Lucy Halperin Zaro’s stepfather said he would never hire a woman—so how did she become president of his company?

Lucy Halperin Zaro. Photo by Tia Chapman

“I don’t hire women,” Lucy Halperin Zaro’s stepfather told her. “Women get pregnant and leave their jobs.” Little did he know that Zaro (CGS’75, Questrom’77) would be running his company one day. Zaro’s stepfather was the founder of Tee Pee Olives/Italica Imports, a family-owned business with more than 70 years of experience in packing and distributing olives and olive oil. When she was growing up, Zaro traveled with her stepfather to Spain and Italy, and the more she learned about the olive business, the more interested in the industry she became. Originally from Westchester, New York, Zaro chose the College of General Studies because “it was a two-year program that gave me an opportunity to transfer into business school and use my skills. It turned out to be a great experience for me—and I met my husband there, so it was even better.” After graduating from Boston University, Zaro considered getting an MBA, but her stepfather invited her to work with him instead. “He thought I was knowledgeable and he really believed in my capability, so I said yes. It was a great partnership, and I’ve been there ever since.” When Zaro started working at Tee Pee Olives/Italica Imports, her first job was to open new markets in a business dominated by men. “I was very involved,” she says. “Selling a brand involves a lot of marketing and advertising. I had a sales team of food brokers working for me in different states. I was totally vertically integrated, doing everything from retails to visiting customers and supermarkets to promotion—a whole set of skills that I learned and use to this very day.” Since assuming the presidency of the company in 2004, Zaro has played a significant role in educating the public about the health benefits of olive oil. When she visited the Southern states at the beginning of her career, “they didn’t know what olive oil was; they used lard oil. At that time, people didn’t know how healthy olive oil was.” Zaro has since reinvented the company’s lineup through the introduction of health-conscious and organic products. “We have an olive oil that’s enriched with omega-3, and one that’s enriched with vitamins. Just the product alone is healthy. In the old days, I used to try to educate people about what olive oil was—and now everybody’s an expert!” Think you’re an olive oil expert? Zaro shares five facts about this healthy fruit juice. If you didn’t know olives are fruit, read on:

  • Spain—where Italica Imports olive oil is grown and produced—is the world’s largest producer of olive oil (Italy is second).
  • Christopher Columbus introduced olive oil to the Americas upon his arrival in 1492.
  • Olive oil is high in healthy unsaturated fats. In fact, Hippocrates called olive oil “the great therapeutic.”
  • Olive oil is a fruit juice—since olives are technically a fruit and olive oil is the result of mashing the olives.
  • Olive oil contains polyphenols, natural antioxidants that can prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce the overall effects of aging.

Lucy Halperin Zaro’s dedication to BU earned her the CGS Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012.

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