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June 30, 2015

A “Date” with Destiny

Albert P. Keck II

President

Hadley Date Gardens

Thermal, CA

 

Member Since 2005

Director since May 2015

Family Ties: Albert P. Keck II was named after his grandfather, who was responsible for bringing the Keck family to the Coachella Valley and introducing the business of agriculture into the family tree.  “My grandfather was an attorney in Los Angeles (graduated from USC School of Law early in the 20th century), who moved to the Coachella Valley sometime during the middle of his career when he was in his 40s.”

It’s not quite clear how, but he got in the date business and carried on both careers.  “My grandfather got us involved in dates, but I credit my dad as the builder of the business.”

After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in ag business, John Keck returned to the family farm when his father passed away.  “He jumped in with both feet and dedicated his life to a career in agriculture,” said his son.  “He boot strapped himself into a success taking us through recessions and periods of high interest rates to build a successful company.”

 

The Grandson’s Path to Ag:  After growing up in the Coachella Valley, Albert P. Keck II took a deliberate path out of the area to Stanford University, which isn’t an ag school and didn’t offer an ag degree.  After deciding a computer science career wasn’t for him, Keck was drawn to economics as an undergraduate degree and eventually matriculated to the food research department for his graduate work.  It was the closest thing to ag economics that Stanford offered.  Somewhere along the line his love of the land and agriculture was re-ignited.  “I spoke the language; it resonated with me,” he said of the food-related course work.

Keck readily admits that it was late in the 1980s and the United States was in a pretty big recession.  Jobs were hard to find which is one reason he went to grad school.

 

Picking A Career:  When Keck was in college, his father had the opportunity to buy the Hadley Date Company, which included the iconic retail store in the desert on Interstate 10.  But the elder Keck only was willing to make the purchase if the younger one was going to come home to the family business and run the operation.  “We had land and ranches in Arizona and New Mexico and my dad wanted to move a bit east and slow down.”

Albert Keck II agreed and 25 years later, he is in the midst of a revival in the date industry.

 

A Growing Business: Today, the family enterprises include operations in California, Arizona and New Mexico and comprise dates, pecans, alfalfa, and cattle.  Albert currently is president of Hadley Date Gardens, Inc. and chairman of the California Date Administrative Committee and the California Date Commission.

Several years back, the Hadley retail business was separated from the date growing business and sold.  The Keck family of companies no longer includes the familiar Hadley Fruit Orchard store.  Keck admits that running a retail store offered an entirely different set of challenges, and was not compatible with the family’s other agricultural businesses.

 

A Date Industry in Revival: The company’s number one business is growing, packing, processing, wholesaling and distributing dates all across America.  During the housing boom in the 1990s and 2000s, the date palm tree became a favorite landscape feature for upscale homeowners.  Consequently many acres of commercial date trees were sold for the trees themselves.  That led to a strong market for dates and re-investment in plantings over the past decade.  Right now the industry is thriving with the new trees bearing more fruit every year.  “We expect our volume to double over the next decade,” Keck said.

 

WG Connection:  Keck is very good friends with John Powell, who has been active in Western Growers for many, many years, including a stint as chairman of the board.  “I always admired the organization from afar but did not really consider it in my realm.  I thought of it as more of a vegetable organization, and believed, as a date company, we were different.  John encouraged me to join and get involved.  And we did so about 10 years ago.  Over the years, I did notice that Western Growers has breadth that I wasn’t aware of and it does seem to have expanded more into specialty crops such as nuts and dates.  In fact, Western Growers is a strong advocate for specialty crops.”

 

At the End of the Day: Albert lives in Bermuda Dunes with his wife, Caroline.  They have four children: two daughters and two sons.  “It seems like all of our spare time is taken up by raising our kids.  One friend called it the ‘spin cycle of life,’ but I love being a dad and all that goes with it.”

The Keck kids range from 15–22, with the third going off to college in the fall.  So far, none of the kids has plotted a career in the family business, but Keck says it is not beyond the realm of reality.  His oldest daughter is married and living in Wyoming, but he has a 20-year old daughter at Pepperdine University studying communications and marketing, which he said definitely has utility in the family business.  And his two sons, 18 and 15, have shown an affinity toward working the land and growing up as the typical children of a farming family.  Time will tell if any join the family operation.