Pulp Fiction

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2004

When the school year ends later this month, moving vans will pull up to nearly 100 homes of Tropicana executives in Sarasota and Manatee counties to pack up belongings and cart them north to Chicago. Those vans will be hauling away a whole lot more than furniture. When these Tropicana executives leave, they'll be taking with them their local spending power and community service hours as well.

It has been five months since the Tuesday morning in December when Gary M. Rodkin, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo's Beverages and Food Division, flew down from Chicago and summoned Tropicana's executives from their offices in Bradenton for a meeting to announce that corporate headquarters were moving North. About 145 executives left the company in February. Seventy more will finish their jobs in the next few weeks. And 89 will relocate to Chicago at the end of this month.

Kristine Nickel, whose job as Tropicana's local spokesperson ended in February, says the layoffs and transfers involve every type of executive from administrative employees earning $20,000 to $40,000 to senior vice presidents who were earning "well into the six figures." Executives were offered a base package of two weeks' pay and benefits for every year the executive worked for the company.

Nickel says between 400 and 500 supply-side salaried employees, responsible for purchasing and overseeing the packaging of citrus, are expected to remain at the Bradenton corporate office. The 1,900 hourly employees will continue to process juice at the Bradenton plant.

When all is said and done, the corporate shift and consolidation affects about 300 Manatee and Sarasota executives. After the announcement, many lamented the loss of jobs and intellectual talent. Tropicana, after all, which is owned by PepsiCo, is the largest employer in Sarasota and Manatee counties with $2.3 billion in annual revenue. "It's a brain drain that's going to be difficult to replace," says Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey.

"Not good," agrees Dr. Hank Fishkind, an economist with Orlando-based Fishkind & Associates, about the impact of the move on the community.

Dr. David Parker, a market analyst for Parker Associates of Jacksonville, says area businesses will feel the loss of the executives because "where you live is where you spend your money." In general, he says, primary employment workers-those employed in an industry that sells outside the local area-usually have a direct impact of at least double their income when they leave an area or become unemployed.

Fishkind says the community will feel the loss in other ways that are more difficult to quantify. "When the corporate headquarter is not there, there is a little less participation by the company in the community."

That's what Jerry Koontz, president of the United Way of Manatee County, initially feared. Tropicana is Manatee's largest United Way donor with $350,000 donated in the last campaign. With PepsiCo, Inc.'s matching dollars, the United Way received about $400,000 from Tropicana, out of the organization's total $2.5 million budget. "It's anything but good for us," Koontz says.

But only five months after the shock, some signs indicate Bradenton will rebound-and more rapidly than some had anticipated. Some former Tropicana employees are finding work locally, and the growing economy is bringing other companies to the area. Ironically, Tropicana may suffer more from relocating its headquarters than other businesses, says Ken Barneby, a former president and CEO of Tropicana (and Marianne Barneby's father-in-law). He explains that the loss of its top decision makers could leave Tropicana vulnerable when Florida Citrus Mutual and the Florida Citrus Commission discuss advertising all the brands of Florida citrus.

To ease the transition for its workers, Tropicana hired DBM, one of the world's largest outplacement firms, which has an office in Tampa. DBM provided instruction on resume updating, databases of available employment, secretarial services, office space and even "career transition coaches" who help executives redefine their goals and begin to network. Pepsico also contracted with Challenge Gray & Christmas, Inc. in Chicago to provide coaches for some of the higher-level displaced Tropicana executives. While Tropicana and DBM would not say how many executives opted to use the outplacement services, Tony Gain, DBM's national account manager on the West Coast of Florida, says the number "was not small." By mid-March, "more than half have found employment," he says, "and a large majority did not have to relocate."

Carla McGill, a senior nutrition scientist at Tropicana, was in the Atlanta airport that Tuesday morning on her way to business meetings in New York when her cell phone rang with the unsettling news. "I really went through all the stages of grieving," McGill says. She was alarmed at the prospect of losing her salary, which she describes as in the low six figures. McGill was offered the chance to keep her job and move to Chicago, but declined. She is staying with Tropicana through June, completing clinical studies. Much to her delight, despite her highly specialized vocation, she is already in active negotiation with the Florida Department of Citrus in Lakeland for a new position that touts the health benefits of citrus in Florida. The new job comes with a comparable salary and benefits. McGill says she will probably end up moving closer to Tampa, but because her significant other lives in the area, she'll be back in the area quite a bit. "I'm also not giving up my hairdresser, dentist or nail person here," she says. "I have my priorities."

