Today: How Sam Perricone, an 8th grade dropout, built a business empire.
In 1933, the Great Depression was taking a horrific toll on families everywhere. Sam was just 13 when his dad died, forcing him to quit school to help support the family by working for his mother in her small Pueblo, CO grocery store.
In those days, there was no Social Security and Sam’s dad had left just $1,000 in life insurance. In 1935, weary and depressed, the family abandoned their home and store and drove to Los Angeles where they hoped to make a better life.
Sam worked as a laborer but found he could make more money picking lemons and oranges in what today is called the Inland Empire, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. By the time he was 16, he not only had his driver’s license but scraped together enough cash to buy a small pickup truck.
Sam picked and packed the fruit and with his pickup truck, hauled it to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles. There he sold the fruit and split the proceeds with his employers
These money splits taught Sam business, as he worked out deals. But to make it big in business, what he lacked was investment capital. He solved that by forming handshake partnerships to sell others’ produce on a grand scale as he reinvested his profits to expand his distribution.
Sam also used some of his profits to buy citrus acreage in California and Arizona, where he grew his own produce in mass. Eventually, Sam owned or with partners operated 25 major agricultural businesses and became one of America’s largest citrus growers, distributing citrus fruit across the nation. He was also one of the first U.S. exporters of citrus to Asia.
This is how Sam made his fortune. But accumulating vast wealth was not the real measure of this man. Having started with so little, he understood the troubles of others and he was very generous with them.
For example, before World War ll began in 1941, many Grand Central Market stands were owned by Japanese Americans who were major growers in the Los Angeles area. But in February, 1942 when President Roosevelt issued an Executive Order to lockup Japanese Americans as security risks in “internment camps” for the duration of the war, most of them lost everything they owned.
For there was no time to sell their homes, cars, businesses, farms and other property for anything but fire sale prices. After the war, most Japanese Americans never got their Market stands back. But Sam and his brother Tony ran two of those stands in the absence of their Japanese American friends and after the war gladly gave those stands back to them, their rightful owners.
Later, Sam quietly donated money to many charities, including Catholic charities and the famed City of Hope cancer center. He also raised money for Israel. But he often did this anonymously seeking no personal acclaim for himself.
In addition, Sam was a devoted family man, always spending time, especially weekends with his family. But Sunday was the big event, when Sam cooked a big dinner for his wife Mary and their three children, Joe, Sam and Lucy and for their large extended family and friends. Everyone was welcome to pull up a plate and eat and talk and laugh together.
But business was also Sam’s love and he worked it Monday thru Friday. A typical day for him would begin at 4 am and he was in his office in the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market before 6 am. And despite his vast wealth, each time he bought a personal vehicle it was a white van so he could haul produce.
At the age of 91, Sam was still actively involved in the business and continued to drive. But in response to the concerns of his family for his age, he hired family friend Tony Martinez to drive him. However, Sam kept driving to the office, Tony sitting next to him. At the office, Tony did computer work and then Sam let Tony drive him to make produce deliveries and drive him home.
But having worked since 1933, on July 5th, 2011, Sam made his last produce delivery. The next day, he met with Sunkist and that night at dinner, he told his family he didn’t feel well and asked them to call an ambulance. On the 7th, doctors told the family he wouldn’t survive the day.
At 12:03 am on the 8th, with family gathered around him and his son Joe holding his hand, Sam looked Joe in the eyes. Joe said, “Dad, I love you and we’re going to be okay.” He then closed his eyes,” said Joe, “And that was it.” It was also 15 years to the day Sam’s wife Mary died at the age of 77. They had been married for nearly 55 years (1941 to 1996).
Sam is survived by his children, Joe, Sam and Lucy and by numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. But he is also survived by the thousands of people he employed over the years, by the many people his entrepreneurial skills and advice guided and by those who benefited from his extensive charitable contributions. Yet as his son Joe said, “He was an incredibly humble man.”
Success Tip of the Week:
If you want to be a business success but don’t have the education or the money, do as Sam did and start small. And attend industry conferences so you meet the key people in that industry and learn from them. You may start a business faster than you think.
Thank you to Joe Perricone whose help was invaluable in telling his dad’s story. And thank you to Los Angeles Times writer Dennis McLellan, who helped bring us together and for Dennis’ excellent obit: “Sam Perricone dies at 91; giant of citrus industry.” http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/15/local/la-me-sam-perricone-20110713 To learn more about this family business, please visit their website: http://www.perriconefarms.com/
In the next KazanToday:
A whirlwind of a lady starts America’s 1st women’s homeless shelter.