CACC: How did you begin your career in the fresh fruit industry? Did you always envision yourself working in this field?
John Ercolani (J.E.): Our family customs brokerage business was first started in 1968. It has been a trade my family has practiced for generations, and one I was able to identify with from an early age. My involvement in the fresh fruit industry came after and for a different reason.
With the focus on trying to understand all the different facets of the industry, I spent most summers as a young adult moving to and from different departments within our family business. I filled in where needed while handling various commodities, both import and export.
After receiving my Business Degree at Rider University and not long after I started working full-time, I was “volunteered” to move to the perishables department and handle fresh fruit. I had to quickly pivot, as handling fresh fruit was very different: the pace, the passion, and the constant pursuit of getting the fruit to market. I thoroughly enjoyed it, anticipated it may be my calling, and jumped in.
From the beginning, I found the interaction of so many industry partners involved in the regulatory and supply chain fascinating. The process enables even the smallest growers from many remote locations, independently or through export companies, to fulfill the many vast government regulations required for export controls to the USA. It was the epitome of free market.
CACC: When was your first visit to Chile and how does J&K Fresh East support Chilean trade?
J.E.: My initial visits to Chile helped me better understand the history and culture of the fresh fruit industry. My first visit was in 2008, prior to US Customs’ announcement of the Importer Security Filing regulation in 2009. In anticipation, I was welcomed by ASOEX to give a presentation to the growers/shippers to prepare for the new rule. The excitement for their fruit was apparent and their desire to establish strong personal relationships was so refreshing. Countless visits to Chile have followed with many dear friendships having been forged since.
For many of the individuals currently at J&K Fresh East, our support of the Chilean trade started at the inception of the trade first arriving in the mid 1970’s in the Port of Philadelphia. Concentrating on the needs of the importers and doing what is best for the fruit has always been our focus.
We have evolved and grown with the ever-changing market. What once was a limited seasonal business is now a year-round program supporting both small family-oriented import marketing companies as well as large multi-national corporations.
I have been on the CACC Board since 2012, following in the footsteps of George Sibley, our Senior Consultant for perishable cargoes. He was a 2005 CACC Friend of Chile Award recipient, so our commitment to the cause is long-standing. We value the special relationship between Chile and the Ports of the Delaware River, and will always strive to make it stronger and mutually beneficial.
CACC: What is your favorite part of working within the maritime trade industry?
J.E.: The complexity of the maritime industry is fascinating. The ebbs and flows of this business, no pun intended, create a fair share of challenging problems that require equally unique and demanding solutions. Solving those problems, creating new solutions and being acknowledged by our clients for going the extra mile is what makes this business so special and rewarding.
The growers, exporters, shipping lines, importers, fumigators, and terminal operations all working together to move perishables so efficiently, within this trade lane, is the true success story of the Chilean trade with the USA. These relationships, as well as those that we share with the government agencies, are the backbone of what we do.
As the industry continues to expand in the Ports of the Delaware River, the acceleration of building new refrigerated warehouses and repackaging lines to facilitate customizing of retail requirements continues to evolve.
CACC: What makes the CACC a special and valuable organization to you?
J.E.: The Chamber has always stayed true to its objective to encourage and improve trade relations between the Republic of Chile and the Ports of the Delaware River. Those achievements have been accomplished through cross-border leadership and the ability to adapt and overcome no matter what the obstacle. Whether it is bringing industry leaders together for the Annual “Friend of Chile” Awards Luncheon or a less formal pre-season planning session, these CACC events are the catalysts that continue to move our port community forward. These efforts continue to shape the success and growing trade between the Republic of Chile and the Ports of the Delaware River.
CACC: Who have been the most influential people that helped shape your career in perishables?
J.E.: Bill Fagan and George Sibley.
Bill’s dedication and work ethic leaves most exhausted just viewing from afar, but for him it is just another Tuesday. Bill is a leader by his example; he has the motor of a diesel engine and has cultivated a work ethic that so many have tried to match. His energy and commitment to the industry is inspiring.
Outside of family, George has had one of the greatest impacts on my life, both professionally and personally. He has been the constant since the start of my career. When I was “volunteered” to handle perishables, George was instrumental in encouraging my love for the work. He encouraged when expectations were met and gave direct, constructive feedback when I needed it. He has been the guiding factor in my career since then. He is complete with every detail and a consummate professional.
I continue to feel extremely fortunate to work alongside these great mentors and friends.
Many thanks to John for participating in this Spotlight Series!