Jeno Paulucci may not know much, but he does know food.
He sees the world through a microwave oven -- through ravioli, chicken marsala and pot roasts ready in moments and through stomachs run empty by busy schedules.
You may never have heard of him, but he's probably been feeding you and your family for decades.
Even at 88 years old, the frozen food mogul whose current lines include Michelina's and Budget Gourmet is still peddling products all over the world. He recently began shipping to Russia, and is poised soon to hit the Chinese market. Paulucci is also starting a new line of appetizers called Bundinos, which are frozen buns filled with turkey or pizza ingredients.
"I try to keep ahead of the timing," Paulucci said. "Wherever there's a microwave, I believe we should have our product."
It began with Chun King lo mein in the 1940s and mushroomed into pizza and pasta lines. He is perhaps best known for his namesake Jeno's pizza rolls, though he sold that company to General Mills in 1985 for some US$150 million and a big load of regret.
"I should've kept the pizza roll. It's something that'll damn near live forever," he said.
Mike Harper, former chairman and CEO of RJR-Nabisco and head of ConAgra Foods, remembered inviting Paulucci to talk with staff in the mid-1990s.
"I wanted to try to generate an entrepreneurial climate, and I wasn't sure these people in New York knew what an entrepreneur was. Jeno was my definition of an entrepreneur," Harper said. "He's rough, he's plainspoken and a very direct guy. I happen to like that kind of guy. I like doing business with them."
Born three decades before anyone had a home microwave, Paulucci has made a fortune producing meals for the now-ubiquitous appliance. He still works at least five days a week micromanaging a lucrative Michelina's Inc food empire and splitting time between his native Minnesota and modest "international" headquarters in Florida. Besides the food lines, Paulucci also has a chain of small banks (Republic) and numerous Florida real estate holdings.
Paulucci, the son of an immigrant miner, was constantly teased over his heritage, prompting him in 1975 to found the Italian American Foundation -- "so that if you made a few dollars somebody wouldn't ask what syndicate you belonged to."
He sprinkles in more than a few mild profanities when he talks.
"I used to get into fights. I used to just beat up any ... kid I could, as long as I got the first hit into them," he said. "I guess that's carried through in my life, and that's why I am so litigious. It isn't that I want to prove myself as much as it is I want to get even with the other guy. At age 88 you'd think I'd get over the ... thing."
Paulucci started his Chun King business in 1944 with a US$2,500 loan, and sold it to R.J. Reynolds less than two decades later for US$63 million. He says he has started around 70 companies, some more successful than others. Paulucci tries to build them up, sell them off and then start building another.
Though still designing new entrees, Paulucci hasn't been to the grocery store in a decade. He says he has never touched a computer, and prefers that employees use e-mail only if there's no other option.
Paulucci is 1.63m tall and rough-spoken, with a sandpaper voice.
He sure holds a grudge. He started a pie-filling company in 1950 specifically to drive a former business partner bankrupt (he lost money selling at drastically cut rates, but forced his competitor to do the same until he went out of business).
For a businessman, Paulucci also has unconventional ideas about labor. He's stridently pro-union, and thinks the country is long overdue for a minimum-wage increase. He has made a practice of hiring convicted criminals and the disabled.
He believes businesses should give up to 5 percent of pretax projects for community projects, and those who make more than US$100,000 a year should pay at least an extra percent or two in taxes.
For all his success, there are a few calls Paulucci would like back. He sold off shares in surgical staple and packing wrap companies because he didn't think they'd take off or quibbled with owners. He started several restaurants that failed for various reasons (bad locations, bad managers or his own stubbornness).
He details many of his experiences in a recent book called Jeno: The Power of the Peddler.
As a young barker at a food market, Paulucci persuaded customers to buy discolored bananas by calling them "Argentine" and bumping up the price. Decades later, he used an incubator to heat up a Chinese food competitor's products so they would be rancid on sales calls.
He was once forced to pop a dead grasshopper from one of his freshly opened cans quickly into his mouth before the client could see it.
‘WEAK POSITIVE’: The man arrived in Taiwan in May and was quarantined for two weeks, Chen Shih-chung said, adding that he might be infected a long time ago The government is considering tightening mask-wearing rules again in light of a potential domestic COVID-19 infection, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases, six of which are imported. The other case involves a Belgian engineer who entered Taiwan on May 3 and remained in quarantine until May 17, said Chen, who heads the CECC. Although the source of infection has yet to be identified, the case could end the nation’s record of not having any domestic cases in the previous 110 days. The Belgian, in his 20s, is a technician
BRIBERY CASE: President Tsai Ing-wen accepted Su Jia-chyuan’s resignation as he said that he deeply regretted causing trouble for the president due to the investigation Presidential Office Secretary-General Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) yesterday resigned after his nephew, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Su Chen-ching (蘇震清), was implicated in a bribery case related to a dispute over the ownership of Pacific Sogo Department Store (太平洋崇光百貨). “I resigned from the post so that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) would not be bothered by it anymore, and the prosecutors can investigate the case in a fair and just manner. I thank President Tsai once again for supporting me. May the country continue to prosper under her leadership,” Su Jia-chyuan said in a statement. The Presidential Office said that Tsai has accepted
ALEX AZAR: The first visit by a head of the Department of Health and Human Services would strictly observe the CECC’s special regulations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar is to lead a delegation to Taiwan — the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since the two sides cut formal relations in 1979. The plan was announced yesterday morning by the US Department of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Beijing has expressed its concerns to Washington, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said later yesterday. Taiwan and the US only issued statements saying that the visit would happen “in the coming days.” MOFA said that due to security concerns, it would
The military last week sent “no small number” of Marine Corps officers to the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Island, 東沙群島) following reports of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drill targeting the islands scheduled for this month. In an interview with Hong Kong’s Bauhinia Magazine published on Saturday last week, PLA National Defense University professor Li Daguang (李大光) confirmed that the Chinese army was planning to stage a simulated invasion of the Pratas Islands in the South China Sea this month. The islands comprise three atolls, with Pratas Island, at 1.74km2, being the largest. They lie southwest of Taiwan proper in the South