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Just a peddler from the Iron Range

by on
in Profiles in Leadership

Jeno Francesco Paulucci always did what he thought was right.

The food magnate once walked out of a $40 million deal with Reynolds Tobacco because he thought its executives were arrogant. He hired “unemployable” ex-convicts and people with disabilities because he thought they deserved a chance.

The businessman from the Iron Range of Minnesota created more than 70 brands, including Jeno’s Pizza Rolls, Chun King Foods (with its two-can packaging), Florida Fresh Produce and the Michelina brand, named for his mother, which accounts for roughly a quarter of frozen meals sold in North America.

He owned five companies, 23 factories, seven banks and thousands of acres of real estate. He advised seven presidents.

“I always had a practice that if I saw that the economy was growing and wages and the cost of living was going up,” he once said, “I would voluntarily open the contract. And say, ‘Let’s do a little better job for our employees.’”

Paulucci expected a lot from em­­ployees—long days and sometimes seven-day weeks—but he invested heavily in them. He was repaid in loyalty, as evidenced by an outpouring of Internet posts after his death. Paulucci died in November of 2011, just four days after his wife of 64 years. He had created many charities devoted to revitalizing communities, creating jobs and helping the poor.

Despite his extraordinary success, Paulucci described himself as “just a peddler from the Iron Range.”

Nobody’s special, he would say. “We’re all the same. Just because you have a little more money doesn’t make you any better.”

— Adapted from “Entrepreneur Jeno F. Paulucci,” Trang Ho, Investor’s Business Daily.

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