Senior marketing manager Andrew McFall, 38, also didn't want to move to Chicago. McFall lives in Sarasota with his wife and two young children. "We like the schools here and the overall quality of life," he says. His job, which paid him in the low six figures as well, ended in February. McFall took advantage of DBM, which helped him update his resume, make job contacts and brush up on interview skills. He also used a Pepsico-hired coach, based out of Chicago, who flew into Bradenton to meet with employees.

Last March, McFall started his new job in marketing for Biolife, a small local company that makes a quick-acting blood-clotting agent. McFall says a neighbor who had been an attorney for Biolife dropped off a card and told him the company was adding marketing positions. McFall says he will be making a bit less than at Tropicana, but has the potential for greater compensation over time in the form of bonuses. "I was really pleased to get the job," he says.

Nickel isn't moving either. The former marketing director for Tropicana is now the vice president of external affairs for Hospice of Southwest Florida, one of the area's largest nonprofits. She also used DBM's services and the personal coach from Chicago, and although her coach encouraged her to look out of the area for positions commensurate with her level of expertise, she realized, "I had very deep roots in this community." And luckily, she says, she received multiple job offers without doing a job search. "That's one of the benefits of being a spokesperson," she says. "People know you." After some soul searching, Nickel decided she wanted to work in the nonprofit world; and when a business acquaintance told her about Hospice she was interested.

Meghan Stout, formerly Tropicana's manager of communications, found a job just a few weeks after Pepsico made its announcement. She is now the director of market communications for the Manatee boat maker Chris-Craft. "Tropicana made the announcement on Tuesday and I got a call on Thursday about a job." In all, she interviewed with six companies and received four offers. Pepsico offered Stout, a Tennessee native, a position in Chicago, "but I fell in love with the lifestyle here. My husband is a geologist who specializes in ocean reefs. I didn't want to leave."

The relocation of Tropicana's corporate headquarters has also forced government and economic development officials to rethink their laissez faire attitude toward companies they value. The United Way, for instance, plans to try to start courting other local businesses more vigorously.

Richard Fleming, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association in Missouri. St. Louis, says that's the right approach. St. Louis has been a major center for corporate headquarters, and is well known as being the center of operations for Anheuser-Busch Breweries. But in recent years, St. Louis has weathered the loss of some major corporate headquarters, Trans World Airlines and Ralston Purina among them. Fleming says in an ever-changing business world of mergers, consolidations and moves, communities need to pay attention to the businesses they have and try to attract new growth sectors-St. Louis is stressing life sciences-as well.

Councilwoman Barnebey wants to set up informal meetings with some of the thriving businesses that started here, such as Bealls, Inc. and Gevity HR, Inc., in "a proactive approach to open up the lines of communication. If we want to keep the industries that are already here, we need to keep them happy."

Realtors say the 100 or so homes vacated by relocating executives won't stay on Bradenton's busy real estate market for long. Even Tropicana's campus in downtown Bradenton-a complex of four buildings totaling almost 300,000 square feet that isn't even on the market yet-has attracted interested parties, USF in Tampa among them. USF is interested in the research and classrooms, says Steve Lezman, Tropicana's director of government affairs.

And other companies continue to arrive here. Commercial real estate giant Benderson Development Company, Inc. relocated its corporate headquarters from Buffalo, New York to University Park and is bringing 75 jobs to the county.

Nickel says she'll miss working for a company everyone has heard of. "There's something exhilarating about working in consumer products," she says. "We had a certain amount of marketing muscle. It was a great ride, fun and very rewarding to work for a company that manufactures the No. 3 brand. But I'm thrilled about my new career."

Still, to many long-time locals, Tropicana is Bradenton. "It's sad to see Tropicana Florida go away," McFall says. "The heart of the Tropicana brand and equity is in Florida. This is where the oranges are."

Filed under
Show Comments