E. Jack J. Larsen
- Professor Emeritus of Accounting
A Trojan Family Business Helps Feed a Nation
A Trojan Family Business Helps Feed a Nation
Across generations of a Trojan family tree, California-based farmers believe accounting is the language of business.
“As a young boy, I always wanted to be a farmer like my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” said J.P. LaBrucherie ’99. Today, he is president of LABRUCHERIE PRODUCE LLC, working with his father, Tim LaBrucherie ’69, who is CEO.
The farm, founded by the LaBrucherie family more than a century ago in California’s Imperial Valley, is part of the Winter Salad Bowl, a region where about 30 farms supply 90% of the nation’s vegetables in the winter, including iceberg and romaine lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and spring mix. J.P. followed in his father’s footsteps long before he joined the family business, by earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting at USC LEVENTHAL and then a law degree. J.P. and Tim agree that their accounting and law degrees bring strength to the company, and both maintain their CPA and law licenses.
It wasn’t only J.P. and his father who graduated from USC, but also J.P.’s wife, sister, and two grandparents. LaBrucherie Produce is without doubt a Trojan Family business. While LaBrucherie Produce focuses on growing, they have made some major changes in recent years, starting a one-stop irrigation supply business that grew naturally from sprinkler work they were doing for other farmers. They also converted to almost all organic farming — “That is our niche in the vegetable business,” J.P. said.
He and his father take personal pride in the family business, walking the fields every day and making it a priority to share the company’s success with their employees. Here, J.P. shares how his accounting education has helped the family business thrive. A loyal supporter of scholarships, he also offers advice for Leventhal students, who he believes have many opportunities open to them with an accounting degree.
How did you decide to follow in your dad’s footsteps?
Since I was a little boy, I always admired my father. I grew up seeing his successes in business and farming and was always told by the other farmers how bright and educated he was and always the most informed and one of the most helpful people in the room. So, I wanted to be just like him.
He also told me accounting is the language of business.
Once you speak the language, the rest of it you’ll more easily understand and perfect. I also heard all my youth about how much fun my dad had at USC. My parents took us to football games and walked the row and campus; so, of course, this was what I wanted to do. Who wouldn’t?! I went to USC and studied accounting, and my senior year I fully appreciated how important the accounting knowledge was. Seeing at that point how powerful my education would be, I then turned to the next area of education my father had, law school [at Stanford University], and thought, “Well, he was definitely right about accounting, let’s ask him about law.” He explained to me that being a lawyer gives you an edge and perspective and insight from the legal end, because so much of business is dependent on law, contracts, compliance, etc. But also, having a legal mind gives you an analytical edge for spotting issues and opportunities throughout all aspects of business. So, I went to law school, Notre Dame (sorry, USC), and loved it.
After law school, I earned my CPA hours at Deloitte and blended that with my legal background and focused a lot on tax law while there. Basically, I was able to use both forms of my education. But realizing public accounting wasn’t for me, and being more entrepreneurial, I had an amazing opportunity waiting for me on the farm. My dad was the only one in the family in the business, so why not see what I could learn from him and try it myself?
Plus, as a young boy I always wanted to be a farmer like my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. I saw my father and grandfather’s successes in doing it, and I knew I had the same educational tools as my dad, so I went for it.
So much of farming is accounting, believe it or not, as is any business.
What did you most value about your experience at Leventhal?
Falling in love with my wife, Stephanie, who was in the program with me! That’s the honest answer. Aside from that, the professors knew the rigor of the education (it’s tough), and they treated us students all so well. They were always available and helpful, whether that be in the classroom when someone was stumped (or a bunch of us) and stopping and going over some concepts slower in more detail until we all got it, office hours where they’d sit down with you and really explain something so you’d get it, or just in the hall walking they’d often check in on you or say hello and see how things were going, meaningfully. It was definitely paternal. I didn’t realize it or appreciate it as much at the time, but they looked out for everyone. The teachers learned everyone’s names, and it felt at home being in that building.
Along with this was the communications class with Professor Chrislynn Freed. She was fantastic at helping everyone get prepared (I mean everyone — the shy kids were getting prepared too, whether they wanted to or not) for interviews with the firms, public speaking, and presentations in front of groups. Especially for the students from other countries, Leventhal and Chrislynn really made sure they were prepared, as English was often their second language and a relatively new language. USC made sure that was accomplished; they were not letting these kids out of here into the real world without honing speaking and interview skills. Super cool of USC to do that. It could have easily been blown off as a class you had to take that you just skated through. No, not at Leventhal. You were going to be prepared, whether you wanted to or not!
How has your Leventhal education helped you with the family business?
So much of farming is accounting, believe it or not, as is any business, but especially when you grow 30 different crops and they all have a myriad of different cost inputs and revenue sources. And some crops like alfalfa, for the last for four years, requiring a form of depreciation of the upfront costs like seed and tractor prep work, while other crops, like spinach, are only in the ground 30 days.
My father became an expert at field and crop accounting, which sounds funny and simple, but it’s not really, as the methodology and software had to be perfected to truly account for how a field did as a standalone business unit — whether one crop or multiple crops were grown on that field for an accounting period and how a crop performed for a season/accounting period. A crop like lettuce might be grown on 20 different fields, and on those fields multiple crops or no other crops could have also been grown.
Some pretty serious cost accounting had to be implemented to determine not only if a field is performing well or not, but also how well a crop is performing overall, over many fields with different cost circumstances. And this type of precision accounting allows a farmer like us to dissect the business and find weaknesses — and opportunities.
