Steve Martori III
Director Since 2017 | Member Since 1966
A LONG & WINDING HISTORY: Peter Martori, grandfather of former WG Chairman, longtime board member and Award of Honor recipient Steve Martori II, started the family business as wholesale vendor in New York City. The company migrated to Chicago and became a distributor years later under the tutelage of the second generation, which included Arthur Martori and his brother Stephen Martori. In the 1950s, the firm started acquiring farms in Arizona and California. Somewhere along the line, the farming operation, Martori Farms, took center stage. Arthur Martori was the father of Steven Martori II and the grandfather of current CEO/President Steve Martori III, who recently followed in the footsteps of his father and joined the WG Board of Directors. “The family acquired farms in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s,” Steve III said. “Sometime in the ‘60s, the wholesale operation was closed and we concentrated on farming.”
The firm does have some land on the California side of the border near Yuma, but Arizona is its home. Steve III said California is always tempting as he calls it “the best place in the world to farm. You always have to weigh that against the regulatory environment which makes it difficult. We are an Arizona company, but I will always reserve the right to look at other farming regions.”
MELONS ARE THE COMPANY’S FORTE: Martori Farms has long been noted for its cantaloupes and its Kandy brand. There are several articles written years ago in which Steve Martori II credited the advent of the Walmart Supercenters with propelling Martori Farms to the next level. The firm initially supplied Walmart with cantaloupes as it opened its first Supercenter in 1991 and grew along with that retail giant.
Steve III said cantaloupes are still king but the company is constantly trialing new varieties. It is well known for its exclusive Kandy Lemondrop melons. The green-fleshed melon features the sweet tartness of a lemon with hints of honeydew and watermelon.
STEVE III’s PATH TO THE EXECUTIVE SUITE: Not all of Steve II’s kids were interested in pursuing a career on the farm, but his namesake son was. After graduating from University of Arizona in 2008 with a combination degree in agriculture and economics, Steve joined the family firm fulltime. He had worked since high school in one capacity or another, but this was now his full time calling. Over the next several years, he worked in virtually all the company’s operations, including sales, farming, harvesting and its real estate development arm. By 2012, he was well on his way to being the next generation to lead the company. Steve II started stepping back about three years ago just as Steve III entered a graduate program at the Harvard Business School. The prestigious school has a special program for executives running a company. As CEO and president of Martori Farms, Steve III began his quest for his MBA from HBS, as he calls it in an effort to downplay the degree. The program combines online course work with annual three-week stints on-site over a three year period. He graduated this past summer. “It was a life changing opportunity for me,” he said, noting that the course work led to better ways to run the company more efficiently and pointed to new directions in which to take it. He knew financing and technology were critical elements for example, but said the educational rigor was eye-opening in these particular areas.
YOUNG PRESIDENTS’ ORGANIZATION: At 32, Steve III knows he is very young to be in his current position. He has looked for and found mentors in several areas including as a member of the YPO. “It’s a global organization open to presidents of companies that are under age 45 with over $12 million in sales and more than 50 employees. It is designed to be a support group for company leaders in an uncommon situation.” He is one of the group’s youngest members.
BULLISH ON AGRICULTUIRE: “I see the same headwinds as everyone else, but I fully intend for our company to be around for the next generation.” Martori said the agricultural industry has exhibited an amazing knack to “out-innovate” whatever problems lie in its path. He is confident technology can be utilized to solve the challenges that lie ahead. Of course, one of the biggest challenges is labor. Martori Farms was an early adopter of the H-2A program and has been using it successfully for 30 years. He is not confident Congress will successfully tackle immigration reform. “Seems to be such a wedge issue with both political parties using it to garner votes. It appears to be more useful to not have a solution.”
In the long run, Martori does believe technology will play a role in reducing the need for labor but he sees it as a very long term project. He believes innovation in varietal production, harvesting and packing need to combine to create varieties where robotics can play a role. “I don’t see a lot of change in that area over the next 10-15 years. It’s going to take time.”
THE ORGANIC REVOLUTUION: Martori Farms has been a leader in the production of organic melons, and Steve III expects the growth trend in that sector to continue. “There is a lot of demand from retailers. We are going to have a significant increase in our volume this year.”
The company markets its melons from May to December.
THE WG CONNECTION: Steve Martori III was a graduate of the first class of Western Growers’ Future Leaders Program, and he is the first member of that program to make it to the WG Board of Directors. He is excited about the challenge of being on the board and interacting with some of the longtime leaders of the association and the industry. “I do plan to lean on the expertise of others.” But he has no plans to shy away from the role board membership creates. He believes his involvement in the aforementioned Young Presidents’ Organization has given him insights and standing in his position.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: Steve III is single and quite busy running a company. In his spare time, he loves outdoor activities, including snow skiing and mountain biking.