Monday, September 16, 2019

Your first loss is your best loss"

It's been three months since we closed on the purchase of buying Bolthouse Farms back from Campbells and what a ride!  The work has been beyond intense, the team dynamics inspiring on the whole to say the least, the short term business challenges have been extreme ( products of very poor business decision making by the past Campbells management team, but more on that later!!) and the list goes on....

I am so happy to be in this role, at this moment in my professional life, but it's quite a challenge on all fronts.  After more than 34 years in business, and after having spent 6 years here before ( 2009-2015 as Chief Customer Officer) the business issues & challenges are certainly requiring me to bring "all I have" to bear on what we have to handle.  I am humbled to have the chance to play a key leadership role at this moment in the 104 year history of Bolthouse Farms and am ready for the twists and turns in the months/quarters and years ahead!

In that spirit of humility, I pass along this story coming from a visit from none other than Bill Bolthouse Jr. , the historic leader of this company and the 4th ( it could be 5th??) generation of Bolthouse Family members that have lead this company from a small family farm in Grant Michigan to a leader in the produce industry today.  He and a number of his team members came to visit us in Bakersfield recently; he wanted to see the plant and connect with us as the the current leadership team who have the job to fix a ton of  damage caused to the business by Campbells over the past few years.  We spent an hour or so in one of our conference rooms, reconnecting and talking about the challenges we are facing and our plans for the path forward before he and his team went on a plant tour.  Bill was very respectful and pretty quiet throughout the meeting.  After one discussion of a particularly bad decision made by Campbells regarding acreage planning, he blurted out that ...." you're first loss is often your best loss!"  I had never heard that phrase before but in this circumstance , and in so many, it is deeply true!

The specific situation he commented on occurred not quite a year ago when the historic Campbells management team started to realize that they were "long on acres." The farms ag team came forward to write-off the extra acres and adjust the planting plans for the winter.  While it would have had a significant negative P&L impact ($1-$2mm), it was clearly the right decision to make at the time        ( remember this as the "First loss".). Instead, the management team in all its hubris pushed forward with the original planting plan and pushed the organization to "fix it."  Well, right before closing that one decision grew from a $1-$2mm problem to a $10-$12mm mess .... all created because the historic leaders couldn't see that "your first loss is often your best loss."

When we talked about that story to Mr. Bolthouse, he talked about how hard that lesson is to learn, but how true it is in agriculture ( and in business broadly!) We all need to work on our ability to recognize when we need to take the "first loss" and not try to push/force/manipulate/etc. the situation to create an outcome that will never come to pass.  This is about judgment, patience and perspective and how to deploy them as leaders, not anger, impatience and hubris as failed leadership traits.  The next time you are facing a tough situation that might produce a challenging "loss," pause for a moment and ask yourself if this is might actually be a good "first loss" to accelerate into action!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

“Alacrity”… a critical word and idea for leaders…

It has been eight weeks since we closed on the purchase of Bolthouse Farms, and what a wild ride it has been!  The business is in rough shape and needs a lot of work.  The organization is in flux, and has been through a lot over the past few years, and the team and our culture needs a lot of nurturing.  I think across the board there is a feeling of excitement and a recognition that there is a ton changing in every aspect of our company; so when I say its been a wild ride I do think it's a bit of an understatement!!

Immediately in week one, I “re-instituted” my “weekly performance management calls”, where we review the metrics of the business (every Tuesday) and review the key issues and focus points for the company broadly, and key themes by department. This is a process/discipline that I have written about in a number of essays ( and an approach that worked very well for me in my last “stint” at Bolthouse Farms, 2009-2015!  This process/discipline may seem boring or monotonous to some, but “beating the drumbeat” of a business with regular reviews of performance, and a regular “refocusing” on the key issues is ALWAYS productive and will ALWAYS be part of my playbook!

