Monday, February 10, 2020

Leadership based on personal values.... important and rare!

In this time of bombastic, hubris-filled leadership, I was impressed by a powerful demonstration of personal values as a foundation for an important leadership moment last week on the floor of the U.S. Senate.  At the end of the impeachment trial, Senator Mitt Romney, (Rep. Utah) spoke powerfully in the senate chamber about his personal vote and how his personal convictions lead him to that decision.  Please note that I have never voted for Senator Romney, and historically felt that I was on the "other side" of the political landscape from his views.  With that said, I found his words and actions extremely poignant, courageous and inspiring to me as a U.S. citizen and as a business leader.  The following are few excerpts from his comments that really hit home to me personally:

As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong. …

But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience. …

I am aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision, and in some quarters, I will be vehemently denounced. I am sure to hear abuse from the President and his supporters. Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me? …

Like each member of this deliberative body, I love our country. I believe that our Constitution was inspired by Providence. I am convinced that freedom itself is dependent on the strength and vitality of our national character. As it is with each senator, my vote is an act of conviction. We have come to different conclusions, fellow senators, but I trust we have all followed the dictates of our conscience. …

My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate. But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong. …

We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on 
earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

There are a number of points here that I want to highlight, again as a citizen and as a leader:

> Take the assignment seriously:  Sen. Romney realized the assignment to be "Senator-Juror" was "enormously consequential" and he didn't shrink form the task!  He knew the stakes were immense and with that foreknowledge he proceeded with the work with clarity and rigour.

> We must stay true to our own beliefs:  when he commented that by taking a simple partisan approach to the final vote would "expose my character to history's rebuke and the censure of my own conscience," he eloquently challenged all of us to a moment of self reflection and critique.  Too often the "popular" idea, or the "expedient approach" rules the day, rather than us as leaders staying true to what we BELIEVE and KNOW is right!  In business as in politics, too often the drive to short term profitability or the need to satisfy influential  investors at the next board meeting eclipse the path that is know to be right in the long term.

Don't let the consequences sway you from doing what is right:  Today with a week of outburst/threats/angry tweets and aggressive retaliation, Sen. Romney seems understated when he said that he knew that he would "strenuous disapproval" from those from his party and his state, and that he would hear "abuse" form the President and his supporters.  He knew the path was going to be ugly, and yet he stayed true to his beliefs and convictions.... a powerful role model!

> Keep your legacy in mind: He knew his vote wasn't going to be the deciding vote in the process, and yet he kept his vision on the long-term perspective... his legacy.  he is confident that when he will "tell my children and their children that I did my duty," he wasn't focused on the headlines of this week or next, but on the long view of legacy and family.

I deeply believe that powerful leaders are ones whose actions and words are highly aligned , and individuals who consider their impact on business or in politics with a long term/ legacy oriented world view.  I for one an deeply appreciative of Sen. Romney's courage and his words/actions related to the impeachment process.  As a leader or a wonderful company, I am using this moment to refresh myself on the long view, keeping my "legacy viewpoint" in clear sight and will come back to Senator Romney's speech often for inspiration in the days ahead ... I hope that you do the same!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020... A year of action, not intentions!

At times it seems amazing to me to reflect that we are beginning the second decade of the 21st century!  As a child of the 60's ( yes, the 1960's) and someone who started his business career in the mid-80's, I feel VERY fortunate to begin 2020 fully engaged in a wonderful business, working with a great team, and looking to the year ahead filled with optimism and energy.  Sure there are challenges and obstacles ahead, some that we can see clearly and others that I know are waiting around some dark corner, but regardless of that truth, I am certainly energized for the road ahead in the new year!

