NORFOLK, VIRGINA – In 1979, the founder of Catalytic Generators, Jerry McDonnell, was looking for someone to take the reins of his young but revolutionary company. At a small farm show, he met Gene Akins, who at the time was Vice President of Powell Manufacturing Company, the leader in tobacco farm machinery. The two hit it off, and soon thereafter, Gene was hired as President of Catalytic, while Jerry focused on other entrepreneurial efforts. Just last month, after more than 40 years in fruit ripening at Catalytic, Gene retired as Chairman.
The idea of the company was to transform the ripening process of bananas, tomatoes, and other fruits by improving the ethylene application, making it much easier and safer. The current methods at the time were more complicated and often less effective. So, Gene was eager to show ripeners the advantages of using ethylene generators and Ethy-Gen® II Ripening Concentrate. The Easy-Ripe® Generator quickly made its way into fresh produce facilities across the country. After establishing distribution in Canada, word soon travelled across the Atlantic, and Gene set up a partnership for the UK in 1983 that still exists today.
Through Gene’s efforts, the company now serves ripeners across the globe. “He paved the way for us to introduce our technology in Europe, South America, Africa, Australia and other places,” said his son, Greg Akins, President & CEO.
Gene’s success in building the company wasn’t solely based on promoting their products. “He has a passion for helping the customer. It didn’t start with his tenure at Catalytic, but as a young man selling tractors and other farm equipment in Jesup, Georgia,” stated Greg. “He taught us all to understand the customer’s needs and problems, then to help them solve it.” Through his leadership, many employees at the company are trained on the entire ripening process of many fruits and can help customers on more than ethylene.
One of the testaments to this was the selection of Gene to be the first supplier to serve on the board of the Florida Tomato Exchange in 1995. This service to the industry culminated in 2019; upon his retirement from the board, he was selected as the “Tomato Man of the Year” by the Florida Tomato Committee.
Sixty-five years of service, starting with tobacco mechanization and culminating with changing the way fruit was ripened. Congratulations on a great career!