Editor's Note: The article that follows is part of the 13th edition of The Packer 25 Profiles in Leadership. These reports offer some insight into what drives successful people in produce. Please congratulate these industry members when you see them and tell them to keep up the good work.
Fulfilling his dream to become a significant grower-shipper, David Sullivan, CEO of Pacific Trellis Fruit, Fresno, Calif., isn’t finished yet.
Sullivan and business partner Linda Chen started a wholesale business together in 1994 at the Los Angeles market.
Before that, his introduction to the industry was developing computer systems for produce companies.
Sullivan said for the first 10 years or so of its existence, Pacific Trellis was a large wholesaler in the Los Angeles market. The company was a large player in the ripening and distribution of bananas.
After about 10 years, Sullivan said he and Chen realized the company was too heavily dependent on one or two suppliers.
“So we decided to diversify our supplier risks by increasing our fruit business, because there are many suppliers from many different areas,” Sullivan said.
After the company began to represent growers, Sullivan and Chen decided to make the transition over five years or so to become a grower-shipper.
“It takes a lot of capital and a lot of focus and a lot of learning to become a grower-shipper, but we achieved that,” Sullivan said.
The company made what he called a quantum leap by purchasing Dulcinea Farms from Syngenta in January 2014.
“It was the last piece of the puzzle for us becoming grower-shippers and no longer involved in the wholesaling markets,” Sullivan said. “Now we are focused on building volume of melons and grapes as grower-shippers.
“I really enjoy working with people and I appreciate the dynamism and speed of the produce business,” he said. “You are dealing with a decaying asset all the time, so attention to timeliness is absolutely critical. And being kind of an obsessive person, the time pressure is good for me and so I enjoy it.”
Enda Walsh, president of Fyffes North America, said Sullivan has served as a mentor for him.
“He is someone I go to when I am trying to figure something out or looking for a different perspective,” Walsh said. “He is the guy that always has the ability to find a solution.”
What’s more, Sullivan has a fantastic sense of humor and is great company, Walsh said.
Pacific Trellis Fruit general manager Josh Leichter said Sullivan is detail-oriented in all aspects of the company.
With that, however, “he has a lot of confidence in the people that he works with and lets them operate,” Leichter said.
Moving forward, the company has plans to add more commodities under the Dulcinea brand, which enjoys consumer and industry recognition.
“We want to leverage that position by including more commodities under the Dulcinea label, but we haven’t rushed to do that,” he said.