Member Profile – Howard Nager

Howard Nager
Vice President of Business Development
Sun Pacific Marketing Cooperative

There’s an old Hank Snow country song called “I’ve Been Everywhere.”  That song could pertain to the successful and interesting career of Howard Nager, vice president of business development for Pasadena, CA-based Sun Pacific.  His career choices through the decades have taken him to all four corners of the country and many spots in between, though his allegiance to the Boston sports teams of his youth remains intact.

He grew up north of Boston where his neighbor happened to be the Purity Supreme store manager.  When he was 16 years old, Nager got a job at Purity Supreme, where he “bagged groceries, shagged carts in the snow and just about everything else. My neighbor was a nice guy.  He’d always work my schedule around whatever sport I was playing at the time, be it baseball or soccer.”

One of his favorite stories is “guarding” the store during the “Blizzard of ’78.”  Nager said, “During the blizzard, there was a lot of looting taking place.  I lived about three miles from the store and was asked if I could stay overnight and guard the store.  I did two full day and night shifts.  I had great fun snacking on deli sandwiches and other items.  Had someone tried to loot the store, I have no idea what I would have done.”

He graduated from the Babson College Business School in Wellesley, MA, working part time at Star Markets while in school.

Saying he “lucked out,” after college he secured a job with Dole.   “I hung inflatable bananas and pineapples.  I was transferred to San Francisco to the Castle & Cooke (Dole) corporate office in 1983.” 

Nager honed his skills as a retail specialist by traveling across the country giving training seminars.  “When I gave my first seminar, it was supposed to be six hours long. I was so nervous that I made it through in three hours.  Over time, I had developed a repertoire that included techniques, stories, slides and a film presentation with some jokes thrown in. This gave me a tremendous foundation to build upon.”

It was then back to the East Coast and Long Island, where Nager worked with Dole pre-cut vegetables, mostly for foodservice accounts.

Miami was the next stop on the Nager Produce Tour, with Del Monte Fresh Produce.  “We had four owners in my seven years at Del Monte, the largest being RJ Nabisco.”

After seven years, it was on to the Big Apple, but while in New York City, it was bananas Nager was more interested in selling. He became the vice president of marketing for Pacific Fruit/Bonita Bananas.

It wasn’t long before the traveling man found himself back in Northern California.  He worked for Sunsweet, which was part of Sun Diamond, also as vice president of marketing.  He first lived in Danville in the East Bay of San Francisco and then moved to Roseville, east of Sacramento.

His next work adventure was at Maui Pineapple, which only required a relatively short distance change in addresses as the firm’s mainland offices were located back in the Bay Area in Concord, CA.  That job did require frequent travel to Maui. 

Several years later big apples were again in the mix but this time that reference was to the commodity, not the city.  Nager joined Domex Superfresh in Yakima, WA in 2008 in his familiar role as vice president of marketing.  “I traded California for the Northwest,” he said, and secured his third corner slot in the United States.

His geographically challenging career also included lots of traveling for each job.  “I was on the road 40 percent of the time working trade shows, visiting customers and doing sales.”

Though he stayed at Domex for eight years, a change of scenery was once again in the works when he took his current position with Sun Pacific in Pasadena, rounding out his four-corners odyssey.  He has since moved to nearby Monrovia.

 “Move” is the key word for Nager.  In his career he has moved 12 times.  “Some might say I can’t hold a job.  All these moves have offered me so many great experiences along the way.  I have been fortunate to visit all 50 states and five foreign countries.”

Amazingly, he has managed to have some free time along the way.  “I’m very proud of my volunteer work with Produce for Better Health beginning in the late ‘80s with PMA’s 5 a Day.”  He was chairman of PBH in 2015-2016.

He also finds time to be a Career Ambassador for PMA’s Center for Growing Talent, working with college juniors and seniors. “I love when I see the moment it hits them what the produce business is all about.”

Sports is Nager’s passion, especially rooting for the Celtics, Red Sox and those New England Patriots.  But living in different cities has also given him the opportunity to see other teams.  “When I lived in Northern California, I’d often go to 49er and Giants games.  Now that I live down here, I attend Kings, Lakers and Dodger games, including one of the World Series games last year against the Red Sox.”

Nager has played golf for years, many times at produce golf tournaments.  He said, “At 58, I decided I should learn how to play better, so I am about to start golf lessons.”

The longtime marketing expert said he has enjoyed his travels over the years and is appreciative of the people he has encountered along the way.  “I learned so much from an array of people and have friends in the industry, many who have risen to become presidents of companies.”   

That’s what happens when you’ve been “everywhere.”