As I think about the year ahead, 2020 seems so pivotal as I think about the broader context.  It will certainly be a pivotal year for our business at Bolthouse Farms, where we are focused on "stabilizing the business to rebuild a platform for growth."  That strategic "mantra" has been our focus since we bought the business in June, and we will see that "return to growth" in 2020 without question!  While certainly a pivotal business year, 2020 is filled with great portent for our country and the world broadly.  We have a huge election in ten months that will dramatically affect the future of our country and the challenges ( and opportunities) facing our planet as we start the new year have never been more dramatic or more pressing!  Its within this context that I have thought about this essay, and am really struck by the need for action across the board ... action on the issues and opportunities ahead, not just good intentions, clever words,  and platitudinal inaction!

Take action in business: We certainly have a lot to do at Bolthouse Farms to get the business back on a track of growth for the exciting future that lies ahead.  Regardless of the department, role or function, there is a lot to do!  While at moments like this it can seem intimidating with the extent of  action that is required, the great thing to remember is to just dive in and begin!  Take action on the projects that lie ahead, take small steps and dig into the work that is needed, encourage your team- mates to dig into the work, not "talk" about the work!  Too often we swirl around issues, problems and opportunities "talking" a good game, but never "plowing forward" into the work required.  Whatever the business situation you are facing, my encouragement is to prioritize your "actions" on the projects that lie ahead in 2020 and stay focused on making a difference with the results of your "action filled" work!

Take action personally: This is a perfect time of year to take stock of where we all are personally, either as leaders, as parents, spouses or friends and decide what actions we can take this year to get better at the things that are important to us.  I am not a big fan of grandiose new years "resolutions;" too often a set of words and ideas that sound great but never actually happen or don't happen for very long.  As for me, now that I am working every week in California, I am focused on sleep and exercise... and my plan is to walk EVERY day and insure that I can get at least 7 1/2 hrs of sleep EVERY night.  I know it doesn't seem very inspiring, but for me to be effective, for me to be my "best self" in 2020, those two "every day" actions will be critical for a successful year ahead!

Take action in your communities:  We live and work in the context of communities that span the globe, and its too easy for us to live in our bubbles, listen only to our "echo chambers" of self curated news and information and forget the wider landscape of humanity we live within.  Get involved in food banks, food pantries, homeless shelters, etc. where you can give some of your time, and resources to those more in need.  Find ways to give back globally and locally to help strengthen communities that matter to you.  Finally insure that you are registered to vote and take action on election day in November! Our right to vote is precious and a foundation for our country and too many people blow it!  Get out there in the primaries and at the general election and cast your vote, take action for our democracy!

This headset on actions vs intentions is not new in my essays.  Over the past ten years I have covered this topic and idea from a few angles and for those looking for some "extra readings" in this area, check out the following essays:

"Our actions betray our intent"

"Act with intent : Redux"

"Good ideas executed brilliantly"

I want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year and I am confident and that 2020 will be a year to remember because of the actions we take in our businesses, our families and our communities!!

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Steadfastness" at Sunrise

As we turn toward the Christmas holiday break, with so much to be thankful for and to appreciate in our lives, I want to take a moment today to reflect on a theme/idea that I have been focused on this week... the concept of "Steadfastness."

Steadfastness; noun, the quality of being resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

In some ways it is such an old fashioned word, not used in everyday conversation often, but one that is really ringing true to me as 2019 comes to a close.  This idea of being "unwavering" in times of challenge, "resolute" in times of uncertainty and "dutifully firm" when others might waver is an important ideal for leaders across the board.

Earlier this week, on my weekly call with my key leaders, I shared this word and concept as a key reminder for my team as we close out 2019 and pivot into 2020.  Just a short six months ago we closed on the purchase of Bolthouse Farms and what a six months it has been!  New teams being formed, a big business being stabilized, massive innovation being developed and launched into the market ( shipping to stores near you in early 2020, ha!!) , operating processes being re-qualified, and the list goes on! There is so much to be proud of and so much to do... six months in lets us see our progress and at the same time clarifies the amount of work that still its ahead.  It is that clarity that can seem daunting at times and what has triggered me to think about this concept of "steadfastness," and to encourage my team to be "unwavering on the path ahead.

