Tuesday, November 28, 2023

"Authenticity"... the 2023 word of the year!

The following clip form the BBC hit my feed earlier today, and now more that ever it seems VERY appropriate…


Merriam-Webster has picked its word of the year - and it's legit. 

"Authentic" is the top word of 2023, according to America's oldest dictionary.

Merriam-Webster said it saw a "substantial increase" in online searches for it this year. 

The interest was "driven by stories and conversations about AI [artificial intelligence], celebrity culture, identity, and social media", the dictionary publisher said. 

One reason many people search for the word is because it has a number of meanings, including "not false or imitation" and also "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character". 

"Although clearly a desirable quality, 'authentic' is hard to define and subject to debate," Merriam-Webster said. 

The publisher added that the popularity of the word, which had been highly searched in the US in the past, grew this year as "the line between 'real' and 'fake'" became increasingly blurred.


“Authenticity” is a concept or actually a principle that I have focused on numerous times across the 250+ essays that I have posted on-line.  I have always considered “Authenticity” a foundational principal for leaders, and my experiences in 2009 around the passing of my first boss, Bruce Paynter, provide vivid memories that I reflect on often today.  After battling ALS for months, he was nearing his passing, and I had the chance/honor to spend a few days with him at a hospice center.  Across that time together, we had three deep profound conversations, one centering around this idea of “Authenticity.”  He deeply felt that “Authenticity” was the foundation for leadership, and successful, effective leaders.  We talked for hours about this idea, comparing notes on business leaders we both knew, and talked about what made some effective and others ineffective and we kept coming around to this concept… “Authentic” leaders were effective and impactful leaders…. period.


Bruce had me draw a grid… his “grid of authenticity” … that had “Words” and “Actions” identified on each axis, and “+” and “-“ symbols at the ends of each axis.  In his mind… his definition…an “authentic” leader needed to ensure that their “Words” and “Actions” we aligned.  He had be draw a line from top right (positive “words” and “actions”) to the bottom left of the grid (negative “words” and “actions”) and he called this his “rail of authenticity.”  Effective leaders operated as close to the “rail” as possible, working to have their “words” and “actions” as aligned as possible.


As I sit here, writing this essay 14+ years later, I still remember that time in the hospice center and those powerful conversations.  In reflection, I think back on the discussion highlighted above and am deeply moved and strengthened by the TRUTH that Bruce’s “rail” is deeply true and has been a model that I have tried to embody in my personal and professional lives.  Let Merriam-Webtser’s “top word of 2023” be a driver for you… and a reminder that we all need to focus on our “words” and our “actions and find ways to come closer to “Bruce’s rail!”

p.s.  here is the link to the original essay that I wrote just a few days after that fateful "authentic" conversation back in 2009... take a look.  https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2009/06/authenticity-foundation-of-leadership.html


Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Always start with gratitude

 I want to take a moment this week to comment on the idea and practice of trying to "Always start with gratitude."  Over the past few quarters, we have had a tough run in our business.  Challenges and headwinds were experienced on many fronts and the team broadly has been working extremely hard in very tough circumstances to problem solve and overcome many issues across the board; and in that context,  last Friday we reported our FY' 24 Q1 results and they were extraordinary!!  

I was so thrilled to see strong top-line performance and superior bottom-line results... literally one of the best quarters I have ever been part of at Bolthouse Farms and possibly one of the best across my entire career....  the team totally rocked!!  In the after-glow of our Flash report zoom call, I was reminded about the headline of this essay.... that in this moment or financial "over-delivery," I needed to find ways to BE GRATEFUL and share that gratefulness to my organization as broadly as I can!  As tempted as I was to dig into different departmental performance, and dive deeply into specific p&l drivers,  I needed to check myself and just start saying "thank you" as broadly and as often as possible.... I needed to "start with gratitude!"

As I endeavor down that gratitude path this week, I pulled up an essay that I posted three years ago this week.... November of 2020,  in the heart of the Covid crisis.  The following essay, which is actually a letter that I sent to our company at that moment,  is a great reminder to me about what we all have been through and how we all need to "start with gratitude" whenever we can... I hope this essay connects for you and I wish all of you a very "grateful" Thanksgiving holiday next week!  

November 24, 2020

I just wanted to send out a note before the Thanksgiving holiday this week.  This year is unlike all others for me ( and I think for all of us) as we head toward this day of thanksgiving….. this year has been so hard, so challenging, so painful, and so long, that I for one am having a hard time being very thankful; it’s in that spirit, not in some “hallmark card” moment, but in the midst of all of our challenges and pain that  I share these thoughts and reflections.  


