When you shop the frozen foods aisle of your local supermarket in much of the world, you may see “Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods,” which are a wide array of natural and healthy frozen foods.
As a heart surgeon and co-chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, Dr. Praeger was a highly respected doctor. And how he also became the head of a multi-million dollar food company is an interesting story.
In the latter 1980’s, Dr. Praeger and his friend and colleague, Dr. Eric Somberg were on staff at Westchester County Medical Center when they got an emergency call to try to save the life of a man who had been hit by a drunk driver and as a result, had a severely injured heart.
The man was near death but the two surgeons successfully saved his life.
However, because of the severity of his injuries, he could no longer move his arms or legs. The man’s brother-in-law, Rubin Ungar told Dr. Praeger that despite the terrible injuries, the family Rabbi had predicted the patient would regain use of his arms and legs.
Dr. Praeger was skeptical of the Rabbi’s prediction, but that prediction came true.
A few years later, Rubin Ungar called Dr. Praeger and told him the Ungar gefilte fish company was on the verge of collapse, and that the Rabbi had made another prediction. He predicted that Dr. Praeger would find a way to save the company.
Gefilte fish is a Jewish delicacy that appeals to a limited market, and Dr. Praeger neither liked gefilte fish nor was he a businessman. But Rubin Ungar persisted and eventually Dr. Praeger relented and invited his friend Dr. Somberg to join them.
The Rabbi was right again. Dr. Praeger began to diversify the company into all natural, healthy foods and got the company back on its feet. In 1994, the doctors bought the company from the Ungar family and expanded its food offerings. And they renamed the company, Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods.
As their products appealed to a far larger market, they also greatly expanded the distribution to include Whole Foods Markets, Trader Joe’s and other U.S. grocers. And they also brought their products, all of which are Kosher, to Canada, Europe, South America and Israel as well.
The business became very successful.
But on September 22nd, 2012 this multi-million dollar company lost its CEO and Hackensack University Medical Center lost its co-chief of cardiothoracic surgery when Dr. Praeger passed away, presumably from the prostate cancer that he was being treated for.
Dr. Praeger was 65 years of age.
He is survived by his second wife, the former Nurit Gavrielli (his first marriage ended in divorce) and by five children and two grandchildren. But he is also survived by the thousands of patients he treated and their families and by the employees and suppliers of Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods and by their families, and also by the company’s millions of customers..
What are the two valuable lessons Dr. Praeger’s experience offers us?
1) When business or career opportunities present themselves, keep an open mind. That you may not have experience in that field doesn’t mean you won’t succeed in it.
2) When operating a company, don’t think only of a single product, but instead ask what other products might your company offer that could appeal to a wider customer base.
Take these lessons to heart, commit yourself to action and the next thing you know, you too could be running a multi-million dollar business.