Senior Reporter

The world is full of workaholics who continue to run businesses well into their 70s. But John J. Fallon, Jr. is that rarest of breeds an entrepreneur who launched a new business at an age that finds most of his peers winding down.

A former mechanical engineer, Fallon was already in his 60s and living quite comfortably on the income generated from an industrial park he owns in Sun Valley when one of his tenants, a struggling food processing firm, was unable to pay the rent three years ago. Rather than evict the tenant, Fallon had another idea he took over the company.

Suddenly, Fallon was knee deep in beef jerky. As president and majority owner of Glenoaks Food Inc., he manufactures nearly 10,000 pounds of the stuff each month not just beef, but turkey, ostrich, venison and buffalo jerky, too. As many of his contemporaries while away their days on the golf course, Fallon finds himself coping with production delays, equipment problems and cash-flow issues.

Why did Fallon opt for the stress of running not only a new business, but one in which he had virtually no experience? “Retirement would kill me real quick,” the white-haired, ruddy-faced Pennsylvania native says with a laugh.

There’s also the exhilaration of watching a new business grow. After several years of losing money, Glenoaks is on the verge of breaking even this year, Fallon says. Besides making jerky for five private-label clients, Glenoaks has begun promoting its own brand, J.C. Rivers, which can be found in Sav-On stores and at concessions at Universal Studios’ theme parks.

Revenues at the privately held company were just under $1 million in 1998; this year, Fallon expects about double that.

One thing Fallon won’t reveal: his age. And it’s not because of vanity or modesty. It’s because of fear: fear that customers will think him less alert than a younger man, that vendors will be reluctant to enter into long-term contracts with someone of advanced age, and that his skills may be less than relevant in an increasingly youth-driven marketplace.

“People prefer dealing with someone younger,” says Fallon, who still prefers to relax by snow skiing, water skiing and horseback riding. “You don’t feel like you’re old, but people can hold it against you. It can be a detriment.”

He tells the story of a business associate, a cardboard-box vendor, who recently dyed his gray hair brown in an effort to disguise his age. “He’s calling on customers who are younger and younger,” Fallon says. “He’s very afraid.”

Fallon has found himself making the same kinds of calculations in his role as a landlord. One his tenants, a manufacturer of medical products, is in his 80s and wants to renew his lease and take more space in the 110,000-square-foot business park.

“What do I do about giving him what he wants if it means forcing other tenants out?” Fallon says. “He’s sharp as a tack now, but how many more years is he going to be working?”

Roberto Barragan, vice president of business lending at the Valley Economic Development Center, wondered the same thing about Fallon, when he was reviewing the man’s application for a business loan last year.

“Experience is a valuable commodity,” Barragan says. “But at the same time, we’re looking to see if there is a succession plan.”

Satisfied with Fallon’s vigor, as well as with the role that Fallon’s 35-year-old son was playing at Glenoaks, Barragan green-lighted a $300,000 line of credit to the company last April.

That enabled Fallon to purchase a new $125,000 industrial oven which has boosted the plant’s capacity and productivity, allowing the company to take on more private-label clients and at the same time put more energy into promoting its own brand.

After three years of losing money, Fallon finally is looking forward to his first glimpse of black ink. “The only thing I knew about food was eating it,” he says. “But every business is a tough business to learn. We’re on the verge of some growth here.”

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