Western Growers Chairman of the Board Ron Ratto, who also headed up the selection committee for the 2019 Award of Honor recipient, said selecting WG President/CEO Tom Nassif was as close to a no-brainer as there is.
“How could we not acknowledge his service to Western Growers,” he said. “We know we are going to be celebrating his career at Western Growers at the Annual Meeting (which is where the Award of Honor is presented each year), it was a natural selection to name Tom.”
While the award has typically been given to an industry member with a hands-on connection to production agriculture, Ratto said there is no one that has done more for the Western Growers community over the last two decades than Tom Nassif. “The Award of Honor is the highest recognition for individual achievement to the ag community. Who has accomplished more for our industry?”
Ratto, who is president of Ratto Bros., Inc., Modesto, CA, is also chairing the search committee to find Nassif’s replacement, as the Western Growers president is retiring at the end of the year after nearly two decades of leadership. Ratto said they are big shoes to fill but the search committee is moving forward with the effort and hopes to have a selection by the Annual Meeting, which will be held November 10-13 in Hawaii.
It will be at that convention that Mr. Nassif will be recognized at the Award of Honor Dinner on November 12 at the Wailea Beach Resort in Maui.
Western Grower & Shipper asked a number of people who are well acquainted with Mr. Nassif to weigh in on his service to Western Growers and his impact on the industry. (Some of the comments have been condensed and paraphrased.)
Ron Ratto, Ratto Bros., Inc., Modesto, CA
2019 Western Growers Chairman of the Board.
“I’m a relative newcomer to Western Growers as it has only been the last 10-12 years that I have been actively involved with the board and dealing with Tom. I know some of my colleagues have a history going back 30 or 40 years. My quick impressions are that Tom is brilliant and funny and uses his wit in a very useful way. It has been my good fortune to be involved in this industry with a person of his caliber.
“Under his leadership, this organization has done a wonderful job of building businesses that have brought great value to the membership. Tom has a great staff but he is the leader…and it is to his credit that he has built such a talented staff.
“He has built some great programs from food safety to technology that set the trade association apart. He has done a tremendous job for Western Growers and for the industry. I don’t think there is anyone that has done any more than he has.”
Carol Chandler, Chandler Farms, Selma, CA
Treasurer, Western Growers Board of Director
“I first met Tom because of my involvement with California Women for Agriculture. It was Tom who asked me if I would consider serving on Western Growers board as an at large member. Tom saw an advantage in having women with grassroots backgrounds in agriculture serving on the board. He appreciated what we brought and wanted to have a broader scope of participation on the board. Tom is inclusive. Eventually, I was able to get elected on my own right. He encouraged me to step up into a leadership position.
“When I think of Tom, advocacy and diplomacy come to mind. He is the consummate diplomat. I’ve seen him in action in both Sacramento and Washington D.C. He is a tough negotiator but is always diplomatic. A great example is when he introduced Gavin Newsom to the board. It’s hard to describe, but he wanted to let Gavin know that we were a bit suspicious, but we were open to listen to him. It was consummate Tom. He did it in such a funny way.
“I think it is very fitting that we are giving him the Award of Honor, honoring his legacy and the tremendous service he has given to Western Growers.”
Sammy Duda, Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Salinas, CA
Former WG Chairman of the Board
“As Chairman, you get to spend quite a bit of time with Tom. I was struck by several things about Tom. First was his passion for the produce business and his drive to do what’s right for the industry and, especially, for WGA members. He is a tireless advocate for our industry and his stamina is incredible.
“On a humorous note, Tom is also very particular about what he likes especially with his food in restaurants. He is not shy about sending his food back when it doesn’t meet his expectations. I reminded him on more than one occasion what the chef does to the food when you send it back. He replied, “Yes I do as I read Anthony Bourdain’s book”, but he continued to do it anyway much to my entertainment. I never asked for a taste of what he ordered after he got it back from the chef!
“It is remarkable what WGA has become under Tom’s leadership especially with regard to its financial position. Having said that, he has never lost sight of the importance of member advocacy at a state and federal level. His leadership and guidance in WGAT (Western Growers Assurance Trust) and the opening of the Center for Innovation and Technology will be lasting legacies of Tom for many years to come.”
Matt McInerney, Former Senior Executive Vice President of Western Growers
“Tom commenced his employment with Western Growers in early 2002, which was a pivotal time in the history of the association, with the recent untimely passing of President Dave Moore. Tom brought to WG unprecedented career credentials. Upon joining the association, Tom challenged staff and the Board of Directors to prioritize both new and existing member services that would enhance the value proposition for WG members. There was a renewed energy on member-first activity for these last 18 years.
