April 8, 2016

Deep Farmworker Roots Led to Broker Career

Mario Macias

Mario Macias Co. Inc.

Bakersfield, CA

Member Since 1997


Mario Macias’ grandparents first came into the United States from Mexico in the 1940s to work the fields.  They lived in Texas and followed the crops working cotton and tomatoes and any other crop where the farmers were hiring workers.  They often went to other locations, such as Georgia, if the work was good.

“They were part of the Bracero Program,” said Macias, who is the owner and president of Mario Macias Co. Inc., which is essentially a buying brokerage of table grapes, headquartered in Bakersfield.

Like many other workers, they’d follow the crops and often return to Mexico at the end of the season.  Macias said it was a family affair with many members of the immediate and extended family doing the same work.  At some point in the early 1950s, members of the Macias family were given the opportunity to move to California with the promise of more permanent work.  The family moved to Sanger, and a fairly traditional American success story started to unfold.

“My grandfather, David Macias, became one of the larger farm labor contractors in California,” Mario recalls.  “I remember they used to go up to BV Winery in Napa Valley where they worked the fields and loaded trucks.”

His father also joined the family business and spent his career in various phases of agriculture.  He met his future wife, and Mario’s mother, on an agricultural truck loading dock.  Mario, who was born in 1955 in the San Joaquin Valley just as his parents were before him, grew up enjoying the same work. “I remember being seven years old and working in the field with my dad with what was then the new TKV lug.  I had to pick up the trash (in the vineyards) and pile it up so we could burn it.”

Mario remembers those years as being happy times when farmworkers, labor contractors and farmers themselves would work together to harvest the crop.  “I’ve been told that George Giumarra (of Giumarra Vineyards fame) used to hold me in the fields when I was a little baby.”

He also remembers his grandfather and parents rubbing shoulders with many other well-known San Joaquin Valley farm families.

The value of hard work was instilled in that young man and that principle has guided him throughout his career.  He remembers spending the summers in Arvin for the grape harvest and then moving back to Sanger in September for school.  The family also spent time in Coachella working that grape harvest.

When it came time to go to college, it was a natural thing to attend California State University at Fresno and point toward an agricultural career.  “One summer I worked for the USDA as a shipping point inspector and I started to put two and two together and figured I could be successful in this work.”

After all, Mario Macias had grown up with grapes and knew the product well from every aspect of the business.  “I knew what good quality fruit looked like so I decided to get into produce sales.”

He graduated from Fresno State in 1980 and for the next 15 years or so worked grape deals from coast to coast, working for many of the best companies in the business including Castle & Cooke, Standard Fruit and the Jack Vandenberg Company.  For about a decade, he worked half of the year on the East Coast selling imported grapes from Chile.

Macias remembers one fateful moment when he was in his late 20s giving a grape presentation in Long Beach to the produce buying department of the Vons Grocery Company.  “After that I got a letter from Mr. (Dick) Spezzano complimenting me on what a great job I did.”

He remembers working with Harold Stein of Cal Fruit, Tommy Mouradick of Cy Mouradick & Sons, Jim Tozzi, Mila Caratan, Randy Parnegian and “Jerry Goldberg, who they called ‘the eye’.  He moved more grapes than anyone.”

Macias said each of these produce veterans were mentors and influenced him to go out on his own, which he did in the 1990s.  “They taught me about integrity and showed me that if you kept your nose clean, worked hard and took care of people you can make it.”

In 1990, Mario married his wife, Karen (“Harold Stein was my best man!”) and soon thereafter, the duo started Mario Macias Co. Inc.  “We’ve been buying brokers ever since.”

For most of those years, the company has survived and thrived with only a handful of staff members.  Today, they number three.  Mario handles sales, Karen handles the books and Kimber Dupuy is the sales assistant.  He remembers when they first got started, his wife was a bit concerned about how they would pay for all the grapes they were buying.  Mario explained to her that they were also selling all those grapes and when they were paid, they could pay the grower.  The growers knew him and extended him a bit of credit which allowed for the successful launch of the company about 25 years ago.  To this day, they are operating the same way, though Mario laments that the business has changed quite dramatically.  He said consolidation at retail has put the buying power in fewer hands and he admits to selling less volume than he did at one point in his career.  But he still works with many suppliers and receivers, keeps his nose clean and has made a good career in the grape business.

He has been a member of Western Growers for a long time but also remembers attending Western Growers’ events with his father many, many years ago.  “I remember we had an office in Bakersfield and the Western Growers office was right above us,” he said.

To this day he works closely with Tom Oliveri and the Western Growers Marketing Services Department and also has a close relationship with former Western Growers attorney Pat Rynn of Rynn & Janowsky.  “We use Tom a lot and Pat does a lot of work for us as well when we need her help.”

Mario and Karen Macias did not have any children, but Mario said there are extended family members that might want to take over this successful business when the time, like the grapes he sells, is ripe.