  It was on one of these weekly calls that I was reviewing the every growing list of important & urgent priorities on our action list when I shared the concept of “alacrity” with the team with little pre-planning.  We have so much on our plates right now and while energizing, it is really hard work and as a sample of one I am working the hardest that I can remember across my career!  It seemed critical to me to try to bring energy and positivity to the work at hand for me personally and I wanted to share to the team broadly how we all had to dive in with a positive and energetic spirit.  A number of team members on the call looked up the word to insure that I wasn't taking too many liberties with its application to our circumstances and indeed, I was pretty close in my usage!!

Alacrity: noun
cheerful readiness, promptness, or willingness:We accepted the invitation with alacrity.
liveliness; briskness.

After the call was finished I had some team members suggest that the message was appropriate for a broader audience in the company (not just the folks on the weekly call) and we crafted an email to share later that week, summarizing some key themes and sharing the idea of “alacrity” as a key idea/attitude/approach that I was trying to adopt in this “wild” time!  A wonderful surprise was the hilarious picture below, which was put together by two members of my team ( AJ & Pam !!) who wanted to “illuminate” the idea in an easy to remember image!  There is no doubt that “Buddy the Elf” is filled with many things but he certainly dives into the challenges he faces filled with “Alacrity!!”

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Ten years later.... Bruce Paynter's legacy is alive and pushing me forward!

Its hard to imagine that ten years ago the week, my good friend and old boss passed away after his fight with the disease, ALS.  It was a unique and complicated/challenging time, and I view it as a real treasure of my life that I was able to spend a lot of time with Bruce in the months and weeks before his passing.  The stories, the little interactions, the funny moments of those times together all add up to an unusual collage of remembrance and lessons... many of which I have passed along in previous essays and a few that I will share as easy links in the following paragraphs.

Since Bruce's passing, I have shared his story not just through this blog but with groups of folks in retreats and presentations that I have lead at Bolthouse Farms or with a number of my consulting clients.   Hundreds of folks who never knew Bruce up in Appleton Wisconsin have come to know his humor, his insights and his wisdom primarily through the stories of those days I had with him in the spring and early summer of 2009.

While many of his stories hit home,  the video above that he made for the folks at Kimberly-Clark has been a keepsake of mine for the past ten years.   I keep it on my laptop desktop and rewatch it regularly, especially when I feel that I need a little nudge from my friend Bruce!   Another story  that has really triggered a lot of attention is his view of "Authenticity, the Foundation of Leadership." This specific story, and the related chart reviewed in the essay has really connected to a wide range of folks across roles and work environments.  The idea that "authentic leaders" have the greatest organizational impact and Bruce's view that the basis of authenticity is the alignment of a leaders "words and actions!"  Staying on the "authenticity rail" is a  significant concept in this area and I have watched it really connect to executives in their own leadership journeys over the past ten years.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Authenticity", the Foundation of Leadership

Last week I had the chance, the fortune, to spend a few days with my friend Bruce who has ALS.  I have written about him before, see the entry "Always pursue the Truth";  and while his disease is taking it's expected, unrelenting course, my time with him was precious.  Over the course of a day or so, we had the chance to have some amazing conversations which ranged widely over topics that Bruce wanted to talk about.  There were three conversations though that have stayed with me, that have affected me deeply, and over the course of the next few weeks I am going to write about all three.  The following is one that has to do with "Authenticity" and "Leadership".

As I commented on in earlier entries, Bruce was my first boss out of business school and proceeded to have a very significant career at a major, publicly traded, consumer products company.  He held a number of senior executive roles across his career and had the responsibility and accountability for a multi-billion dollar business and a large organization in his last role.  I am not sure what prompted him during my last visit, but somewhat out of the blue, Bruce brought up the topic of "Leadership" and asked me what I thought about "Authenticity" as a leadership characteristic.  Rather than diving into a rambling "sermonette" of my opinions on the subject, I had the good sense to ask Bruce what he thought about this idea of "Authenticity" in a leadership context.  Even with his voice restricted by a respirator, he started to talk about "Authenticity" as a critical variable in leaders.  That organizations knew immediately whether their leader was being "Authentic" or not .  In those moments of "Authenticity" , Bruce felt that organizations trusted their leaders dramatically more than when there were impressions of Leadership "Inauthenticity".