In our business, being a large fresh produce company who plants and harvests carrots literally 364 days a year, this time of year can be challenging.  The demand is high for carts during the holiday window November through January and the weather can be tough.  This year is no exception, with a rainy streak happening in our key growing regions that makes the harvesting process challenging.  Our Ag team is doing heroic work, and we are serving our customers very well right now but every weather forecast update is a bit nerve racking, making it hard to stay "steadfast" in the face of forecasted weather events.  It is in this context that I share the photo above, sunrise over the Tehachapi pass in California.

I took this picture Wednesday morning from the parking lot at Bolthouse Farms in Bakersfield , looking east into the mountains.  As you can see , the sunrise was incredible that morning and while certainly pretty, it actually filled me with a sense of calm and confidence on the challenges that are ahead.  That sunrise reminded me ( physically and metaphorically) that beautiful dawns do come after dark and rainy nights, that the light of a new day brings possibilities and creative ideas, and that the light of that sky could help inspire me to be "unwavering" and "steadfast" as we find our way through whatever challenges that lie ahead!  I hope you can find a "sunrise" in your world over the next few weeks so that your path can be "steadfast" and "unwavering" in the face of whatever challenges that lie ahead!

postscript, "Steadfastness" for the holidays: I just wanted to add that I am encouraging my team, and I hope you do the same, to have a great and restive holiday with with families and friends as much as possible.  This is an important restorative time to be with your loved ones, to "recharge" physically and emotionally and to rebuild your personal "steadfastness batteries" so you can be fresh and ready for the the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in 2020!!

Monday, November 25, 2019

One Down and Two Deep

No, this is not some shorthand clue from a crossword puzzle…. Instead it’s a succession planning/organizational development concept that I have been working on in my new role at Bolthouse Farms.

As many of you know, I worked at Bolthouse Farms from 2009-2015 and had a great run at the company during that time.  We drove a lot of growth and expansion in the business during those years and I was one of the partners that lead the sale of the company to Campbell’s in 2012. ( 

In hindsight there are a ton of things that I am proud of from those days and both the business dynamics, the exceptional results and the wonderful people I had a chance to work with during that time top the list!  After leaving the company in early 2015, I started a consulting business and had NO CLUE that I would ever get a chance to come back to that same company, being one of the partners that bought the company back from Campbell’s last summer, closing on the purchase in June 2019.  Now as one of the lead executives at the company, we are working hard to get the company stabilized and to rebuild it into a dynamic, high growth fresh platform centered on the idea of “Plant Powering People.” (more on that in a future post for sure!)

It’s rare in a person’s career to have a chance to come back to a business, almost five years after you left it and work on building or re-building a once strong legacy.  The Campbell’s years were tough for Bolthouse Farms, and there are a lot of things to repair/correct/improve/change to get the company back on a growth path but no area is more important in that perspective than rebuilding the talent at the company for that journey ahead.  It’s in that spirit that I have been thinking about this idea about leadership development and succession planning that is captured in the title of this essay….” one down and two deep.”

The idea is simple… every leader take a moment and think about their direct reports “one down”, not the entire team of leaders in your organization but just your direct reports. Sketch that group out on a single sheet and then ask yourself if every one of those individuals are performing well in their roles, leading their teams well, generating great results and are “ready now” to move up or over into new roles that the business might need as it grows and expands.  It’s no small feat to say, “yes” to all the above attributes but if you can say “yes”, then you are mark yourself in good shape “one down.”  While this is a big step, the real challenge is to push yourself to see if you have high performing/”ready now” internal leaders ready to fill all of those     “one down” roles if needed, the step that checks readiness “two deep.”  

