NASSIF TAKES HIS PLACE INWESTERN GROWERS HISTORY Always the Advocate
By Tim Linden A few months ago, former Western Growers chairman and longtime board member Gary Pasquinelli commenting on the career of soon-to-be retired WG President & CEO Tom Nassif, said the association got more than it bargained for when it hired the former ambassador to Morocco almost two decades ago. “When we hired Tom, we knew we had a good man. He possesses a rare skill set and has brought a remarkable degree of professionalism to the job,” Pasquinelli said. “His commitment to the job and his integrity are unmatched.” Others pointed to those same varied talents, specifically mentioning his financial skills. Pasquinelli succinctly said “we got a twofer” referring to Nassif ’s ability to handle the business side of running a large organization as well as the politics involved in any member association. Interestingly, when Tom Nassif recently looked back on his Western Growers career, he noted his biggest surprises upon taking the position was the immediate need for his business acumen. “I was surprised by the financial shape the organization was in,” he said. “Very few people knew it…not on the staff nor on the board.” But Nassif quickly tapped into his ability to run a company and righted the ship. He worked with the board to jettison some financially failing programs and sharpened the accounting pencil. Over the past two decades, he has developed what is arguably the most innovative, and most financially secure, trade association in the fresh produce space. Nassif came to the position with a lot of experience because of both a fascinating career that spanned a couple of continents and several industries. He worked in the United States and North Africa; lived in the East, West and Midwest; worked as a lawyer, businessman and diplomat; lived a spiritual life and founded a church; and through it all, has had a thoroughly rewarding and challenging life.
The Early Years Thomas A. Nassif was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in July of 1941, and lived there for the first decade of his life. His family had emigrated from Lebanon to the United States, first coming to the East Coast. Nassif said the relocation to Iowa by his parents was simply an effort to pick a place where they could try to be successful. “Immigrants went to areas where they could make a living. My dad came to Iowa to barter with farmers bringing dry goods out to the farms trading them for food to feed his family,” he said, adding that there was a Lebanese community in Cedar Rapids large enough to support two Orthodox churches. The Nassifs moved to Hollywood, CA, in the early 1950s with the elder
Nassif exploring an opportunity to invest in a draft beer business. “My dad wanted to use the proceeds from the house we sold in Iowa; my mom would have none of that, telling my dad he had to buy the family a house.” So Tom’s dad sold Oriental rugs instead. “He was a great salesman,” Tom remembers. Tom graduated from high school and then went on to Los Angeles State
14 Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com NOVEMBER | DECEMBER 2019
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