I asked Bruce how he evaluated/measured "Authenticity".  His comments rang true to my experience, but I was having a hard time trying to figure out how you might evaluate/assess this characteristic.  He said very simply, "alignment between words and actions".  He talked about an executive that he worked closely with who "talked a good game" about caring for and being focused on his team; but his actions showed that he really cared for and was focused on himself.  A clear example of misalignment between words and actions... a clear example of a lack of "Leadership Authenticity."As a result,  the organization doesn't and probably won't trust this leader very well.  Obviously a limiter to performance. In many  ways it would have been better for everyone, including the broader organization, if the executive in the example wasn't trying to portray an image that was so different from who he really is.  

Since returning home, I found an old article from 1997 written by Kevin Cashman, titled "Authentic Leadership".  The following is a quote from the article that articulates Bruce's point well:  

The foundation of leadership is authenticity. How do we go about expressing ourselves more authentically?  I constantly challenge clients to ask, “Where is my leadership coming from?”  Do our actions originate from deep within ourselves, or are they coming from a more superficial, limited place?  Is our leadership arising from our character, the essence of who we are?  Or is it only coming from our persona, the external personality we’ve created to cope with life circumstances.

As I mentioned above , I am not sure what prompted Bruce to want to talk about this topic; but I have always found Bruce to be an amazingly "Authentic" person, friend, and boss.  This conversation gave me more to think about regarding the alignment of my words and actions, my "Leadership Authenticity". I hope that it might be a trigger for you too!

I sincerely miss Bruce and would love to have his available today as I dive into my new role as President of Bolthouse Farms Brands.  I could really use his good humored "push/nudge," his encouragement for me to go beyond my limited current thinking and find key insights for future performance.  As I reflects on the picture above of his grave in a lovely cemetery near the river in Appleton, I am once again reminded of his lessons for me today!!  Take a close look and you will see one of Bruce's constant quotes "Always pursue the truth..." on the bottom of the cemetery marker.  I can literally hear those words in my ears today, from 30+ years ago when I was a marketing assistant at Kimberly-Clark, working for Bruce, when I brought him some sort of analysis that was not quite finished and he would send me back to my cube with those words ringing in my ears.  While certainly appropriate then, with is very applicable for me today!  The business I have just jumped back into is in decline, and with lots of challenges across the board and a cursory review of the facts.... "the truth" will not cut it!  I need to listen to Bruce's advice today and push my company to dig deeper, search harder and "always pursue the truth" as we clarify the road ahead.

A ten year memory and salute to my friend and mentor.... Bruce Paynter!!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Significant Digits for 6/17/19: 200, 11, & 2 !

June 17, 2019 is going to go down in my personal history as a notable day on a wide number of fronts, and while the closing of the transaction to buy back Bolthouse Farms from Campbell's
(more on that later) it isn't the only significant event (or figure) that needs to be be noted today!

200:  This essay makes the 200th that I have posted over the life of this blog.   The topics have covered a wide range of topics across the 200 essays.   On the personal front there are stories of my grandmothers, my Aunt Lorraine and mother, my dad, my wife Jennie and our two kids Bryson and Marie.  There are over 100 essays on the topics of leadership, strategic planning, branding, and performance management; quite literally the list goes on!  It has been an amazing journey for me personally, which started in 2009 with some old friends from Coke wanting me to publish a story or two about my grandmother (the original "Turkey Bag" story became the first essay back in early 2009) and while VERY reluctant at first, I now think about writing essays all the time and miss my "writing time" if its been too long between essays!  I NEVER thought of myself as a writer but I always thought of myself as a storyteller and sometimes those stories can only be shared in written form.  As of today, there have been almost 60k page views from over 35 countries ( just last month I had almost 100 page views from separate readers in France of a specific essay.... impossible to know how or why that happened.... humbled by the interest and attention!)

