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September 2, 2016

A Meandering Path to the Helm of the Family Business

COMPANY BACKGROUND: H.W. Mann was founded in 1939 by H.W. “Cy” Mann as a fresh carrot packing operation.  Soon thereafter, the company started growing, packing and shipping many other vegetables, including broccoli.  In the 1950s, Mann began experimenting with liquid ice on its broccoli, which was one of the major innovations that kept the product fresh and helped it gain customers across the country.  Broccoli became Mann’s flagship item for more than a half a century.  The 1950s also saw Mann hire a young fieldman name Bill Ramsey.  About a decade later, Ramsey hired Don Nucci as office manager.  In 1976, Ramsey and Nucci became Cy Mann’s partners.  The Nucci and Ramsey families have been running the company ever since, as it morphed in many directions and added many different commodities.

 

RISE TO THE HELM: Lorri was one of four Nucci children that came into the family business at a very young age.  She was born the year her father started with Mann and remembers stuffing envelopes for marketing purposes in the family’s garage as early as the 8th grade.  She worked for the firm during the summers and joined the marketing department full-time after graduating from Santa Clara University in the mid-1980s.  A decade later, she was married to Tom Koster, who was Mann Packing’s sales manager, and had started her family.  In an effort to “do her own thing” and create a more flexible work environment, Lorri stepped away from the company and got involved in some other endeavors.  However, her heart was always with the family company and she was never shy about sending her brother, the late Joe Nucci, her ideas about the company’s direction.  Joe had stepped into a leadership position and it wasn’t too long before he asked her to come back in a consulting role in the early 2000s.

Tragically, Joe died in 2005 and patriarch Don Nucci passed away the following year.  Lorri became co-chairman of the board representing the Nucci side of the partnership.  In a work/life balance decision, Tom Koster stepped away from the firm “and became Mr. Mom” allowing Lorri to devote full-time to the family business.

 

CHANGING THE BUSINESS FOCUS: Throughout the latter part of the 20th Century, as Mann helped to popularize broccoli, more and more people started to grow and sell it and it became more of a commodity.  As such, Mann reduced its broccoli presence and upped its participation in other fresh items, most notably squash and sugar snap peas.  The firm developed its own proprietary varieties of sugar snap peas that has given it a distinct competitive advantage.  Koster said today it is the company’s “flagship” item.

 

WOMEN OWNED & OPERATED: Because of the gender makeup of the heirs of Bill Ramsey and the late Don Nucci, it became apparent earlier this decade that Mann Packing could qualify as a women-owned and operated organization.  In today’s social justice environment, such organizations have a special designation along the same lines as companies owned and operated by minorities or those owned by members of the LGBT community.  By 2012, Mann Packing had achieved that designation and Koster is very proud of the fact.  She said it is not an idle boast but one that must be backed up in action.  In fact, the certifying organization examines the minutes of the board meetings, the organization’s structure and the ownership life of every share.  To Koster, the designation “turns a win-win into a win-win-win.  At the end of the day, it is a point of differentiation from our competitors.”  For some customers, especially those that are publicly traded, doing business with such a firm is a sought-after factor.

But Lorri said it also has a practical application.  “We are ‘moms’ doing business with ‘moms’.”  As such, she believes the leadership of Mann Packing does have first-hand knowledge of what their customer base is looking for.

 

CONNECTION WITH THE PAST: While Don Nucci has unfortunately passed away, Bill Ramsey still wears the title of Chairman Emeritus and is a daily visitor to Mann’s office complex.  “He is our walking historian,” Koster said, noting that he often talks of where the firm came from and the history behind its growth.

She said the firm continues to be family owned and operated and the culture of entrepreneurship that began more than 75 years ago still exists today.  Dick Ramsey, Bill’s son, is vice chairman of the board and the third and fourth generation of family members appear to be poised to make their presence known in the years ahead.

 

WORK/LIFE BALANCE: While Lorri’s husband did take a leading role in the child-rearing arena as she ascended to the top spot at Mann, she did not fade into the background in that regard.  In fact, Lorri says raising her children is the most important job she and her husband have.  She calls herself a “baseball mom” referring to the many games and activities she has attended in support of her two sons’ baseball endeavors.  And Tom Koster became the athletic director at Palma School a couple of years ago, parlaying his parental involvement into a new career.

 

WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION: Lorri remembers attending Western Growers events growing up and specifically recalls the year Bill Ramsey served as chairman.  She also fondly recalls working with several different WG staffers over the years hosting tours for one group or another, including several politicians who were being exposed to the fresh produce industry.  “I have been involved in many different produce organizations and I very much appreciate that Western Growers is very clear as to who they represent…and that is the grower.  I love the clarity of the mission.”

Koster joins a select handful of women who have served on the Western Growers board.  She notes that Western Growers has been somewhat of a legacy board, and that there is only a small pool of women who are the top decision makers in their organization.  Western Growers is led by the leaders of its individual member firms.  “There are not a lot of women who meet the requirements,” she said.