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Andy Bruno lands back in play with Calavo Growers

Andy Bruno grew up in the produce industry and in some ways he never left it, working summers during college for Maui Fresh, the company then owned by his father, Art Bruno.

But with a business major and an economics minor, the 2001 graduate of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, went to work for an investment banker in San Francisco for two years and quickly found that the produce industry does not have a monopoly on long hours.

"I had no life," Mr. Bruno laughed.

The opportunity for a career change combined with the chance to work with his father again led him back to produce, this time in sales with Calavo Growers, which had bought -- and has since absorbed -- Maui Fresh. Mr. Bruno Sr. now serves as chief operating officer and chief financial officer for Calavo, which is headquartered in Santa Paula, CA.

"Calavo is now doing a diversified product line," the younger Mr. Bruno said. The company, which is primarily an avocado house, added tropicals with the acquisition of Maui Fresh and also sells Hispanic products, including guacamole.

Mr. Bruno said that the Maui Fresh-Calavo Growers deal has benefited the next generation of the produce trade.

"Calavo moved my dad and [other senior staff] into management positions, and that gave younger folks the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility. A couple of us have benefited from that," the 26-year-old Mr. Bruno said.

Mr. Bruno started out with a couple of small accounts when he returned to the produce fold two years ago, at which time Maui Fresh and Calavo were still operating as separate entities. Within a few months, he had taken on several larger accounts as well.

In addition to his sales duties, Mr. Bruno oversees Calavo's Los Angeles distribution system and manages the warehouse there. "Any product other than avocados is distributed out of this warehouse; it is a whole repack operation," he said. "Pretty much anything that gets transferred out of packingsheds in the north, everything that gets repacked, comes through here."

The time he spends in the warehouse is invaluable, he said, because "I get to see every product as it comes in." This is helpful on the supply side, in which Mr. Bruno is accountable for certain items, including ginger root, coconuts and Maui onions - a specialty onion.

Mr. Bruno also is responsible for a growing project in Bakersfield, CA. "It's a 50-50 joint venture growing Hispanic products and heirloom tomatoes. [We're] maintaining it to see if the project results in a profit," he said.

His relative youth is not usually a factor in his business relationships, Mr. Bruno said. "I've only had a couple of people ask how old I am, usually in face-to-face meetings," he said.

He has tapped into the experience of his co-workers, some of whom have been in the business for 20 to 25 years. "They've taught me a lot, especially in the beginning, helping with my knowledge of the product," he said. "So long as you're upfront and honest, I don't think age has an impact; it's more your performance."

Mr. Bruno grew up in the Bay Area outside San Francisco, and his first job was as a lifeguard at a water park in Concord, CA. "It was a pretty fun job," he said. "You got a tan and got to work with all your friends; we got paid very little."

Lifeguarding helped to engender a sense of responsibility, he acknowledged. "I had to pay attention when I was watching over the pool or slides," he said.

Mr. Bruno carries that attention to detail, to people and to events through to his current job with Calavo, and he manages to find some fun in the work as well, especially in his travels on company business. Some of his more memorable trips have included attendance at last year's Produce Marketing Association convention in Anaheim, CA; visits to growers in Mexico; and trips to Hawaii to check on ginger and onion supplies. Mr. Bruno, an avid golfer, at some point would like to combine business with pleasure on one of Hawaii's acclaimed courses. "I just haven't had been able to fit it in yet," he said.

Mr. Bruno plays golf more casually now, but in college he rated a handicap index of 1 or 2. "It's 8 or 9 now," he said. He won one tournament in his junior year and was a member of the all-conference team while playing for the University of Puget Sound.

These days he has added basketball and beach volleyball to his recreational activities. He lives in Hermosa Beach, CA, "right next to a beach."

Travel is another pursuit. A post-college trip through Italy with his dad was a highlight, especially when they had to make their way by foot along the rocky coastline and terraced hills separating the picturesque towns of the Cinque Terre region in the north. The father-and-son duo also took in sights in Pisa, Tuscany, Venice, Florence, Rome and Sicily. Mr. Bruno also has favorite spots in Mexico and a special place in his heart for the Pacific Northwest, where he went to school.

"I definitely like to travel," he said, noting that he makes his vacation time more satisfying by dividing it into mostly long weekends so he can "hit more spots with shorter visits."

He derives satisfaction from the job, too, describing the sense of accomplishment that develops "when you're in the grocery store and you know that the product came through your warehouse and you see other people picking it off the shelves - and it came through your company."

Making the move to the produce industry has proven to be a huge positive, he said, although there were some challenges initially.

"Getting up so early," he laughed. "That was a difficult adjustment at first."