For the Ciruli family of Colorado, the path to success had to be traveled twice.
As Charles Ciruli Jr. began his college years, the future looked bright. His father, Charles Sr., founded Ciruli Bros. in 1940, and over two decades the company became a successful grower-shipper.
Young Ciruli’s plan was simple: graduate from Arizona State University and join his father’s business.
It was not to be.
The sudden death of Charles Sr. in the early 1960s left the company rudderless. It collapsed.
A few years later, armed with his college degree and his father’s black book of customers, young Charles set out to resurrect Ciruli Bros. It was an exhausting journey.
“He’d do the onion harvest in New Mexico, then move down to Nogales (Ariz.) for the winter and early spring,” said his son, Chris Ciruli.
Late spring found Charles Ciruli Jr. in Bakersfield, Calif., for peppers and melons before moving to Fresno, Calif., for the summer tree fruit season and then south to Chula Vista, Calif., for fall vegetables.
Not all of his relationships with the myriad suppliers were business only. There was the late Sam Parnagian, patriarch of the family that built Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler, Calif.
“What attracted my dad to Chuck was — even at a young age — his enthusiasm, his passion for the business,” said Dennis Parnagian, co-owner and president of Fowler Packing.
“He was committed, always had a positive attitude, had a joy for life and the business and worked tirelessly.”
The combination of attitude and work ethic developed accounts across the country, and “he supported them really well as he did the shippers,” Parnagian said.
Despite his constant travels — what he called the rotation — Charles Ciruli Jr. found time to establish regional offices in Phoenix; Los Angeles; Yuma, Ariz.; Salinas, Calif.; and Santa Maria, Calif., in addition to Fresno and Bakersfield, Chris Ciruli said.
By the mid-1980s, Ciruli Bros. LLC had become a fixture in Nogales. Ciruli ended the rotation, in part because of the growing popularity of mangoes from Mexico.
As more and more importers entered the mango business, the company encountered a hurdle.
“When the market fell, it would pull us into it,” Chris Ciruli said.
For Charles Ciruli Jr., the hurdle presented yet another opportunity.
“With the improved technology, Dad saw the ability to create better treatment for yellow-skin mangoes — the champagne mangoes — and made the move in the late 1990s,” Chris Ciruli said.
At the time, few yellow-skin mangoes were coming to the U.S., but yellow-skin is soon to become the second-largest imported mango variety, he said.
“We were the first company to have a full season program out of Mexico from two locations, each with its own water plants,” Chris Ciruli said.
Now 66, Charles Ciruli Jr. is in the office daily. He still enjoys working with vegetables and their growers, but his passion has become mangoes.
“It’s what he takes the most pride in,” Chris Ciruli said. “It’s what he really likes — spending time at the sheds, in the fields, with the growers.”
Not all of Charles Ciruli Jr.’s efforts over the years have been devoted entirely to his company.
“He saw the future of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and worked tirelessly on its behalf,” Chris Ciruli said.
He was the driving force for more than a decade on the National Mango Board, serving as its first president. After struggling with small budgets, Charles Ciruli Jr. took it upon himself to reach out to competitors to secure the funds necessary to make the mango industry a success.
“He has an incredible vision of what can be, and he’s an incredible salesman,” Chris Ciruli said. “He can sell a concept or a product.”
As Ciruli Bros. marks its 60th anniversary, it has evolved from a brokerage to a grower-shipper serving third and fourth generations of customers.
As for his father’s greatest accomplishment, “It would be a toss up whether it was building the mango category or the Boys and Girls Club,” Chris Ciruli said.
Ciruli Bros. need not search for future leadership. Chris Ciruli, and his brother, Charles Ciruli III, already handle much of the day-to-day duties.