11: Eleven years ago I left Coke and began a journey that has brought me to this amazing moment today.  At that time in the spring of 2008, with the financial crisis just beginning to emerge, it was a very scary time for me professionally and personally.  I wasn't sure of the path ahead, I didn't have a clear career plan charted post-Coke and the future looked uncertain and at times beyond intimidating.  Now eleven years later, that departure opened my world in so many ways, and allowed me to grow professionally and personally!  I am so thankful for my family and friends that have supported me so deeply through that journey, none more steadfast than my wife Jennie.  Through her support and the support of others I found my way to Bolthouse Farms back in 2009 (and started writing this blog that same year), started a thriving consulting practice in 2015, and am now improbably heading back to Bolthouse Farms as President starting today!

2: Its rare in life to be able to think about your legacy and take actions to affect it in your professional and personal lives!  In 2005 I wrote a little book on leadership while at Coke, titled Find Your Legacy, that began a journey for me on thinking about and trying to take action on this concept of "Legacy" in my professional life and roles.  Over three thousand copies of the "little book" were distributed inside and outside of Coke and there have been thousand of page views and meeting/retreat discussions on the same topic over the past 10+ years.  The rare and special opportunity I feel today is the chance to work on that Legacy at Bolthouse Farms for a 2nd time!  Joining forces with my friend and work partner for almost thirty years Jeff Dunn, we are diving back into Bolthouse Farms not only to fix/correct a number of business dynamics that have occurred during the past seven years under the ownership of The Campbell Soup Company, but to rebuild a strong, industry leading,  and enduring commercial and operating platform in the fresh/produce industry!  In other terms rebuilding a strong legacy foundation for the next chapter in the the 104+ year history of Bolthouse Farms!

I will close with a simple and humble thank you!  Thanks to all the family, friends and work partners who have been part of this amazing journey and a big presumptive thank you to my family, friends and the folks at Bolthouse Farms for being there for me and with me on the journey opening up in the months and years ahead!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Cherry Pie and a glass of milk…. interview tips from a diner counter…

As I have mentioned in previous essays, I have had the chance to work from a very early age. Somewhere close to my 11thbirthday, I took over my brother’s paper route when he got a “real” after school job.  After a few years delivering papers, I moved up in the world and got a job as a dishwasher at a local ice cream shop in a neighboring town.  While the job did have its benefits (mostly in hot fudge sundaes,) the pay was not very good and I started looking for a move up the economic ladder!  Soon I heard that the diner in our small town (Dick’s Diner, Murrysville Pa., still open today!) was accepting applications and I decided to stop by after school and fill out an application. 

Dick’s Diner was a favorite of our family at the time; we were regulars on Saturdays for lunch or an early dinner.  They were known for great daily specials (The Spanish Swiss Steak), diner classics (hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches) and of course their pie (Coconut Cream, Dutch Apple and so many more!!)  I stopped in that day, now more than forty years ago and sat at the counter and asked for an application … thinking it wise to order a slice of cherry pie and a glass of ice cold milk to help in the application process.  The application was straightforward, I had solid experience in being a bus boy and dishwasher, and the pie and milk combo totally rocked.  I felt great about the whole approach until the bill arrived and I realized that I didn't have a dime to my name in my jeans pockets…. nothing in my bill fold, nothing in the car, years before credit cards were widely accepted (and I certainly didn't have one!) no ATM’s, no Venmo, no nothing!!  Here I was applying for a job and I couldn't pay my bill … I was embarrassed and mortified!!

Here is where the “interview advice” comes in because crazy stuff happens in life and this crazy moment happened to me applying for a job as a teenager.  The question isn’t whether crazy/challenging moments will occur in your professional life (they will!!) but how will you deal with those unexpected curveballs as they happen.

Back to the diner counter… after realizing my dilemma, I asked to see the supervisor to giver her my application and ask a couple of questions.  One of the old time waitresses gave me a little look but went back into the kitchen and brought out Wanda, the stern day-shift supervisor.  I handed her my resume and sheepishly told here that I didn't have the money to pay my bill, but that I lived 15 min away (she had my address on the application) and I would drive straight home, get the money and be back in thirty minutes to pay the bill AND leave a tip. Wanda didn't say much, she just told me that I better get going if I was going to be back in thirty minutes.  I took off in my 1970 Chevelle and got home, got the cash and got back with a few moments to spare.  I sat back at the counter and there was Wanda, candidly surprised to see me.  She said that she hadn’t expected to see me again and certainly not back that quickly! 