Maybe 10-15 years ago I had the chance to see The Dalai Lama live at Canon chapel  on the campus of Emory University.  The setting matters since it was where Jennie and I were married ( by her Father,) where both Bryson and Marie were baptized and where we attended the funerals for both Jennie’s mom and sister… certainly a sacred space for our family!  It was there that the Dalai Lama, with a number of monks, held a “service” of sorts that included all sorts of Tibetan Buddhist rituals and comments from The Dalai Lama.   While I was struck by how “cheery and jovial” he was ( often chuckling/laughing) one comment he shared has stuck with me over the years…. that being to “always start with gratitude.” 

 He encouraged the crowd to 


·     “start every day…” 

·     “start every meal…”

·     “start every conversation…”

·     “start every walk…”

·     etc.

o  “with gratitude.”


I think back to that moment, so many years ago and find strength and inspiration thinking about this note today.  In the midst of rising covid cases and so many challenges facing our world, I am very thankful for my family, my sweet Jennie and our two wonderful kids, Bryson and Marie.  I am thankful to have the chance to work at Bolthouse Farms, and to work in a business that is trying hard to find ways to get more fruits and vegetables (go carrots!!) on family’s tables, and to work with a team of hardworking “Bolthouse People” that care so much and are so committed to our mission.  I am thankful to be healthy and capable to find ways to try to make tomorrow a bit better than yesterday…. and the list literally could go on for paragraphs….. I am actually thankful for so much!!


I wish all of you a very happy, healthy, safe and “grateful” thanksgiving holiday and I do sincerely hope that you can enjoy some well deserved time off this week with your family and friends as safely as possible!


Monday, October 30, 2023

When things are “murky”, use your “fog lights”



Many of you know that a few years ago (back in the summer of 2014) I bought an old car that I very affectionately named “Miss Kitty!”  I picked the car up near downtown LA, and my dear son Bryson and I drove her home, back to Atlanta, on a cross county multi-day road-trip that we still talk about today.  “Miss Kitty” is quite a character, with many unusual quirky features, but as you can see from the picture, she has some pronounced “fog lights” on her front grill. This essay is NOT a deep dive onto my old car’s unusual characteristics, but it was prompted by a recent experience I had driving on a foggy morning.


When driving in fog, I remember being taught in drivers-ed class to always use your car’s headlights, but to NEVER use the “high-beams!” If your car had “fog lights,” they were to be utilized in conjunction with your “low-beams” in conditions that were hazy, rainy, murky, or had limited visibility.  It was in just such a situation recently that I was heading to that the Atlanta airport, on a drizzly/foggy morning, when I realized that my old car’s “extra-large fog lights” were really needed to drive safely in the challenging conditions.  While those big yellow fog-lights did the job perfectly, it got me thinking about “murky/unclear” situations in life and in business that I was experiencing today.


How many times does your work environment lack clarity or appears hazy/unclear??   How many moments in your life do you face challenging situations and are uncertain of a clear path forward??  At least for me, these challenging situations happen all the time, and I for one often “turn on the high-beams” rather than the “fog lights” often to little avail!  Thinking about good old “Miss Kitty.” I realized that in those murky work/life moments, I needed to ditch the proverbial “high-beams.”  I didn’t need to add MORE intensity of introspection, MORE high analysis, MORE digging for clarity to make the matter clearer… instead I needed to SLOW DOWN and find/utilize the “fog lights” available to me. 


This imagery makes logical sense, and I am certain you understand the idea that I am trying to share… but I find the exercise very hard.  All my training and my 38+ years of a business career have been centered extensively on the “high-beam” curriculum!  How to accelerate your tempo, how much data can you connect with and how quicky can you do it?? I am literally writing this essay on a flight heading back to Bakersfield, and I am scheduling calls in 15-minute intervals for my layover in Phoenix…. more “high-beam” action!! 


As I look at my personal business landscape, I certainly see challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead.  Much more significantly, I look broadly at the political landscape domestically and internationally and see incredible challenges; illuminated today by the wars in Ukraine and Israel that are just two examples of tragic nightmares with no clear path forward in sight.  Now more than ever I am reaching for my “fog lights” to help navigate to road ahead, and I encourage all readers to be sure to keep them handy and in good working order… the path ahead does not look to be clearing any time soon and I think we will all need to use our “fog lights” regularly!


Thursday, October 5, 2023

"Last words" that ring true today!