The tax knowledge is tremendous as well. Tim, my father, has been taking care of that side of the accounting for almost 50 years, and he does a fantastic job given his background in accounting and law. Tim is still very active in the business too, acting also as the CFO and boss of all things accounting, and checking all the fields to spot any issues the rest of us may have missed given he has the most experience growing all these crops.
Did Leventhal and Marshall help you build entrepreneurial skills and knowledge?
It’s hard initially to think that way given accounting doesn’t have a reputation for entrepreneurship, but I’ll give an example of how Leventhal helped me be more entrepreneurial and strategic. Professor [Emeritus] E. JACK LARSEN told me, however a person behaves in their personal lives is how they’ll behave in business. He was so right, and I learned this the easy way due to him. I’ve almost always stuck with partners, clients, and vendors who conduct their lives in a moral and positively impactful way; and the few times where I’ve ignored that advice, inevitably it comes back to bite me.
Broadly speaking, accounting and law tell me, “Don’t do that, be careful,” whereas the classes I took at Marshall still tell me today, “Do that!” Simple examples are deals proposed to us. With accounting and legal knowledge, I can sniff out weaknesses and unnecessary risks. Sometimes, those can be corrected, and something can still be put together; and other times it’s the reality that this won’t be a good deal for us.
Doing business in California is very tough, especially when we’re competing with Mexico and Arizona on price, but luckily having the accounting and legal background we do, we have an edge on handling it all more effectively and efficiently, as understanding compliance fits well with accounting and law.
What do you love most about your work?
The people I work with on the farm, and knowing that every day we’re helping feed the nation in a substantial way. We have a solid team of managers, tractor drivers, and irrigators, some of whom have been working with us for over 40 years. How much do we appreciate our employees and believe in them as partners in our business? We legitimately share 20% of our profits each year with our employees, creating a really robust, motivated group of amazing people who treat each other like family because they know we’re all in this together. Helping the farm and helping each other helps the bottom line, and helping the bottom line helps them and their families. If all goes well and we manage this properly, it’s self-fulfilling success for everyone since everyone has skin in the game.
And regarding helping to feed the nation, it’s exciting seeing the harvest crews (hundreds of people) during our season all over our fields filling up thousands of bins and cartons with fresh produce that within a day or two will be on store shelves on the West Coast and in about four days all over the East Coast and Canada. It’s an exciting feeling that never goes away.
What does Stephanie, your wife and fellow Leventhal grad, do?
Stephanie is now a stay-at-home parent, and she is actively involved in charity work here in San Diego. We met at USC, and we really got to know each other when we had a group project for finance our junior year. No one else wanted to help, so we did all the work. At the time I was upset with them, but today I thank them, as they helped me find the love of my life. When I went to law school, she worked at Deloitte for a year and then was accepted to Notre Dame’s business school and joined me there and earned her MBA. She worked in finance and accounting after school, and after we were married and started having children, she chose the greatest job: being home with the kids.
How old are your kids, and are they considering USC and the family business?
My daughter, Ashley, is 17 and a senior, Timothy is 16 and a sophomore, and Matthew is 13 and an eighth grader. Yes, they are all considering USC, of course! Their mother and father went there, as well as their grandfather, and two great-grandparents! They talk about the family business, but they’re all still pretty young, so it’s too early to tell.
800 Million Carrots!
One of the things J.P. LaBrucherie loves most about his work is knowing that LaBrucherie Produce LLC is helping to feed the nation. Here, he gives us an idea of the massive scope of the family’s business and shares some of its impact as a food supplier for the nation as part of the Winter Salad Bowl. The quantities of vegetables they grow — including 800 million carrots and 10 million pounds of spinach — are staggering.
What is the “Winter Salad Bowl”?
There are about 30 of us vegetable farmers in the Winter Salad Bowl, which includes Yuma and Imperial Valley. We are in the Imperial Valley. All 30 of us supply 90% of the veggies produced in the winter months in the United States.
Can you give us an idea of the scope of your family’s business and share some of its impact as a food supplier for the nation?
We specifically grow about 6,000 acres of veggies each year. We grow 20 to 30 veggie crops each year, including but not limited to iceberg lettuce, romaine, broccoli, carrots, onions, cauliflower, chards, mizuna, arugula, kale, spinach, spring mix, kohlrabi, cabbage, dill, cilantro, parsley, baby bok choy, radishes, fennel, corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, butter lettuce, and celery. To get some sort of perspective of what 6,000 acres means, we grew about 500 acres of romaine and harvest about 13 million heads of romaine each year. We grew about 1,000 acres of spinach, which is about 10 million pounds of baby spinach, which converts to about 30 million retail-sized bags that end up at grocery stores. We grow about 800 acres of carrots, and every acre yields about 1,000,000 carrots, so we grow 800 million carrots! Not all were used to make baby carrots in the bags, but for those carrots that did become baby carrots, there are three to four baby carrots per carrot, so that would be about 2.8 billion baby carrots had they all been peeled and made into baby carrots. And this may seem crazy, but there are carrot growers, our neighbors and friends, that grow a lot more acres than us, sometimes close to double. We are also in the cattle business with partners, and we feed over 40,000 head of cattle a year. And we use the steer compost from our cattle to fertilize our vegetable crops organically.
How can we recognize your produce in the store?
We sell to the large companies called shippers, who process the produce into bags/packages, or pack it simply into cardboard boxes for whole head display in supermarkets and restaurants. Examples of shippers we grow for that readers would recognize in the retail veggie aisles of a grocery store include Boskovich Farms, Taylor Farms, Ready Pac, OrganicGirl, Church Brothers, Dole, and Earthbound.
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