Carrying on a family legacy means never stop learning.
Former Chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission Ben Hill Griffin III passed away on July 25, 2020. He was 78 years old. Griffin served as a commissioner from 1971 through 1974 and 1981 through 1986, including as Chairman from 1984 to 1986.
Below is an interview with Griffin originally published Oct. 10, 2014.
FROSTPROOF – Citrus may be in Ben Hill Griffin III’s blood, but that didn’t stop him from having to sweat his way to the top.
Son of legendary citrus grower Ben Hill Griffin Jr., Griffin didn’t get a free pass. Instead, he got hands-on training from one of the industry’s finest.
At the age of 8, he felt the heat of the greenhouse – and learned it’s not easy to avoid.
“I found out that there weren’t any shade trees in a nursery,” Griffin said. “You grow little trees no more than knee high, so it can get pretty hot in the summertime.”
In high school, he experienced the back-breaking work of harvesting.
“It taught me at an early age what a laborious task it is to pick fruit on a day-to-day basis,” Griffin said. “It was really an eye-opening experience.”
From there, his education continued.
After earning a degree from the College of Central Florida and attending the University of Florida, Griffin spent a year at the Lake Alfred Citrus Experiment Station before heading back to the company his father built, Ben Hill Griffin Inc.
There, Griffin worked for years under his father’s guidance to gain experience in processing, fertilizer, sales and harvesting.
“He taught me all the phases of the citrus industry,” Griffin said. “Every facet of the industry, I’ve had the opportunity to know firsthand and work firsthand. It’s rare to have the opportunity to do that.”
But it wasn’t all citrus all the time. Griffin’s father mixed in some basic life lessons, too.
“Don’t be late,” Griffin laughed as he echoed his father’s words. “If you have an appointment, be there on time. If you don’t have the correct answer, tell them that you’ll go get it and bring it back to them at the best of your efforts. And, be a man of your word.”
Griffin applies those lessons in his position as CEO and Chairman of the Board of the business his father started, Ben Hill Griffin Inc. His son, Ben Hill Griffin IV, serves as president. Becoming an industry leader in his own right, Griffin was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 2009.
But being at the top doesn’t mean the education ends. Today, Griffin is dealing with the toughest lesson yet: citrus greening.
“We’ve had other challenges before, such as canker, spreading decline, all types of insects that have come upon our industry,” Griffin said. “But greening is the greatest challenge that we’ve had.”
Still, Griffin remains hopeful. The industry is resilient, he said, and the people in it don’t give up.