Recently, I had the chance (a deep privilege really) to gather with three dear old friends to go fishing in Canada.  We try to go every fall, and while the weather, the fishing, the stories are different every year…. it’s always a ball!  Flying back to Atlanta with one of the “gang,” I was shown an email that highlighted the “last words of Steve Jobs” before he died back in 2011.  I have shared a few paragraphs from that email below.  I am not here to debate whether these were his actual “last words,” but I do want to share that they rang deeply true to me on several levels.  

First, I have had the chance (and honor) in my life to spend time with two people that I was very close to right before they died.  My Grandmother, who passed in 1998 at 97 years old, and my first boss at Kimberly-Clark who passed in 2009 when he was in his late 50’s.  I have written about both of them across numerous essays in this blog...you can read more about my grandmother at https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-turkey-bag.html  and my old boss at https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2019/07/ten-years-later-bruce-paynters-legacy.html   Both were very aware that they going to pass soon and while they were radically different people, from VERY different economic backgrounds and life experiences, the conversations at the end were very similar…. There was no talk about “stuff & things” or money, both wanted to reminisce about the people and stories of their lives… to try to remember and relive the poignant moments that were fleeting.  The first paragraph below of Steve Jobs' “last words” hits that exact chord when he says “true inner happiness does not come from material things”…


“Treasure love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends. Treat yourself well and cherish others. As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, we realize that a $3000 or a $30 watch both tell the same time. You will realize that your true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world. Whether you fly first class or economy, if the plane goes down—you go down with it. 


Therefore, I hope you realize, when you have mates, buddies and old friends, brothers and sisters, who you chat with, laugh with, talk with, sing with, talk about north-south-east-west or heaven and earth, that is true happiness. Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. So when they grow up they will know the value of things and not the price.”



The second connection was from the most recent fishing trip and the laughter, and enjoyment that four old friends can have together year after year… whether fishing for Walleye’s on a new-found “fishing hole,” playing cribbage (or this year Binho… an awesome new game) , or making breakfast sandwiches on a new flat-top griddle, etc.…. it was a ball being together and we laughed, talked, and sang together just as Jobs mentions above!  Having old friends is certainly “true happiness!”

Take a moment after this essay to reconnect with your old friends and find a way to stay connected.  While hard for all of us, we need to try to remember Jobs' admonition about the $30 vs the $3000 watch…. In the end, it just won’t be important but the laughter and stories about the latest “fishing hole” (metaphorically) will be all that matters!!

Friday, September 8, 2023

"Eyes wide open"



Over the past few weeks, we have been finishing up our business plans for our fiscal 2024 and I have been reminded by a number of close business colleagues that we need to have our “eyes wide open” as we lock down our plans.  What seems like a common statement kept coming up in conversations, work session and even in board calls.  It’s “funny” that a statement/phrase you have heard and used for decades all of a sudden takes on a fresh new meaning.


Taking an extra moment, I dug into the “definition” of the phrase, and it posed some interesting new perspectives:


“Eyes Wide Open”:

Ø  Fully aware of what is happening…

Ø  Fully aware of what COULD happen…



This dual-sided definition is so important to consider, and it was what caught me in today’s moment. 


First, this idea of being “fully aware of what is happening” is a HUGE challenge!  In our dynamic, fast paced, and fast changing world, the idea of being fully aware of what IS happening is very tough… and in my business context I have a hard time imagining how to accomplish that leading an organization with thousands of employees, across multiple geographic locations.  While challenging, there are a few “tricks of the trade” that I find useful, and you might find helpful as well that can help us all be a bit more aware of what IS happening:


Ø  Who haven’t you heard from?

o   Sometimes its helpful to think about what you HAVEN’T been hearing about lately.  What team, department, function haven’t you seen an update from lately and proactively reachout to dig in a little.  Remember, no news is rarely good news and taking that proactive step might be very helpful.

Ø  Work on your questions?

o   I often see execs work on their presentation materials and practice their formal/informal speaking/pitch techniques.  Rarely do I see folks using that kind of time to home in on the depth and quality of their questions.  It’s through questions and dialogue that we learn and grow and the quality/depth/thoughtfulness of the questions makes a world of difference.

Ø  Pebble in the shoe

o   Often when things are going well, we take a deep breath and don’t dig to see how we can make good situations even better.  By keeping a “pebble in the shoe,” we remind ourselves as leaders to always be digging, good days or bad.