“In an endeavor to advance policy at the federal level, Tom took the lead in advocating for having specialty crops included in the Farm Bill, something that was not a permanent situation before his arrival. He was also tireless in advancing legislation for an immigration fix. To this day, he is the lead for all of agriculture in negotiating a solution for the legal and reliable workforce needs of ag. To increase the position of WG as a national influencer on policy, he opened a Washington, D.C. office with WG staff advancing those critical issues important to the membership.
“Since the establishment of Western Growers in 1926, there has not been a president that has left such an indelible mark on the association as Tom has. He was the right man at the right time for the challenges of the position of president. He has been true to the mission to enhance the profitability and competitiveness of the members, and Western Growers is a better place for his dedicated service.”
Mike Stuart, Former president of Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association
“I met Tom in 1979 in the middle of the Imperial Valley labor issues when I was working for Western Growers, but I didn’t really get to know him until after he was named president of WGA.
“Both Tom and I realized that FFVA and WGA had a very good relationship and we wanted to continue that. We had many shared members and had the same vision with few differences. And we didn’t let those few differences get in the way of working together. We agreed to attend each other’s conventions when we could. Over the years we became very good friends and have had a very good relationship. Neither of us shy away from differences when they arise and I believe we both respect that in the other. Tom is a very assertive individual. I think it is his basic personality and a result of his legal training.
“As a former employee of Western Growers, I am very familiar with where the organization was when Tom came aboard. It needed new leadership. Tom was an outstanding selection. He was the right person for the right job. He came in and did what had to be done.
“As far as working with him is concerned, a couple of things stand out…one was the partnership we formed, along with others, to create the Specialty Crop Alliance for the Farm Bill. Second, was the effort he put forth when we were negotiating immigration reform in the winter and spring of 2013 with the Senate and Californa’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Tom’s leadership was extremely helpful in putting together the agreement. His skills as a labor negotiator were very much in evidence. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get that legislation past the finish line but it was a heck of an effort.”
Gary Pasquinelli, Pasquinelli Produce, Yuma, AZ
Former WG Chairman of the Board
“I met Tom Nassif in 1971, during the contentious labor battles in the Yuma area. I’ve always said we got a ‘twofer’ when we hired Tom. Western Growers always had someone running the insurance side and a different leader for the association side. Tom did both. He shattered that myth.
“I’m not sure we knew when he was hired the degree of professionalism he would bring to the job. We knew we had a good man, but the skill set he possesses might have been a bit of a surprise. His commitment to the job and his integrity is unmatched. I think he can sell ice to Eskimos, but he is as polished as anyone in agriculture. As you can see I am the self-appointed president of the Tom Nassif Fan Club. He has set the bar very high and it is going to be very difficult to replace him.”
Vic Smith, J.V Smith Companies, Yuma, AZ
Former WG Chairman of the Board
“I first met Tom shortly after he was hired (at Western Growers in 2002) when he came to Yuma to introduce himself and listen to our concerns. I was very impressed with his desire to help all areas of WGA membership. My best memories working with Tom were associated with our travels. There was the Havana, Cuba, trip with multiple samplings of the finest cigars and his dancing at the night clubs. When I was chairman, he and I traveled to Palm Beach for the Florida group’s annual meeting and I really enjoyed his sense of humor which seemed to improve the further he was away from the office.”
“I think Tom has done remarkable work for our association during his tenure as he has elevated WGA to greater recognition in the state governments we operate in and to an even higher level in Washington, DC.
“He has ‘raised the bar’ for performance and accountability for all of us in our industry. The successes we have had over the last 18 years are directly attributable to his, and his team’s, efforts. We have been very fortunate to have him as our leader.
Craig Reade, Bonipak Produce Inc., Santa Maria, CA
Former Chairman of the Board
“My first year on the board was the year Tom became the CEO so I have witnessed him close up throughout his WG career. I was a young man and it was an honor and a privilege to be on the WG Board. The senior partners at Bonipak like Milo Ferini knew Tom and had a very good opinion of him.
“Early on he had quite the presence and just did an amazing job at Western Growers. At the time he was hired, Western Growers was going through some rough times. Tom not only kept us afloat, but what he has done with regard to the bottom line is amazing. I think we got way more than we expected. He has been a man who has worn many hats and has done it well. We all knew about his labor relations skills, but we didn’t know he was going to be able to run all the businesses under the WG umbrella so well.
“On a personal note, he always treated me and my family very well and made sure when he came to Santa Maria that he got to know our business. He is just a good guy to hang out with, though, I wish he was a little more considerate. I have been fishing with him a couple of times and he always catches all the fish. He should be more considerate of his fellow fishermen. He’s a very competitive guy.”