HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Longtime Brooks Tropicals Inc. president Craig Wheeling is stepping down from the company to pursue personal interests.
Wheeling, who has worked for Brooks since 1988, notified the avocado and tropicals grower-shipper his last day is Feb. 4.
Brooks officials are not seeking to fill the position at this time, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing.
“I had a wonderful run and it has been a great company to work with. I have enjoyed it immensely,” Wheeling said. “I want to spend more time with family and do the things I enjoy.”
Wheeling caught the attention of Neal Palmer “Pal” Brooks, owner and chairman of the board, after Wheeling spoke up for him at a county commission meeting where Brooks was seeking a permit to build a lime juicing plant.
Wheeling, who had previously served as a vice president, advanced to chief executive officer in 1994 and was promoted to president in January 2009. Before joining Brooks, Wheeling, who hails from a south Florida Redlands region agricultural pioneering family, worked in finance in the chemical division of W.R. Grace & Co. and for a division of Citi Investments.
Brooks said the company’s relationship with Wheeling remains strong and that no other individual has contributed more to the company’s success. Wheeling transformed the Florida-focused operation that distributed mostly to East Coast customers into an importer with accounts across the country.
“He is absolutely fantastic,” Brooks said. “I have the utmost respect for him as a person and individual beyond the value of what he has done for the company. It just got to the point in his life where he wants to do different things. He has been very good for the company.”
Brooks said Wheeling’s largest accomplishment at the company was bringing organization to the operation.
During the mid-1990s, Brooks, which began operations in 1928, began to transition from a traditional grower-shipper to a more diversified marketing company by expanding its offshore program and intensifying papaya imports. Brooks calls itself the largest shipper of Florida avocados and largest U.S. importer of maradol-type papaya.
In 1919, Wheeling’s grandparents bought a citrus grove in present-day Miami and ran a dairy and later ran an avocado and lime farming and packing operation.
In 2008, Pal Brooks named a new avocado variety after Wheeling. The Wheeling variety bears fruit late January through early April.
“It was very kind of Pal to name a variety after me,” Wheeling said. “My family has been involved in this (avocado) industry since 1960. This is the first time anything like that has ever happened to our family.”
Wheeling was chairman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Florida Avocado Administrative Committee for more than a decade, was a member of a Florida citrus canker advisory board, was a member of the state’s redbay ambrosia beetle invasive pest working group and headed the Miami-Dade County agricultural liaison committee.
Brooks officials have posted more information about Wheeling and his retirement in their blog.