Sharing Success – Tom Cortopassi
As the holidays approach, I have spent some time counting our family’s blessings: continued good health, the success of each of our children in pursuing their individual dreams, and the ongoing success of our Independent restaurateur customers.
We especially feel blessed for the life of Dino and the example that he set for so many of us. Part of what made Dino so extraordinary was that, in addition to being a visionary thinker, he enjoyed teaching those insights to others, including our restaurateur customers.
For example, because he strongly believed in helping Independent restaurateurs further improve their business skills, he created La Trattoria back in 1990. He felt a special connection to restaurateurs because the restaurant industry is where someone with a good idea and a strong work ethic can still afford to pursue the American dream.
Especially from his roots as a “scratch start” farmer, Dino knew from experience that doing business is rarely trouble free.
One reason for Dino’s continuing business success was that he always viewed every challenge as an opportunity, rather than a problem. In fact, one of his favorite sayings was “Opportunity often arrives cleverly disguised as an unsolvable problem.”
Throughout his own career, Dino demonstrated how disruptive challenges present opportunities for businesses to further stand out from their competition. As he described it, “Zig while everyone else zags.”
Here is an example from his early farming career long before he bought Stanislaus. Back in the 1960s, California agriculture largely depended on hand labor to harvest nearly every crop in the state. But in 1960, the federal government announced that it would soon end its guest worker program with Mexico.
As a young tomato grower not yet thirty years old, Dino saw the looming shortage of ag labor as “an unsolvable problem” with devastating consequences for farmers. Labor costs would soon be driven sky high. Meanwhile, it would be hard for farmers to find enough workers to harvest their perishable crops.
While most farmers took a “wait and see” approach, Dino “zigged while others zagged” by becoming an early adopter of mechanical tomato harvesting technology.
So back while they were still experimental, Dino bought one of the first three harvesters available in 1963. Dino reasoned that if he could make the new technology work, he could dependably keep supplying tomatoes to local canneries when others couldn’t, earning premium prices. It wasn’t easy, but Dino stuck to his guns to make the new technology work.
Based on that early success, Dino “doubled down” over the next four years. He reinvested all his tomato profits into more mechanical harvesters and rented as much farmland as he could find. By 1968, when the rest of the tomato growers finally adopted mechanical harvesting, Dino had grown his farming business 5 times over!
This and other farming innovations eventually gave Dino the resources and confidence to buy Stanislaus in 1978.
Dino’s “treating challenges like opportunities” will work for any business in any industry because most companies react to adversity by becoming overly defensive. They leave the field open to others willing to play offense.
Just think about your own experience as a consumer in recent years, interacting with large, cost-oriented retailers. They faced the same business challenges, from cost inflation to labor shortages, that you have. But many responded defensively by cutting corners on quality, reducing portion sizes, reducing hiring standards, running short staffed, insufficiently training new hires, becoming less dependable/accountable, etc., etc. The result? From the consumer’s viewpoint, doing business with them has become less satisfactory over time.
That is precisely why “problems” represent business opportunities. The greater the gaps in service and product quality that competitors create, the bigger the opportunity it gives other businesses to “go on the offensive” by further enhancing quality and service, thereby delighting customers.
We miss Dino every day and are especially grateful for the many valuable insights that he shared over the years and his encouragement to never stop improving. On behalf of everyone at Stanislaus and Corto, we hope you enjoy your families during the holidays!
Until next time,
President and Co-Owner