he said.

As Mr. Ocampo was pursuing his MBA, which he earned in 2003 from Florida International University, he worked at his father's business, Ameritrends World, which did some business with Caliman. It was there that Mr. Ocampo met Caliman owner Homero de Barros and his daughter, Melissa Hartmann de Barros, who is now his girlfriend.

"When I finished my MBA, Homero offered me a position at Caliman but I declined at first, said Mr. Ocampo. "I was worried about mixing business with my friendship with Melissa.

Mr. Ocampo considered remaining with Ameritrends because of a possible relocation to New York, but in the end he decided to join Caliman, where he was hired as a marketing analyst. Recently, he was promoted to director of operations, and now he has a hand in all aspects of the business, such as sales, marketing, procurement, logistics and general oversight of the company.

Of working with produce, Mr. Ocampo said, "It's very challenging dealing with time and perishability. There is little room for failure, and anything that goes wrong can damage a company's reputation.

One of Mr. Ocampo's major accomplishments in his young career at Caliman, which is known primarily as a distributor of Brazilian papayas, is the launch of the company's new goldenberry deal. The fruit, which is about the size of a cherry and which has tiny strawberry-sized seeds in the flesh, is sourced from Colombia, where it grows year round.

Goldenberries, which are also known as cape gooseberries, are big in Europe but just starting to catch on in the U.S., he said. "They are considered exotic and are sold mostly in gourmet markets and are used by chefs. They come in husks, like tomatillos, and we sell them both with and without husks, but the peeled presentation is most popular in the United States.

Mr. Ocampo said that Caliman is currently shipping 400-500 cases of goldenberries a week, and "we are looking to increase that, but we are being patient.

Regarding his youth, Mr. Ocampo said that it has not been a hindrance to his career, but he acknowledged that "sometimes people might not give you the respect [of an older person], but it has not happened much to me. I think that my youth allows me to convey an energy to my customers so that they believe in what I am selling.

Mr. Ocampo spends much of his free time with Ms. Hartmann de Barros, who is director of communications for Caliman. While they enjoy a strong relationship, Mr. Ocampo laughed about their first date, which brought to light the cultural differences between his Latin American upbringing and her European rearing. "We went out to dinner on our first date, he related, "and our table manners were completely opposite. In Colombia, I was raised not to eat all of the food on my plate, and not to use my knife to push the food, but Melissa was taught the other way.

But Mr. Ocampo said that the chivalry that was ingrained in him via his upbringing was more than welcome by Ms. Hartmann de Barros, who had not previously been exposed to such a way while being raised in Germany. "When I held the door open for her, she thought I was outstanding, but to me it was just normal.

Having been raised in a populous city like Bogota, which has about 7 million residents, Mr. Ocampo has an affinity for large cities. He cited Seattle, New York and San Francisco as three of his favorites, and while visiting those and other metropolises, he enjoys taking in the nightlife and the local music scenes. He also enjoys outdoor activities, such as bicycling and tennis, which he plays on occasion with his father.

But Mr. Ocampo confessed to a minor obsession with speed, and he enjoys racing both as a spectator and a participant. He likes going to tracks to race go-carts, and for the past four years he has traveled to Indianapolis to watch Formula 1 racing events. Regrettably, he was unable to attend this year due to a celebration for his sister's 15th birthday, "but I will get back there next year, he said.

One of his more memorable racing experiences was in 2003, when he had the opportunity to ride shotgun with a professional driver at the Homestead Speedway, south of Miami. "It was an amazing experience to be in a car going 180 miles an hour around the track, he said.