Packer 25 2020 — Mark Smith

Packer 25 2020 — Mark Smith

Politicians know how to win people over to their cause, and Mark Smith is doing just that in the span of two years in the fresh-produce industry.

Smith won the role of general manager of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market in November 2018, taking responsibility for the fully refrigerated, fully indoor market terminal more than 14 football fields long. He revamped and monitors operations, security, maintenance, waste management, administration and facility programs.

“We really want to make the building a shining example of what a produce market should be with cleaning and safety,” Smith said. “Especially with the pandemic, it forces you to do some things faster than anticipated, but it’s helpful in that way too.”

Smith is not new to public pressure.

Beginning in 2015, Smith served in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s office as a senior staff member, handling several roles involving public safety, security and emergency response. Before that, he served as a Bradford County commissioner for almost two terms.

“Understanding how to motivate people, the politics of various situations and working with various constituencies who may not agree are important abilities in many industries,” Smith said.

The shift from politics to produce isn’t his first career pivot, however.

Smith started his professional life as an industrial designer in the auto and plastics industries, following his bachelor’s degree in business administration and earlier industrial design studies.

All of these roles developed skills that enable him to benefit the region’s wholesale produce industry in a way unique to him, said George Binck, chief operations officer of Philadelphia-based Procacci Holdings and Garden State Farms, which has four spaces in the market.

Binck is also chairman of the market’s governing body.

“When he came on, from Day 1, it was like a breath of fresh air,” Binck said. “He is in touch with the shareholders, communicating with them and learning what their needs are. Doesn’t matter your role in the market, he can speak to it. He can address it.”

In his two years, Smith has instituted a maintenance management system to prioritize and schedule preventative maintenance.

That’s no small task with 77 different temperature-controlled zones, 20 bathrooms on the main floor, and tricky dock levelers and doors.

Smith started a new gate system in early 2020, in which trucks buy tags from the main office to get automatically charged as they pass through the gate.

“It reduces traffic and speeds up the time to get in and out,” Smith said.

Also, the market reduced its waste by 80% in less than six months by partnering with Natural Upcycling, Linwood, N.Y., a food waste collection company that recycles organic or food waste and turns it into a renewable resource.

Smith said he hopes to reach 90% waste diversion by the end of 2020.

The cost savings in that department enabled Smith to hire more people for other departments.

“Running the building is one thing, but what he always has in the forefront is: What is the best customer experience?” Binck said. “He was dealt a real challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic, but he didn’t miss a beat.”

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