Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Profit & Environment

This corporate leader sees a compatibility of interests in being a good businessman and caring for the environment, and he speaks for more than not.

Blow Your Own Horn
By THE AMERICAN From the January/February 2008 Issue

There’s no contradiction between making profits and respecting the environment, says David DeLorenzo.

As he tells it, David DeLorenzo became CEO of Dole Food Company Inc. the “old-fashioned way.” He joined the company straight out of business school 37 years ago and worked his way up to the top posi¬tion last June. He moved 13 times with Dole and spent 10 years in Central America. Dole, based in Westlake Village, near Los Angeles, has $6 billion in annual sales and 75,000 employees around the world. It is privately owned by David Murdock.

David, Dole was taken private in March 2003. How has that changed the company?

Not much in terms of the outside world. Internally, going private helps in the sense that we are focused on the long term. We are not worried about a stock price or the quarterly reports. It released some of the external pressures that other CEOs feel about the short-term results.

What sectors is Dole involved in?

We have three primary industries. One we call fresh tropical fruits. The banana business is actually our largest. Another business is packaged foods. The base of that is our canned pineapple business. Third is the fresh vegetable industry, which is based in Salinas, California. We’re in the packaged salads business. We helped begin that whole industry.

And you are a global company?

We’re in about 93 different countries. We source a lot of our fruit in the tropical world, and we are in the more remote sections of developing countries.

As a result, you provide services and infrastructure that most businesses do not.

Can you explain?

Many of our divisions are quite old, and a lot of the places we’ve gone to had hardly any roads, let alone any big infrastructure. So we have a heritage of pioneering. We not only go into remote areas, but we go on a large scale.

For example, when we went into Honduras over 100 years ago, we built a port there. We put in all the schools in the area. We brought in a whole order of Catholic nuns, actually. They were missionaries, but they acted as nurses and schoolteachers. We founded the first bank, the largest bank in Honduras today. We put in dairies because there was no milk. We know it is important to be not only a good corporate citizen but a lead corporate citizen. We joke sometimes that we’re working where other people are fighting or afraid to go, yet we seem to survive and thrive in those areas.

Where exactly?

I just got back from the Philippines, down in Southern Mindanao. I took four days flying around the island in a helicopter. We have about 30,000 people working there. We have an operation that is almost completely self-sufficient, from nurseries where we are growing seeds for agriculture, to farms spread all over the countryside, to packing plants. We have two big industrial complexes for box manufacturing. We make our own plastics. We have a big printing company for labels for our boxes. We have schools, hospitals, and ports.

What about labor standards?

Whatever standards we put on ourselves—employment, child labor, sanitation—we enforce the same conditions with our associate growers. We teach them the right way to do things.

In Ecuador, for example, when we got there 40 years ago, it was mostly small banana growers. And it was pretty primitive—very small packing houses, unsanitary conditions. So we went in over the years and cleaned everything up, brought up all the environmental standards, and basically raised the standards of an entire industry. Even these small growers have places where the employees have dining rooms, where there are proper toilets and washrooms, where their packing plants are as clean as a whistle.