Hard work and the people running his business make Stewart Precythe"s Southern Produce Distributors Inc., successful.

As a child, Precythe, president and chief executive officer of the Faison, N.C.-based grower-shipper, packer and marketer of sweet potatoes, began working with his dad, Harold S. Precythe.

At the now-defunct Faison Fruit &amp Vegetable Exchange, the younger Precythe labeled growers" bushel baskets, unloaded produce trucks and was a checker who verified the bushels growers sold to the operation.

It was hard work that put a lot of responsibility on a young boy, but the experience exposed him to the speculators and buyers who would trek to eastern North Carolina each summer for fresh produce.

They came from every walk of life, and Precythe studied them all. To him, it was like getting a Ph.D. in produce.

After graduating in 1971 with a degree in business administration from Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, N.C., Precythe, 64, rejoined his father as a partner.

He learned much about honesty and integrity from his dad, who founded the company in 1942.

His father died in 1984.

While his father pushed him to get an education, Precythe said he never pressured him to go into the produce business. When the younger Precythe turned 22, Harold allowed him to do all the company"s buying and selling.

"I listened to him, and the older I got, the smarter he got," Precythe said. "The business is constantly changing, and you have to change with it. In this business, you have to have a business plan and model, but because of the weather, must be able to change it on a daily basis."

Although Precythe used to enjoy sport fishing and hunting when younger, he considers work his hobby and says he enjoys traveling and meeting customers.

Willie McRae, president of Mount Pleasant, S.C., broker McRae Produce Co. Inc., has done business with Precythe for nearly 40 years.

"He"s a real staple in the business, especially with sweet potatoes," McRae said. "He"s always been out front in the business, and everyone he"s dealt with has something good to say about him. If you needed something, he"s always there."

Just like his father, Precythe dismisses any talk of retirement.