Second, the concept of being “fully aware of what COULD happen” is a mind boggler… such a huge challenge, but an important idea to work on.  Just yesterday, I was in a board meeting when I was asked a question about what MIGHT happen if a certain competitor did a certain thing.  While a bit of a wild theoretical, it was actually a good question and live in the board meeting we discussed a few different scenarios that really expanded our thinking…. expanded our awareness. 

 While certainly not a “trick”, one suggestion I have here is linked to a root cause problem solving technique that I have written about previously, see https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2017/10/first-ask-why-then-do-it-5-times.html.    In this essay, I talk about the technique of “ask why 5 times” as a way to get to the core of an issue.  In the context of being “fully aware of what COULD happen,” I suggest that we all push ourselves to “ask what-if” 5 times when working on plans, strategies, etc.  In this process, it may also be helpful to bring in a few atypical voices, with fresh eyes, and fresh “what-if” questions.  While it might feel slow, or frustrating, I am certain that these steps may help you have your eyes MORE wide open, and will ultimately lead to better thinking, better decisions, and better actions!

Friday, July 28, 2023

FY'88/'97/'06 and FY'24... every new fiscal year calls for "fresh eyes and a fresh spirit"


Its hard to imagine that I have been in business for almost 40 years!!  Graduating from business school in 1985, fresh MBA in hand, I started my "sales and plant" training that summer as I dove into my new role as a Marketing Assistant for Kimberly-Clark.  Here I am 38 years later, in a great leadership role at Bolthouse Farms,  wrapping up our FY23 and getting ready to dive into FY 24 that kicks off next week.  While right now the immediate challenges and opportunities facing our business and team seem all encompassing... ( its been a very tough year and there is plenty to work on in fy24!!) ... the reality for me over the decades, and across multiple companies and circumstances is that EACH/ EVERY year has what seems to be an all encompassing set of challenges and opportunities and EACH/EVERY year calls for the business leaders to refocus and re-energize the team with "fresh eyes and a fresh spirit!"  Thinking back over the years, there are numerous examples of this dynamic that come to mind.... I will share just a few for context.

FY88: After a few years at Kimberly-Clark ( I loved that company and my old boss Bruce Paynter!  You can read more about him in the following essay: https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2010/07/legacy-of-bruce.html) I went to work for Kraft Foods in their ice cream business as Assistant Brand manager, Sealtest Ice Cream.  In the summer of 1987, literally a few weeks after I started, there was a product recall because of Listeria contamination.... a major emergency!  All hands on deck... all plants closed .... all product recalled.... it was a mess and I wondered at the time if we would survive the next few months.  The plants re-opened and product began flowing back to store shelves after a few weeks but the brand/business damage was massive.  Business planning was put on hold that summer, but we hustled to build the fy88 budgets late that year and while the team was a wreck ( yours truly fully included!!), the leadership team helped guide us with a reinforcing "fresh perspective" that the focus off the fy88 business plan was one word... "Recovery."  Recover the trust of lost consumers and customers... recover lost space at shelf... recover quality and sanitation protocols across the plants.... it was all about "recovery"! Clarifying and focusing us all on the path ahead for fy88 was helpful to the entire division and early in my career, it was a galvanizing experience to work through a DRAMATIC challenge and not only endure the moment, but come through it in a better/stronger place.

FY97: In late 1990 I joined The Coca-Cola Company in a Marketing Manager role, based in Atlanta, and dove into a company and a wide set of roles that spanned the next 18 years.  In the summer of 1996, I was promoted and sent to Baltimore to take over the role as "NE Area V.P." for the Fountain Division of Coke North America.  It was a big job and a huge change for me... my first role out of a Marketing function, and my first GM job.  The NE Area had missed their targets for the previous number of years and I was the leadership change "to shake things up" at that moment.  Building the FY98 business plan and budget was critical and as a new ( and novice ) leader, I used the process to bring the leadership team together so WE could build the budgets and targets together.  Looking back, it was all about "re-engagement" for the team... to get a group of great folks to get excited about making ( or beating!!) budgets and to get the whole team to signup for that type of culture.  It was helpful that I was so new, and frankly so inexperienced.... I could ask a lot of dumb questions and no one thought I had all the answers.... some may have wondered if I had any answers at all, ha!  FY98 turned into quite a turnaround year for the old NE Area, and it began a string of years where that team, years after I left the role, continued to exceed its goals!  