The best thing I did that afternoon so many years ago was to deal with my problem directly…. No B.S., just a candid admission of MY error/problem and a clear action plan on how to move to resolution.  In any job environment, one thing a hiring manager is ALWAYS trying to assess is the ethical makeup of a candidate.  That moment at the counter turned into a “live TV” test of just that, allowing me to demonstrate my trustworthiness there and then!  If you are faced with a challenging moment or issue in an interview moment, deal with it straight on, admit the issue and work the problem, DON’T try to talk your way out it!

Lucky for me, Wanda and Dick’s Diner took a chance of yours truly and I worked there all through high school and loved the place.  To this day every time I get back home I stop in with Jimmy and Dave (my two high school buddies that still live there) and grab a meal at the diner and always try to squeeze in a slice of pie for old times sake!!  

Monday, April 29, 2019

Four “balancing points” for leaders

I just a few weeks, I will have the privilege to move into a significant leadership role in an organization very close to my heart.  I will talk more about the “big deal” in future essays (post closing) but for now I just want to express how honored I am to have the chance to have an impact and how seriously and intensely I am diving into the work ahead!

Through the process of due diligence I have been reacquainting myself with the business, digging into a number of key issues/opportunities and working to build a path forward that will be productive, thoughtful, category leading and filled with profitable growth (I know, no small feat!!)  This drive to reinvigorate profitable growth and industry leadership is at the core of my focus and as I dive into the work, I keep finding myself “balancing” four key focus points or leadership principles that I want to cover today:

·     Strategic Vision
·     Patience
·     High Expectations
·     Humility

These four ideas are central for leaders in any role in any organization.  What is unique for me is the dynamic that I am working to balance all four simultaneously in a moving and dynamic business situation and organization.  The image I keep thinking about is that of a table, with four legs that can expand and retract dramatically.  While I have no expectations for a calm/peaceful steady state “always perfectly flat and level” table, I do realize that I need to keep all four elements (legs) active and moving at all times, and that the dynamic of a “balanced” and productive leadership platform is a highly challenging and dynamic exercise! Lets take a second with each of these four “principles”

·     Strategic Vision
o  Definition:
§  The strategic vision provides an overview of where you want to be at in a specific time in the future. It helps provide an overarching principle(s) for all the detail contained in later sections. ... The strategic vision should present the ideal, but achievable, outcome.

Leaders must set the course ahead for the organization to understand and for all to clearly know “where are we going??” and “what does winning look like??” After having been away from the business for more than four years, and from seeing the mostly negative impact that the previous owners have had on the business, the road ahead is clear … a path of innovation, growth and exceptional execution re-focused on the foundational principles of the business and the brand.

·     Patience
o  Definition
§  The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

It is so tempting to try to fix or change EVERYTHING at once… to get AA the parts humming in perfect order literally in the first few weeks or months post closing on the business…. a innocent and naïve approach for sure!  I think back to two well read essays from this blog, “Aunt Lorraine’s Law” and “ Do Fewer Thing Better” both of which were MY admonishments to leaders to exercise patience, especially in the face of big challenges (the like of which I am facing now.)  Now is a key moment when I need to listen to my own advice, in balance with these other principles.

·     High Expectations
o  Definition
§  The word expectation comes from the Latin word expectation, meaning, "an awaiting." If you have great expectations, you think something good will come your way, but if keep your expectations low, you won't risk being disappointed.

Regardless of a sense of “patience,” leaders MUST set, model and expect high levels of performance from themselves and their teams.  Even in the most challenging moments (maybe most important in those tough moments) keeping your expectations high for the performance results of the next week/month/quarter/etc. is vital for successful leaders.

