Gordon Crane of Apple & Eve Juice.

Gordon Crane of Apple & Eve Juice. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein, April 2010

Gordon Crane started selling unfiltered apple juice in the mid-1970s to help pay his way through law school.

The company he founded is Port Washington-based Apple & Eve Llc. Among fruit juice boxes sold in supermarkets nationwide during the past 12 months, Apple & Eve Juices were ranked fourth, seventh and 14th, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

Crane believes that staying focused has been important to the company's success - sales were flat in 2008 but have been up since then. The privately held company hasn't expanded into other products. "Here it is, after 35 years," he says, "we still just do juice."

Crane, 59, belongs to the Juice Products Association, a trade group, and serves on the boards of the Roslyn Harbor Village Board of Zoning Appeals and the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center.

He is married with three children.

What do you remember about first becoming somebody's boss?
"I started the company, but I was working with my brothers and my mother, so there was no place for 'boss' here. It was family. So we all did what we needed to do to get the job done." 

Is it trickier trying to get your family to do what needs to be done?
"Whenever you're involved in a family business, it requires a different skill set in terms of conflict resolution. But what you gain is, there's a mutual respect and there's a mutual trust that have become the building blocks of the core values of the company today -- trust, respect, integrity. Based upon the precept that our customers need to trust that we are producing the best-quality juices we can, on every one of our packages is a 'pledge of purity.' " 

What do you look for in hiring?
"We look for people who portray those core values. In addition, we look for employees that have a very strong work ethic, a high degree of initiative, drive, [are] self-motivated, and, importantly, a passion for what they do. We look for there to be a strong cultural fit -- team players. And yet people who can demonstrate leadership skills: but leadership by behavior and by action, not by mandate. And of course, strong thinking and analytical skills. Frankly, the job functions can be learned, but the ability to think clearly and analyze a problem is much more difficult to teach - as are motivation, and as are core values." 

What's your strategy for taking on your competition?
"We learned a long time ago: We've got to focus on what we do, what needs to be done, what we do best, stick to our core competencies, and not be guided or worry about what the competition is doing.

"Although we produce what we feel are the best-quality juices, we recognize that consumers are not going to want to pay more for them than the competition. So we have to be sharp in our purchasing and in overseeing our production costs. When we recognize a new product idea, we need to bring it to the market quicker. . . . We can't be a follower. . . . We've got to be first if we're going to win."

CORPORATE SNAPSHOT
Name: Gordon Crane
Title: president and chief executive
Company: Apple & Eve Llc
Business: producers and marketers of natural fruit juices
Location: Port Washington
Type: private company
Revenue: $240 million annually
Employees: 85