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!!”

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!!