In 2022, Primus Group Inc. and I lost a great friend, James Prevor [Jim].
The phrase “speak truth to power” is attributed to the Quakers. It implies a level of bravery that requires “risking either the status quo, one’s reputation or livelihood, or the wrath of the person one is confronting.”
Jim regularly “spoke truth to power” throughout his career, whether on stage to thousands, in an article to hundreds of thousands, or in a one-on-one conversation. He never shied away from the consequences of honesty, no matter how significant. His dedication to finding the truth, and helping the industry understand it, was what made him truly courageous.
It is one thing to uncover the truth, but another thing to bear witness to it. This rare quality made Jim’s Perishable Pundit a must-read for anyone intent on advancing the fresh food industry. As I look back over the years, I can clearly see how his thoughts and ideas led to the creation of Azzule Systems and shaped our approach to solving industry-related challenges.
My first introduction to Jim was at an industry convention. He was in his late 20s and giving a keynote speech. I was blown away. His family’s long history in fresh food operations in Hunts Point, paired with his inquisitive nature and willing-ness to go against the grain, gave him a deep understanding of the fresh food industry, making him what I would call an “outlier,” as defined by Malcolm Gladwell. When I think of Jim, three distinct memories of his unwavering commitment to honesty stand out.
A Risk to Future Success: Jim once gave an analysis of an extremely well-run and widely respected European retailer’s venture in the United States. He candidly described the U.S. fresh produce industry’s experiences with this retailer and provided an assessment of why the venture was doomed. It should go without saying that this was not an easy perspective to share and posed a significant risk to his future success. In the end, Jim gained international recognition for his accurate analysis, which made him the go-to person for anyone interested in the grocery business throughout the United States and many parts of Europe, including investors. This analysis magnified his reputation for being able to deliver candid articulations of the industry’s successes, shortcomings and the areas in need of the most growth.
A Risk to Relationship: Years before the Azzule System’s three-color compliance graphic was developed, Jim called me to share insight from the wholesalers’ perspective. He shared that Primus Group Inc. needed to simplify the message. There was simply too much data. Jim’s suggestion was for Primus to tell buyers of fresh produce that the product was either “safe or not safe.”
During the call, I explained to Jim that the best an honest company could do was to explain what those in the fresh foods supply chain were doing to reduce the chance of contamination. After hearing this, Jim shared that the wholesalers would not understand what to do with this type and scale of information and that this approach would create massive challenges to marketing and selling Primus Group Inc.’s services, which were all geared toward helping the customer convey their risk-reducing practices.
As disappointing as it was to hear, we found ourselves on common ground, both unwilling to cave to the pressures of giving people what they wanted to hear rather than the truth. This is not to say that Jim’s insight was disregarded. In fact, this conversation was pivotal to Azzule System’s understanding of its clients’ needs, and it shed light on a significant barrier to the advancement of food safety — information overload.
A Risk to Reputation: In 2011, Primus Group Inc. was caught in a storm of controversy when an operation using Primus Standard Audit was involved in the largest Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in the United States. Numerous writers jumped at the opportunity to tell the story that made national headlines: simplifying it, identifying victims and villains, and placing judgment, all while leaving out the most crucial details that would help the industry learn from the devastation brought about by this crisis. Jim was not one of those writers.
Instead, Jim looked deep into the issues surrounding the crisis. He knew from his years of experience that people in the industry, including university professors studying and teaching food safety, did not fully understand the limits and purpose of the audits used throughout the production of products for raw consumption. With his unwavering passion for truth and drive to support the evolution and advancement of the fresh produce industry, Jim set out to write a piece that outlined the limitations of an audit, the complexity of food safety, the over-whelming volume of information facing food safety experts, and the dangers of remaining silent in the face of a mob.
While many in the industry remained silent or vocally passed judgment, Jim asked questions and challenged the mainstream analysis, forcing his readers to look into what kind of future today’s decisions would create. This time, his dedication to truth came with harsh criticism, but even then, he did not back down. This incident, along with Jim’s assessment, furthered Azzule System’s understanding of the need for a tool that could help the fresh produce industry manage copious amounts of information and increased the belief in the value of granular data.
All three instances came with very unique risks: a risk to financial success, a risk to relationship and a risk to reputation. None of these risks stood in Jim’s way because he was driven by his principles. He did not allow short-term gains or the threat of loss to distract him from his mission.
A brand is so much more than a logo or a slogan — it is what people come to expect from you or your company and, in Jim’s case, his brand was in a class of its own.
Jim’s passing, for me and everyone working at Primus Group Inc., is a tragedy. The industry will not be the same without his zeal for truth and his courage to share it. We have lost not only a friend, but a great human being.
Robert Stovicek is President of Primus Group Inc. in Santa Maria, CA