Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Packer selects Pal Brooks for The Packer 25

The Packer 25 highlights individuals who are the standard-bearers for leadership in the produce industry.
Weathering storms of both the natural and the business variety for nearly a half a century, change is not something Neal Palmer “Pal” Brooks fears.

4/20/09 The Packer article by Doug Ohlemeier

Weathering storms of both the natural and the business variety for nearly a half a century, change is not something Neal Palmer “Pal” Brooks fears.

Owner of the Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals Inc., which has become the largest shipper of Florida avocados and the largest U.S. importer of Caribbean red papaya, Brooks, 70, said he likes to consider what his company will do 18 months into the future.

“Change is inevitable,” he said. “You have to understand it’s going to happen. Accept it and use it to your advantage. There has never been a weather event that when I experienced it and came out the other side, I didn’t find some way that there’s an opportunity there somewhere.”

In 1961, Brooks joined his father. James Richard “Dick” Brooks, who died in 1992, in the business shortly after graduating from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in agricultural economics.

One of the things Brooks said he learned from his father — who started operations in 1928 and incorporated in 1961 as J.R. Brooks & Sons Inc. — was to expect and try to reduce the risk caused by hurricanes and accept damages beyond your control.

Hurricane Andrew in less than an hour in 1992 caused millions of dollars of damages to Brooks’ south Florida avocado and lime groves and buildings. Hurricane Dean in 2007 blasted through Brooks’ Belize papaya growing region, blowing off fruit and knocking down 1,600 acres of trees.
Brooks slowly recovered from both calamities that could have easily meant the end for other tropicals shippers.

Instead of returning to business as normal when it replanted in Belize, Brooks used new production and horticultural methods so that the new papaya trees were an improvement over the ones bearing fruit before the storm.

Brooks said he never wants to grow the same crop in the same manner using the same varieties, and said he wants to find new ways of growing and marketing his crops.

Sticking to a business plan as well as hiring the right people and letting them successfully manage your company are other keys to success, Brooks said.

Craig Wheeling said he has learned valuable lessons from Brooks since he joined the company in 1988 as its first chief executive officer. “He has laid a solid corporate foundation for this company, yet he hasn’t hesitated on inaugurating innovative ideas,” Wheeling said. “It’s this way of thinking that has kept Brooks Tropicals ahead in a very competitive industry.”

Wheeling characterizes Brooks as a long-term investor who accepts and understands that you can experience short-term dips but, with perseverance, can gain long-term success.