·     Humility
o  Definition
§  freedom from pride or arrogance the quality or state of being humble

I am a big believer that leaders need to be appreciative and “humbled” by the role they play.  The chance to lead organizations and teams of individuals is no small thing and we, as leaders need to be deeply appreciative of our roles.  Too many models of bombastic/arrogant/prideful political and business leaders surround us today, and I for one think back to the most impactful leaders in my 30+-year business career and I assure you they were not that kind.   The individuals that left the biggest mark on me were the ones who were great teachers, ones that know how to balance these four principles effortlessly (at least it seemed so) and who took the time to work with me and to build my skills and experiences in the roles I had AND for future opportunities.

I wanted to take a moment this week to share these four ideas and how I am working to find a balance for all of them as I dive into the road ahead on my end. As leaders I encourage you to keep all four ideas active in your minds and realize that there is no “steady state”, “perfectly level” leadership situation or moment!  You will need to tradeoff one versus the other, and keep balancing or re-balancing these four leadership attributes to handle and succeed in the moment at hand… good luck with your balancing efforts!

Monday, April 15, 2019

A generous and gentle act of kindness at the Bakersfield airport…

Let me start by saying the past few weeks and months have been a wild ride, culminating in signing a big deal that lead me to Bakersfield last week.    While I am sure that I will cover this “new deal” in coming essays, I want to share a story that happened very early Saturday morning as I was heading home to Atlanta.

It was a little past 5:30 am, with a cheap cup of coffee in hand that I made my way to gate 3 at BFL (the airport code for Bakersfield.)  Early mornings are busy at the airport and last Saturday was no exception; multiple flights heading to multiple cities all leaving between 6and 7 am.  Gate 3 had the Denver flight, which I was taking enroute to Atlanta and just before general boarding; a young mother brought her eight or nine year old daughter up to the gate.  I realized immediately from past experience that the young girl was flying to Denver as an unaccompanied minor and the mom had the paperwork envelope and was reviewing it with the gate agent.  Once the paperwork was finished, the mom turned to the little girl and they both completely melted down…. right at the jetway to gate 3.

It was a heart wrenching scene, mom and daughter hugging tightly, both sobbing/shaking and when it was time for the flight attendant to escort the little girl down to the plane it was so hard to watch.  The mom, fully in tears, waved and blew kisses and ultimately slumped into a seat by the gate, trying to wipe the tears from her eyes to no avail.  All this set the stage as general boarding was called…. such a sad scene, so early on a Saturday morning!

BFL is not serviced by Delta so Saturday I was on a United flight to Denver, changing planes and airlines to make the Delta flight back to Atlanta.  Since I don't have very good status on United, I was in one of the last boarding groups and as I got on the plane I noted a young woman sitting in my seat. As I reached for my ticket I realized that not only was she in my seat, she was sitting in the seat immediately next to the little girl in tears.  The young woman maybe 18-20 years old, caught my eye and silently directed me into her seat across the aisle, one row up.  I didn’t blink and eye and got into my seat and belted in for the flight to Denver.

The next two hours of the flight were completely inspiring…. The young woman holding the little girl’s hand, telling her stories, showing her pics on her phone and by the time we were halfway to Denver they were playing some game on an I-pad and giggling like dear friends… it was beyond charming!  I was blown away by how kind it was for that young woman to take control of the situation, change seats to be close to the crying girl, and to make the entire context of the moment, especially for the little girl, completely renewed!

As we exited the plane, many us had to wait for our bags that had been gate checked and as I was standing planeside, the young woman came off the plane heading to destinations unknown.  Not wanting to be pushy, I just motioned to her and as she slowed, I told her what a wonderful thing she had done that morning and how impressed I was by what she did and how she did it!!  Only slowing a touch, she said a big thank you and said that is was no big deal, anyone would have done that!

In retrospect I am certain that the young woman was wrong when she said, “anyone would have done that!!” Unfortunately we are living in a time too filled with anger, suspicion and caustic rhetoric rather than simple and generous acts of kindness in our communities, our companies or even in a small Californian airport!