On a recent flight I did this “exercise” and was pretty blown away by the results.  We are rebuilding the leadership level in the company now and all of my direct reports are new to their roles, and while most are “alumni hires,” (folks who had worked at Bolthouse Farms in the past and who have come back to create the next chapter of success and growth in the company’s 104 year young history,) all of my direct reports are new to their roles and are doing great…. but while “doing great,” certainly not “ready now” to move into another leadership opening if needed. (“One down”) The real eye opener was taking the next step… thinking deeply about “their direct reports” and THEIR readiness to move up or over if needed.  As I thought about that group, “two deep,” it is filled with talented folks doing great work, but not full with “ready now” leaders who could move into key openings if required.  

This is in no way a critique of our organization, quite the opposite. The team that has come together is fantastic, highly skilled, highly motivated and totally rocks!  I am privileged to work with a group of team members who are so focused on the mission of the company and the tough work ahead.  What the exercise DOES illuminate is the idea that a leader’s job about nurturing and growing leadership talent is never done! We need to work hard on identifying young leaders “coming up” in the organization and work on getting them the experiences/exposure/mentoring/etc. that will help them achieve their leadership potential in our company.  Try this exercise, looking “one down,” and assessing your leadership team’s readiness “two deep,” and cascade the approach to your leaders.  I am confident that it might be a bit eye-openeing but also very helpful as you build your organization’s leaders for the future!

Monday, October 21, 2019

"A Militant Commitment to the Basics"

Recently I had the pleasure to have one of my Bolthouse Farms leadership team partners ( and good friend) Zak spend some time with me in Atlanta!  We have been "working our brains out" since well before we closed on buying back the company from Campbell's last June and it was a real treat to have him stop by and stay at my house and for us to work together from my home office a few weeks ago.  He was routing through Atlanta, coming from one of our customer's annual conferences and shared a number of headlines from his time there.  One theme came from the main stage presentation of the conference when the speaker commented that to be successful, one needed to have ...." A militant commitment to the basics!"  This phrase has really stuck with me over the past few weeks.  It is highly pertinent to the situation that I find myself in today in my work at Bolthouse Farms and it rings VERY true as I reflect on my career over the past 30+ years.  I want to take a few moments today to dig into this concept, and do a bit of exegesis as we explore its elements.

Militant: adj.  "Aggressively active, (as in a cause)

So many businesses need 100% attention, focus and energy and the business we bought last June is a perfect example.  The previous management team was focused on "selling the business", not "running the business" and the the recent business results tell the tale!  NO business nor organization runs on auto pilot and ALL businesses and organizations need intense, active focus.  The concept of being "militant" or "aggressively active" feels so apt and appropriate... we as leaders should not aspire to JUST be active, we need to work on being "aggressively active" in our work and actions!

Commitment: noun.  "an act of committing to a charge or trust"

At any level in an organization, we are NOT taking a role to only partially commit to the work required.  If we are in a role, and this is especially true for leaders, we need to be 110% INTO the role and the work required.  Especially when times are tough, or when business results are challenged (both ringing true for me today,) we need to check ourselves and insure that we are 110% "committed" to the role/work/team/budget/challenges that lie ahead.  We can't control so many things in the landscape of our work, but we CAN control our own levels of "commitment!"

Basics: noun.  "something that is foundational or fundamental"

It is so easy, especially when things are troubled or challenging in business to look for a new approach or strategy to change trends and drive future success.  While certainly needed and appropriate at times, it is ALWAYS appropriate to dig or grind into the fundamentals or foundational elements of a business.  I have found that after being away from Bolthouse Farms for over 4 years, I have needed to dig back into the "basics" of the business to really understand where we are and where we need to go!

I am very appreciative that Zak shared this message from the customer convention and I am very appreciative and committed to our partnership along with the other leaders at Bolthouse Farms!  All of us would do well to dig into these words and this theme and to push ourselves to bring them alive every day.  I hope that you leaders reading this essay can find an idea or an approach to bring alive in your organizations and i am confident that taking a "militant commitment to the basics" will serve you well on the challenges that lie ahead!

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!!”