FY'06: In 2005 I had the chance to be a big part of the launch of Coke Zero in North America.  I played a very senior commercial role at that time, and the rollout of Coke Zero was the biggest undertaking the company had done since the launch of Diet Coke in the mid-1980's.  To put it mildly, Coke Zero was a hit the execution of the launch went very well, and very quickly it grew to be a +$1bb brand (yes that's billion with a "b"!)  In the afterglow of that incredible success, it was time to build the 2006 business plan and budgets and I was stumped.... how were we going to cycle 2005??  Again "fresh perspectives" really helped... and with the drive of a new CEO at the company, we used 2006 to expand the Coke Zero footprint, strengthen the entire brand portfolio in the process, and use that year to redouble our efforts on leadership training and development.  2005 had been so busy, and so wild that we had lost track of succession planning, development plans and leadership development a bit and it was helpful across the board to refocus on building the team so they could be ready to do great things with Coke Zero and other innovations/M&A opportunities in the future.

I share these three examples, these three somewhat random years just as a way to highlight that while the years/circumstances change, the role of leaders in planning is always key and working to have "fresh eyes and a fresh spirit" is key for all of us.  For those readers turning the corner into FY24 like we are, I wish you a good year ahead.... for those of you getting ready to build those FY24 plans, keep your eyes and your spirits as "fresh" as possible and I know you will find you path with the challenges and opportunities that will face all of us in 2024!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

100k… and I was the “doubting blogger!”




I wanted to take this moment, in the summer of 2023 to say thanks to the thousands of readers of this blog, and the essays that I post regularly (ok, about monthly!) trying to touch on “lessons of leadership and life.”  As you can see by the “dashboard” below, I hit the milestone of over 100k pageviews in the past few days, covering the 254 essays that I have posted over the past 14 years.


  As I sit here writing essay 255, I think back to the start of this little adventure and how close I came to killing the idea before it started…. I was certainly a reluctant and “doubting blogger” back in march of 2009 when I posted the first essay titled “Legacy” which you can see here:  https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2009/03/legacy.html.  At the end of the opening paragraph, I included a line that still rings true today...

 “Regardless of age or experience, no one is too old to learn, to grow, to see new insights and I am hopeful that this blog will foster growth in the writer and reader alike.”


This platform has certainly fostered growth for “yours truly” over the years and I am so grateful that I DIDN’T let my own reluctance/doubts/uncertainties stop me from posting that first essay so many years ago!  I had left working at The Coca-Cola Company in 2008 (hard to imagine that it has been 15+ years) and as I started to transition to other endeavors, I had some of my old “Coke friends” ask me to share a s few of the stories that I told in meetings back at the company.  Like the “Turkey Bag Story” featured in the first essay and the link above, I had a few “old stories” that I had shared over my 18 years at Coke.  I had never written them down, so I had no easy way to share them with others.  One of the folks asking for the stories kept at it and suggested that I create a blog and post them on-line.  It seems crazy today, but at that moment the suggestion of me “writing a blog” seemed ludicrous…. I wasn’t a blog writer sitting in some wayward coffee shop (naïve and insulting!!), I was a corporate exec working towards my next gig… (Bolthouse Farms was still six months away.)  Well, my reluctance was worn down over a few months and I posted the first essay, and ultimately five others in March of 2009 thinking that might be the end of it…. a blog of six stories for easy reference… little did I know that almost 250 essays later, decades in the future, I would be sitting here today highlighting all these essays and the 100k pageviews.


It’s interesting to look back at those first essays, which not only include the “Turkey Bag Story,” but also feature a personal favorite “Aunt Lorraine’s Law,” and one of the most read essays of all the 254 posted “The Three Impact Points of Leadership.”  They were relevant then and still resonate today.  If you think about the metrics, with 100k page pageviews, and 254 essays posted the average essay would have 394 pageviews (it’s just math.)  Well, the bell curve on this blog doesn’t work like that, there are the “Top 10 Most Popular Posts” (you can see them over on the left side of the blog, just scroll down a little) and each of them have more than a 1000 pageviews per essay, many essays have a few hundred pageviews, and there are dozens with less than 50.  Some of the “Top 10” were written back in 2009, yet two were written in the past few months.  One of the things I have learned through this writing/posting adventure is that you never know what essay/topic will hit home, and literally be shared and read by thousands across the world, and which will be read by 20-30 folks and sit quietly on the sidelines… it’s not up to the writer for sure.  Once you post an essay, its literally “out there” and the rest is up to the readers to decide!


I will close with a big and humble thank you… thanks for taking the time over the years with these stories and thanks for sharing them with others.  I will keep adding to the essays “regularly” and I hope that a few stories in the future months and years will hit home like a few have done over the past decades.