January/February 2019

Produce Processing 7: Ron Carkoski

Produce is a legacy for Ron Carkoski, whose father worked in the industry for 42 years. Today, as CEO of The Four Seasons Family of Companies, Carkoski embraces his firm’s vision statement of “Driving Healthy Distribution.” Four Seasons includes Four Seasons Produce, Earth Source Trading, Sunrise Logistics and Sunrise Transport. The vision has helped Carkoski guide Four Seasons on its mission of offering consumers safe, healthy and fresh food through a second-to-none distribution system.

In 2019, Carkoski will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Fresh Produce Association, of which he served as board chairman in 2014-15. The Packer named him its Produce Industry Man of the Year in 2015.

After living in Pennsylvania for the past 24 years, Carkoski and his wife Patricia recently relocated to their new retirement home in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. They are the parents of three grown children: Karen (married to Lucas), John (married to Sara) and Susan, and grandparents to Jason and Annie.

What are the best words of advice you’ve received?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I have been the beneficiary of many wise and experienced teachers and mentors throughout my career. Their willingness to share their knowledge and the causes of their “scars” has helped me tremendously. However, if I have to choose one, what comes quickly to mind is some sage advice I received from my dad’s good friend who was the director of produce for a retail group in the Midwest. I was literally just getting started in the business. Dad asked his friend to stop by and talk with me about his experiences. During our conversation, he shared, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, some of your biggest mistakes will become the catalyst for your greatest successes.” It took me a few years to really understand that advice, but I can truly say that I’ve personally experienced that several times throughout my career.

I plan to find ways and opportunities to share my experiences and thoughts with folks new to the industry and with businesses that may benefit from that.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

Those who know me well know that I thoroughly enjoy playing the piano and singing. While I’ve kept doing both throughout my career, my playing skills especially are showing the effects of a lack of consistent practice. I intend to capture back as much of those skills as my 65-year-old mind and hands will allow me to do by playing my Schimmel grand piano daily. In particular, my goal is to learn to play Gershwin’s own piano solo version of “Rhapsody in Blue” well enough to play in front of people!

We are privileged to live in an absolutely beautiful part of Wisconsin called Door County. Our home is on the bluff overlooking the bay of Green Bay (Go Packers), which is a top walleye fishery, the No. 1 smallmouth bass water in the country and home to some brown and lake trout and salmon. We are considering which boat will best suit our fishing enjoyment and be a safe platform to take the grandkids out to enjoy the big water.

Speaking of grandkids, Pat and I want to spend more time being Grandma and Grandpa now that we are much closer to them.

We plan to take a cruise in August in the Baltic states. Pat’s ancestors come from Belgium and my grandparents came from Poland. The cruise stops in each of the countries and will allow us both to go to the cities where our families came from.

Finally, I plan to relax more and take life a day at a time. To borrow a line from Col. Sherman Potter in the final episode of “M*A*S*H,” I plan on, “spending more time being Mrs. Carkoski’s Mr. Carkoski.”

What do you do to relax?

I love to play the piano. I have a stack of books that are just begging to be read and I intend to catch up on that which I thoroughly enjoy. We have two older Rottweilers, Coach and Reggie, that I love to take out on walks and to play with. Both of them are operating at about the same speed that I am at this age. And every morning that weather permits, and even some mornings when the weather doesn’t permit, Pat and I have coffee (and tea) in our two chairs on the deck overlooking the bay with the two dogs by our feet. That can last for a few hours as we decide what could be so important to do that day that would make us move from those chairs.

What would you like to be your lasting legacy?

That I led with my heart first and then my head. I know some will disagree with that style, but I don’t care.

What are the top three things on your bucket list?

Maybe this is a sad statement to make, but I really don’t have a bucket list of things to do (not counting, of course, the “honey do” list). What we enjoy more than anything else is time spent and experiences enjoyed with each other, with family and with friends. From that comes ideas for places to go and things to do. Doing those things with our kids and their families, our friends, and the many wonderful friends I’ve gotten to know along the way are items 1 through 10 on my bucket list.

What job or work would you have pursued if you had not been in the produce industry?

I studied music in college with the intention of teaching choral, keyboard and voice at the high school level and possibly college level. I did teach for a while at a parochial high school just outside of Green Bay. However, that school closed due to lack of funding and any jobs in the fine arts were very hard to find in the mid-1970s. That’s when I joined my dad and started working in the produce business. So I probably would have been a choral music teacher.

What is the one truth you’ve learned about the produce industry?

It is a business built on relationships. And, relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on ethics and integrity. Regardless how many non-disclosure agreements or hold harmless agreements you sign, or how many detailed service agreements are in place, if true and solid relationships do not exist, the rest doesn’t matter. If someone does make the effort to build those relationships, the produce industry is a wonderful business to build a career on.

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