Pedro Mendez – Tropical Cheese Industries Inc.
As Tropical Cheese Industries Inc. approaches its 40th anniversary, it can be celebrated as a quintessential American success story though it makes cheeses more typically found throughout Latin and South America.
It was founded in 1983 by Rafael Mendez, who’d arrived in the U.S. from Cuba at age 17 with $50. He settled in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and in the early 1960s and began delivering milk in a used truck. He then established Tropical Cheese Industries, which also offers meat products including ham, salami and chorizo, as well as desserts including flan and rice pudding.
“In spite of Mr. Mendez’s success, his humble beginnings are never forgotten. Rafael is undoubtedly a man to be admired for his strength and perseverance,” says Pedro Mendez, the company’s director of IT. “This company represents the Latino community and shows what we’re capable of doing.”
Pedro Mendez is not related to Rafael Mendez, but in his role, he strives to build on the success of Tropical Cheese Industries by ensuring its IT and technology infrastructure facilitate growth.
“It’s about putting the team at Tropical Cheese first and earning their trust,” Mendez says. “Technology is something most people can learn, and that’s my forte. I like giving people the opportunity to acquire the knowledge needed to perform their job.”
New year, new HQ
He’s approaching his 20th anniversary at Tropical Cheese Industries, having joined the company in March 2003 as its network administrator. The company has grown so substantially it’s soon moving to new, larger corporate offices about 10 minutes from the current facilities.
When the new corporate offices open in the third quarter this year, the present facilities will remain in use.
“The need for speed and reliability to transmit data and run reports is crucial for successful operations. A combination of fiber and a solid wireless network will achieve the desired connectivity,” Mendez says about connecting the facilities.
Likewise, Mendez will be upgrading the enterprise resource planning system. He helped install the current one, Microsoft Dynamics, in 2009 and upgraded it in 2017. It’s user friendly and easily modified, he says. But a new one is needed to accommodate growth. Chatting with Toggle in January, Mendez expects to choose the new ERP by early fall in 2022.
Upgrades also include strengthening cybersecurity. The first step is employee awareness and training, which Mendez leads. Recognizing tactics hackers use, including fraudulent emails, texts, calls is the best line of defense, he says.
Beyond the training, Mendez is also adding software and tools to prevent attacks, as well as ensuring Tropical Cheese Industries has comprehensive disaster recovery and business continuity plans to respond to threats or a potential breach.
Mendez is also partnering with Industrial Labeling Systems Inc. to improve on-site product labelling. The system that’s getting implemented prints and applies bar code labels with information including product number, description, lot numbers and expiration dates. It also stores that data and shares it with the ERP. This enables Tropical Cheese Industries to manage its inventory more efficiently, Mendez says.
Among its advantages are the data links to product pallet manifests for inventory control and shipping, as well as business operations including customer billing. Should there be a recall, the items in question can be easily pinpointed, he adds.
“It’s also what permits us to move all raw materials as well as finished goods throughout production, to the warehouse and to customers,” Mendez says.
Technology is fun
A native of Bolivia, Mendez came to the U.S. when he was a teenager and shortly after graduating from La Salle High School in Oruro, Bolivia. While aspiring to become doctor, he pumped gas, flipped burgers and worked as a doorman.
Medical school was not in reach, and when Mendez began attending Union County College, he took a computer science course—chosen at random at the suggestion of a guidance counselor. He eventually earned an associate degree in computer science and joined Dell as a technician. Years later, Mendez earned a bachelor’s degree in business while working full-time and raising a child as a single dad.
He left Dell to manage IT at the Wardlaw+Hartridge School in Edison, New Jersey. It was a forerunner in providing laptops to its students and Mendez enjoyed working with students and faculty. He also got an enduring lesson in cybersecurity as he worked to prevent students from using proxy servers to access game sites blocked by the school.
Mendez joined Tropical Cheese Industries in 2003 and was settling into his role as network administrator when his National Guard unit was called into active duty in Iraq in 2004 and 2005.
Though his duties were not IT related, Mendez says he learned an indelible lesson the first time his unit arrived in an Iraqi village.
He stepped from the Humvee into sand so hot the heat penetrated his inch-thick boot soles. And he was greeted by barefoot children.
“I was in awe,” he recalls. “It just struck me at how people can adapt,”
Named director of IT in 2016, Mendez says he’s always based his technology decisions on understanding the company and loves learning the business and interacting with staff.
“Technology is fun. A lot of people are afraid of it but shouldn’t be. They should embrace what’s is available to us and use it to our advantage,” Mendez says. “I want to give people the confidence they need to make the most of it.”
View this feature in the Spring I 2022 Edition here.
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