Mark Mariani of Mariani Packing Company: 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business

An Interview With Jason Hartman

Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine
9 min readFeb 22, 2023

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Inherently it’s about the relationships between the relatives. It can be the biggest blessing or the biggest curse. It is an arena that asks you to be self reflective, to put your ego aside, and to commit to transparency and relationships in a unique way. When done well, it’s a very fulfilling thing to be a part of.

As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Mariani, CEO and Board Chairman of Mariani Packing Company

Mark Mariani has been Chairman and CEO of Mariani Packing Company, the largest independent premium dried fruit company, for over forty years. As a strong leader committed to improving the category, he is Chairman of the Global Association of Nuts and Dried Fruits as well as Chairman of the Food Safety Association. On a local and personal level, he has had board seats in local school districts,St. Mary’s College and the Boy Scouts of America.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was taught to be an entrepreneur and was looking to start my business when my father suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 59. I was one of seven siblings and my father had far reaching enterprises…most not profitable. In order to be tax efficient and focus on the various businesses, we aligned family interests with different companies. With my brother and cousin at my side, I became President of Mariani Packing Company at the age of 27.

Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?

Our dried fruit business is 117 years old, and I am the third generation and third president/CEO. We are the second largest brand in our space and export to over fifty countries.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Kellogg Company asked us to bid on a proprietary ingredient. It required us to enter a new commodity, build a plant, and be operating within six months. Del Monte, Dole and myself were in the waiting room at Kellogg’s waiting to speak with the Board of Directors at Kellogg’s. A VP came out and asked if I was the son of Paul Mariani. I replied yes. Fifteen minutes later I was asked to meet the Chairman of the Board of Kellogg’s. Chairman Bill Lamoth told me that he had met my father thirty years before, when he was a lab technician. At that time, Kellogg’s marketing department had rejected my father’s idea about including fruit into cereals, but they suggested that he go talk to someone in the lab. That’s when my father met the lab technician at the time, Bill Lamoth. My father took him to dinner, and they talked about innovation. Even as a VP, Bill never forgot my father’s kindness. Our family was fortunate to win the bid that day. It taught me that everyone deserves respect, no matter what your position.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We had a plant in Thailand and worked hard to learn basic greetings. When I addressed the Thai employees, I defaulted to Spanish. My family cringed, but the Thai people were humbled and grateful and it taught me the virtue of humility.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We continue to live by my grandfather’s values. One of the most important values is “Mutual Respect”. We were taught at an early age that the most important people in the organization are the janitor and the receptionist. They create the feeling you get when you walk in the door and show how much value you put into the details and the thoughtfulness of every piece of your organization. Mutual respect is the foundation on which everything else can be built.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have innovative new products launching this year and that always creates an internal buzz. These new products are a result of our investing in state-of-the-art technology that supports our innovation stream while meeting the needs of changing consumer snacking behaviors and demands. As we expand our capabilities, we continue to invest in our people, whom we consider our ‘extended family’. I take it personally that the 1,000+ people who work for us are growing, as I know there are 1,000+ rent payments, mortgages, and school expenses that are dependent on us.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Actually three. My grandfather who taught us our core values, my father who taught me the importance of networking, and relating to people, whether titans of business or the janitor at any building you walk into. Lastly, my older cousin who taught me moderation and to be thoughtful as I made decisions.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As Mother Theresa said, “one child at a time”. Everyone I meet I want to listen to, and without fanfare, support anyone I can emotionally, spiritually and financially.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? How is a family business different from a regular business?

Inherently it’s about the relationships between the relatives. It can be the biggest blessing or the biggest curse. It is an arena that asks you to be self reflective, to put your ego aside, and to commit to transparency and relationships in a unique way. When done well, it’s a very fulfilling thing to be a part of.

In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family owned businesses have?

Typically there is loyalty and a sense of accomplishment that is shared. When the chips are down, it’s one team.

What are the unique drawbacks or blindspots that family owned businesses have?

Sometimes, because there’s more emotion within the relationships, it can be easier in a family to avoid confrontation or the elephant in the room. Because you relate more casually it can also be harder to have real appreciation of everyone’s contribution. Prioritizing transparency and communication is key.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?

It is so important to educate family members on the ‘levers of the business’. We tried to have our children attend board meetings as soon as they were adults so that they could start absorbing the information and have an appreciation for the different facets of the business. That being said, it can also be a death trap to not having a robust ‘buy and sell agreement’.

What advice would you give to CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?

Allow people to take responsibility with accountability.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?

Motivating people to a common cause — communicating the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘why’! Confronting issues and being decisive. When I took over the company at 27, I remember my dad teaching me how important it was to “get everyone on board” so that everyone feels part of the process. At a time when I was much younger than my direct reports, I had to enroll the management and the rank and file. I became a good listener, learned to ‘set the table’ and, with them, made decisive decisions.

Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

COMMUNICATE

COMMUNICATE

COMMUNICATE

COMMUNICATE

COMMUNICATE

When you communicate transparently, you create trust. The rest is execution.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

A reincarnation of my father. I had too few years to learn from him. I sometimes reflect on whether or not, with more years by his side, I could have been a better leader.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Self reflection and responsibility. The answer is often simple, but we tend to look everywhere else but within us.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We just launched a series of family videos to share the story of Mariani, which folks may follow on Instagram @themarianifamily. A portion of this series is dedicated to ‘family values’ and as our fourth generation takes the helm, I often reflect on how those same values are key to the future of our family business.

Also, my daughter, Natalie, who is our marketing manager, is the host of a new family business podcast called “A Seat at the Table: Trials and Triumphs of Family Business”. Some wonderful nuggets can be taken from each and every episode.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

About The Interviewer: Jason Hartman is the Founder and CEO of Empowered Investor. Jason has been involved in several thousand real estate transactions and has owned income properties in 11 states and 17 cities. Empowered Investor helps people achieve The American Dream of financial freedom by purchasing income property in prudent markets nationwide. Jason’s Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ is a comprehensive system providing real estate investors with education, research, resources and technology to deal with all areas of their income property investment needs. Through Jason’s podcasts, educational events, referrals, mentoring and software to track your investments, investors can easily locate, finance and purchase properties in these exceptional markets with confidence and peace of mind.

Starting with very little, Jason, while still in college at the age of 19, embarked on a career in real estate. While brokering properties for clients, he was investing in his own portfolio along the way. Through creativity, persistence and hard work, he earned a number of prestigious industry awards and became a young multi-millionaire. Jason purchased a California real estate brokerage firm that was later acquired by Coldwell Banker. He combined his dedication and business talents to become a successful entrepreneur, public speaker, author, and media personality. Over the years he developed his Complete Solution for Real Estate Investors™ where his innovative firm educates and assists investors in acquiring prudent investments nationwide for their portfolio. Jason’s sought after educational events, speaking engagements, and his popular “Creating Wealth Podcast” inspire and empower hundreds of thousands of people in 189 countries worldwide.

While running his successful real estate and media businesses, Jason also believes that giving back to the community plays an important role in building strong personal relationships. He established The Jason Hartman Foundation in 2005 to provide financial literacy education to young adults providing the all-important real world skills not taught in school which are the key to the financial stability and success of future generations. We’re in a global monetary crisis caused by decades of misguided policies and the cycle of financial dependence has to be broken, literacy and self-reliance are a good start. Visit JasonHartman.com for free materials and resources.

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