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Anhony Talamo Rossi, Founder of Tropicana Juice Company

September 13, 1900 — January 24, 1993

You can read a rathery sketchy biography of Mr. Rossi here >> Tropicana Products Founder. Below, you can read "the rest of the story".

 

The year before I was born, when Anthony Rossi was 47, he realized a dream he'd been working towards all his life. He bought a small juice company in Bradenton, Florida. Mr. Rossi renamed that "mom & pop" shop "Tropicana Juice," then spent the next three decades growing the business into an internationally recognized & respected corporation employing thousands of people. Along the way he personally invented a pasteurization process that enabled Tropicana to sell juice not just locally but across the USA and around the world. At the age of 78, Mr. Rossi sold his company, by then renamed "Tropicana Products", to Beatrice Foods. He retired to a life of contemplation, prayer and of course continuing to do selfless acts for the good of his fellow human beings and always for the Glory of God, our Creator. At the age of 92, Mr. Rossi left this world of "toil and travail" for the reward found only in Eternity.

Several years after Mr. Rossi "went to his final reward," I accepted a year-long project at Tropicana Products in their technology center, which was still located in Bradenton, Florida. Although I never met Mr. Rossi, I quickly realized that he was not just a legend in the juice business, he was also beloved by his employees, who were quite vocal in their praise of him.

As usual, when I began my new contract with Tropicana, I did not know what to expect from the fulltime employees of the Tech department. Inevitably, in the beginning of an assignment, there is an uneasy state of "détente" between the employees and the newly-arrived consultant. Yet at Tropicana there was none of that tenseness. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. I did not understand it, but I was grateful for it.

When I would have lunch with my new coworkers, inevitably one or more of them would share their story with me. How and why they had ended up in the Technology department, or the accounting, marketing or logistics groups. Everyone's story was different, yet quite similar. The stories were uplifting yet seemed unbelievable, because they showed a side of a company leader one does not usually see.

It has been over two decades since I worked at Tropicana, and I still look back on those days with a smile on my face.

One quesstion still begs an answer: what did Mr. Rossi do that made so many of his employees remain loyal to him and his business precepts long after he was gone from tHis world??

Consider that when Mr. Rossi bought his juice company, he was almost half a century old, had been working since the age of six or seven, for many different employers. One can easily postulate that he had been treated well by some bosses and badly by others. Most likely he had acquired an experiential understanding of what it meant to love or hate a job — or a boss. If one is not happy at work, it can be very easy to take out your frustrations and angst on coworkers or subordinates. If you have a bad situation at work, you may eventually lash out at your family, friends or anyone you encounter outside of your work environment.

Mr. Rossi understood and had great empathy for the human condition. I believe he made a conscious decision to do his very best to treat his employes (indeed! anyone he encountered in his life) as he would wish to be treated. Most likely, he prayed for God's help and God ansered his prayers.

With the collaboration of his team leads and managers, Mr. Rossi developed a unique human resources plan, that E.F. Schumacher would, and may have!, envied. I learned this plan little by little over the course of that year-long Tropicana project. It was not a complicated plan. It was, in fact, an astonishingly simple plan.

Every team lead and every team manager, from shipping & handling, to marketing, to quality control workers on the 'orange line' (where the fruit was sorted by hand), to the cafeteria workers, to the cooks, to the janitorial staff, to the packers, to the trash collectors on the plant grounds, to the secretarial staff, etc. were tasked to not just lead and manage their teams, but pay particular attention to each member of those teams.

 
 

The lives of those employees who were given an opportunity to get a college education were changed forever. The lives of their families were changed forever. With a college education in a field of study they themselves chose, they could step out of their lives of formerly 'quiet desperation' to a world where dreams can come true."

The goal was to identify those workers who did the best job, were always on time, were the best at their jobs, those who volunteered suggestions to improve how work tasks were done. In short, the team leads and the team managers, would identify the best employees on each team. Then in secret meetings, they would review all of these employees with Mr. Rossi and together as a group, overseen by Mr. Rossi, they would select the best of the best. Those blessed workers, who did not have college educations, moreover who never expected to have the opportunity to get a college education, who were generally the first in their families to GO TO COLLEGE, would be given a full college education paid for by Mr. Rossi. Those lucky employees had to maintain at least a B+ average. They were kept on salary, but did not work for Tropicana during their college years. Mr. Rossi wanted them to focus on learning all they could at college. When they graduated, Tropicana would give them new jobs, real careers, according to their new skills learned at college. (By the way, the 'college' was actually the University of Florida, not a junior college.) The only stipulation was that the Tropicana students would agree to keep working for Tropicana for as many years as they had been attending college. Some of them even acquired masters degrees on Mr. Rossi's money. No one had to pay back what had been spent by Mr. Rossi on their education and income while they were being educated.

As one group graduated, more employees would be selected to get a college education paid entirely by Mr. Rossi.

The college fund ended five years after Mr. Rossi sold Tropicana to Beatrice Foods, I suppose by agreement with that purchasing corporation. By then more than 300 employees had acquired a free college education. An education they never would have thought possible. Generally, they were the first members of their families to get more than a high-school educaiton.

What was the end result of this 'great experiment'? Simple. Every person who got that free college education, stayed with Tropicana until they retired, or at least until Beatrice Foods sold the company to Pepsico who moved most operations to the Dallas, Texas area.

There was another benefit, that I am sure was not in Mr. Rossi's plans. At least for the technology workers, when they rejoined Tropicana after graduating college, they were earning about 10-15% less than they could have made had they chosen to leave Tropicana and go to work for other corportions. But they would not desert Tropicana. I know. I tried to get several of Tropicana's fulltime best developers, etc. to jump ship and they refused. In fact, they chastised me for trying to get them to leave Tropicana, even though my employer (a large consulting firm) would have paid them 25% more than they were making when I worked with them. That, as you remember, was years after Mr. Rossi was dead, and the company was owned by a less generous-natured enterprise.

Well now you know the "rest of the story".

I state categorically, that by the time Mr. Rossi began giving away college educations, he was spiritually a Child of God, which is the highest praise I can give to another human being. No doubt there are still people in the world who continue to pray for Mr. Rossi. I am one of them.

 

I know a few other American companies who have taken amazingly clever & empathetic steps to improve the lives of their employees, but I only know of one man, Mr. Anthony T. Rossi, who spent more than a million bucks of his own fortune (in the pre-billionaire world), to lift people out of deadend jobs, just because they worked hard for him. I hope I pray that I meet Mr. Rossi in Heaven one day.