Monday, February 7, 2011

Brooks Tropicals president announces retirement

From a 2/4/11 Produce News article by Christina DiMartino

Craig Wheeling, a 23-year veteran at Brooks Tropicals who was instrumental in transforming the company into an agribusiness that now spreads across the Americas, announced his retirement as president of the Homestead, FL- based firm.

"I'm going to miss the company and the people who work for it," Mr. Wheeling stated in a Feb. 4 press release. “Brooks’ employees are great people and dedicated to their work. It shows.”

Mr. Wheeling achieved numerous accomplishments during his time with Brooks Tropicals. He spearheaded the company’s offshore papaya operations, which started with fewer than 30 acres more than 17 years ago, providing the major catalyst for the company’s more recent phenomenal growth. Through this venture, the company has grown to be the top importer of papayas to the North American market.

The company’s outstanding success with its “SlimCado” avocados is also attributed to Mr. Wheeling. He developed the brand, highlighting the healthy differences between Florida avocados and the major California variety.

It took two years of research and considerable legal groundwork to confirm the claim that “SlimCado” avocados have less fat and fewer calories. This not only brought the brand to market, but also brought the first nutritional fruit label to the U.S. market.

The nutritional information ignited consumer interest, and the “SlimCado” has been featured in numerous consumer media venues, including an episode of “Brothers and Sisters” on ABC-TV.

Brooks Tropicals’ Homestead headquarters and fields were badly damaged during Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 storm that ravaged South Florida in 1992. All the company’s buildings coolers were severely damaged.

“We brought the steel in from Tennessee and the construction workers from Orlando,” said Mr. Wheeling. “The work was completed in four months.”

Brooks Tropicals was the first large organization in the area to fully return to business.

“We took the opportunity while volumes were down to complete projects like installing a new companywide computer system,” he added. “But more significantly, we changed from being a fruit broker and importer to a multinational grower.”

Brooks Tropicals is currently harvesting the “Wheeling” avocado, which is a new, patented, off-season variety developed by Neal (Pal) Brooks, chairman of the board for the company. The demand for this off-season variety is such that the entire crop of Wheeling fruit has been sold prior to harvesting.

“We like to be the leader in whatever major product we offer,” said Mr. Wheeling. “I’m proud of areas like our internal research department, which has allowed us to maintain our leadership over the years.”

Mr. Wheeling added, “I’ve learned a lot from Pal. He is a brilliant agriculturist who has shown that you can still be fair in your dealings and build a great business. He has fostered a culture of honesty, innovation and doing what it takes to ensure consistent quality.”

Mr. Wheeling said that during his career at Brooks Tropicals, he has had the pleasure of working with outstanding individuals in the industry.

“I particularly remember Ralph Pinkerton, whom I had known on and off for many years,” he said. “He was a marketing genius who took California avocados from a small industry to a leading product.”

Mr. Pinkerton, a previous chairman of the Produce Marketing Association, had produced the famous Angie Dickinson advertising campaign for Hass avocados.

“We were in awe of him,” Mr. Wheeling added. “One day late in his career, Ralph just showed up at Brooks and said, 'You guys do interesting things; I am going to work for you.’ It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. We used to listen for hours as Ralph educated our staff on his philosophies of sales and marketing. He was a great man in so many ways.”

Besides leading Brooks Tropicals to a future of great growth and success, Mr. Wheeling is known for his dedication and contributions to the community. He said that one of his fondest memories was the establishment of a charity in Belize in which school principals were asked what they needed for their schools. Brooks Tropicals would provide the items.

“We would hunt for used textbooks from Florida or shoes from Mexico and then ask for help with shipping from freight companies,” he said. “It was super-efficient and fun.”

Mr. Wheeling served as chairman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Florida Avocado Marketing Board for more than 10 years. He also chaired Miami-Dade County’s Agriculture Retention Study, which looked at the future of 80,000 acres of largely undeveloped land south of the urban Miami area.

“Looking toward agriculture’s future, I’m most concerned about non-native pests entering the U.S.,” said Mr. Wheeling. “We’ve seen the dramatic economic impact of citrus canker. I hope we can work as an industry to find the means to prevent such fungi, bacteria and other pests from entering the United States.”

“No person has contributed more to the success of this company than Craig,” said Mr. Brooks. “I have the utmost respect for this man. He has espoused the creed that underlies the company’s success, which is, ‘Do what’s fair and right.’”

Today, Brooks Tropicals has approximately 1,250 workers at its Homestead and Belize locations.