Fernando Aguirre tweets before addressing a group at Queens University. Photo: Julie Rose
State and local officials lured Chiquita to Charlotte with incentives worth more than $20 million. Now the CEO of Chiquita, Fernando Aguirre, is wooing Charlotte by sharing all sorts of personal details about himself. In less than an hour last night, a small audience at Queens University learned: Aguirre has a brown belt in tae kwon do. A competitive baseball trip to Texas at age 12 convinced him he wanted to leave Mexico and live in the U.S. He was a hot-tempered kid who threw his bats on the ball field. He's up before 6 a.m. every morning and tweets obsessively, but isn't much of a multi-tasker.
He also doesn't mind talking about mistakes he's made - like the time a former employer lost millions of dollars because of an investment he recommended. "It was a lesson (I) picked up very quickly and decided we're not gonna make that mistake again," said Aguirre, adding that hiring mistakes are the kind he makes most often. "The lesson for me is I spend a lot more time with people when I'm interviewing and recruiting." That includes many of the 250 or so workers Chiquita plans to hire in Charlotte before the year's out.
So far, Aguirre says demand has been huge. "We've had 40,000 applications here and we've hired 123 people," said Aguirre. "This is a tough world today. I have two kids, 23 and 20 years old. They're tough, but the world they're living in today is much tougher than when I was 20 years old."
It's a tough world for Chiquita, too. The company just reported an $11 million quarterly loss, because of a slump in banana prices. While Aguirre relocates his company to Charlotte and woos the locals, he must also focus on making Chiquita less reliant on bananas.
And that brings us to the other thing Aguirre loves talking about lately - the company's first foray intosomething that isn't fresh from nature. Chiquita Fruit Chips will soon be available at Wal-Mart and Harris Teeter (which also happens to be headquartered in the Charlotte-area.) Likely no coincidence there - Aguirre is trying to make friends here, after all.