The president of Catania Worldwide is modest about his accomplishments, but the facts speak volumes.
Paul Catania learned the produce business at Toronto’s Ontario Food Terminal, where his father and grandfather brokered fresh produce.
Today he oversees a vertically-integrated network of companies that supply North America with figs, limes and avocados from its groves and two packing sheds in Mexico; persimmons, kiwifruit and fresh figs from California; distributed coast to coast through its U.S. arm Stellar Distributing, and a new 40,000-square-foot facility in New Jersey with ripening rooms and cold storage for 1,600 pallets that supports Eastern U.S sales.
“We don’t have grapes or lettuce like everybody else,” said Catania, who’s importing kiwifruit from New Zealand and says his California crop looks good.
“And there’s more room to maneuverer in these high-volume niche items where we can be leaders and innovators in our field.”
Paul is resilient, an innovator and a risk taker when necessary. He’ll go to bat for you, and he’s easy to work with through good times and bad.
One of his biggest strengths as a leader, he said, is “recognizing what I don’t know — and there’s a lot I don’t know — and surrounding myself with people who do.”
Before making the final call on major decisions, he likes to get input from all employees.
“It’s good for people to know they have input,” Catania said. “We’re not so big that people put ideas in a message box. My people are all a key part of the decision-making process.”
As he pursues a controlled growth strategy, with a facility in McAllen, Texas, next on his list, he says he hasn’t always been successful.
“When I made the switch from a brokerage to a warehouse, taking product into my hands instead of on paper, I almost went broke,” he said. “But it turned out to be a great thing, a humbling experience that taught me nothing comes easy.”
We’re not so big that people put ideas in a message box. My people are all a key part of the decision-making process.
Implementing industry regulations is a challenge for a company with roots in three countries.
“Regulations are coming fast and furious,” he said, “and it’s a full-time job to keep up with the changes. It’s not easy — things like putting in the proper number of hand-washing stations in the middle of the desert in Mexico — but we have done it.”
Maintaining his integrity and providing good service, as his father and grandfather taught him, is another source of pride.
“It’s not just lip service,” he said, “it’s what I believe in.”
Raul Bolanos, Toronto-based director of procurement and sales for Mexycan Trading Inc., has worked closely with Catania for more than a decade and describes him as “warm, kind and down to earth, surrounding himself with competent people and smart enough to lean on them.
“Paul is resilient, an innovator and a risk taker when necessary,” Bolanos said. “He’ll go to bat for you, and he’s easy to work with through good times and bad.”