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December 12, 2016

Deep Salinas Roots

Tommy Nunes

The Nunes Company

Director Since Nov. 2016

Member Since 1976

 

Deep Salinas Roots

 

FAMILY BACKGROUND: Tommy Nunes, or “T5” as he is called in the office and in the industry, comes from a long line of Salinas Valley farmers.  His great grandfather, Tom Nunes, began farming in the Salinas Valley in the 1930s and then passed the baton to sons Bob and Tom, with Tom being T5’s grandfather.  Those two brothers sold the family’s original grower-shipper operation to Inter Harvest Inc. in 1971 and stayed out of the shipping business for five years, in accordance with their non-compete contract.  In 1976, the Nunes Brothers formed today’s iteration of the family’s business with The Nunes Company.

Tom and Bob are still active and daily participants in the decision-making process as they still come to the office pretty much every day.  “They are very supportive; it makes for a wonderful experience,” says Tommy.  Tom Nunes, Tommy’s father, is the president of the firm and the current “glue to the organization,” according to his son.

 

JOINING THE FAMILY OPERATION: While it would appear to be pre-ordained, Tommy Nunes says joining the company was not a foregone conclusion, at least not in his mind.  He grew up in Salinas and was quite the football player at Palma High School, which is the powerhouse team in the area.  Tommy intended to go the Stanford, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and grand uncle, and play football.  “While I was wait-listed there, I started getting recruited by some other schools.  At the end it was between Cornell and Princeton.”

He chose Cornell, which turned out to be a fortuitous choice.  Besides being a four-year starter and all-league as a defensive back his senior year, Tommy had Dr. Ed McLaughlin as his faculty advisor.  Dr. McLaughlin was the faculty liaison for student athletes and he is also a well-known academic in produce industry circles.  The professor helped guide the young Nunes’ academic career.  Still as a star athlete at the well-known New York Ivy League school, a Wall Street career was another opportunity within reach as he contemplated life after college.

But Tommy stayed involved in the family operation during college and he rarely if ever played a game without a member of the Nunes family or company in the stands.  “My grandfather went to 36 of my 40 college games and my parents came to 38 of them.  I also had uncles and company employees coming to the games when they were in the area.”

Subsequently, his father and grandfather offered him a position with the firm.  “It was a no-brainer when they asked,” he remembers.

 

VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS: The available position at the time was in operations and Tommy quickly accepted the challenge.  “During the summer of ’99, I moved to Yuma and began my career.”  He has remained in operations for the past 17 years and it is the part of the business he truly loves.  He said knowing operations is knowing the business from the ground up and he believes it is the best way to know the company inside and out.  While Tommy is now stationed in the headquarters office in Salinas, he’s typically on the road one to two days every week.

 

THE INDUSTRY NICKNAME: “To my friends from high school or college, I’m Tom or Tommy,” he says.  “They would have no idea who T5 is.”

Tommy credits a longtime employee, who has since retired, with coming up with the number designation to make sure phone calls to the office were routed to the right person.  So T1 is great-great-grandfather Thomas Nunes.  When he came to the United States Nunes was his middle name, but the last name was dropped and the legacy began.  T2 was the great-grandfather that began the Salinas farming legacy.  T3 is the 85-year old grandfather that co-founded The Nunes Company in 1976.  T4 is the current president and T5 is the vice president of operations.  And yes, there is a T6.  “He loves the T6 designation,” says T5 of his 10-year-old son.  “Anytime he is in a sport and can get the number 6 jersey, he goes for it.”

But T6’s mom (T5’s wife, Kristy) has branded the youngest as Thomas in an effort to distinguish him without the use of a numeral.

 

FAMILY LIFE: Tommy and Kristy, who he met in high school and graduated from USC, have three children in Thomas, Kate and Trey Marten.  While Tommy still loves football and endeavors to help out at his high school alma mater when he can, he said his business commitments are a huge crunch on his time and he doesn’t get to do that as often as he would like.  He still leads an active life with an rigorous annual backpacking trip with his buddies as one of the highlights.  This year, he took his oldest on the trip for the first time.  He said the vast majority of his free time is spent on every day activities with his family.

 

THE WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION:  This year when he was nominated to throw his hat in the ring and be on the Salinas ballot as a potential member of the Western Growers Board of Directors, Tommy was honored to comply.  “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the board and the people who run this organization led by Tom Nassif.  I’ve known many people on the board throughout the years and they have done a great job.”

Tommy believes there is a very good mix of generations on the WG board led by members with a vast amount of experience, but also a fair share of younger produce industry executives that also bring something to the table.  “The board has great balance with people with a tremendous amount of experience and also some people with some fresh and new ideas.”

He added:  “I have a lot to learn.  I’m listening a lot right now, but when it’s time to express my opinion, I will do that as well.”