Saturday, November 19, 2022

Humble and very thankful

 

 

Early on a chilly morning, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I sit in our side room and am consumed by these two ideas/feelings/priorities….. being deeply humble and thankful as I start this essay.  This little room was an old “side porch” that we enclosed years ago and I have found it one of my favorite spots in this wonderful old house…. a house that turns 100 in 2023!  This cold morning, I can see the first rays of dawn lighting the tops of the old oak trees at the back of our yard… starting out as rays of piercing red, then mellowing into the soft yellows of a broader sunrise…. so beautiful.


Amid this beautiful dawn, I am struck by a deep sense of gratitude for my life, my marriage, my children, my broader family, my work, and the team of folks I get to work with every day.  I have written it many times… “life is fragile” and I feel the truth of those words again today.  We act sometimes like we are made of steel and will live forever, and we all know the folly of those thoughts.  In truth, we are made of flowers and stardust, (not titanium!!) and live a life shorter than we would hope… and have a wonderful set of chances and choices to live that life now, have an impact now, and work shoulder to shoulder with other like-minded folk trying to make tomorrow just a little better than yesterday!

 

Earlier this week, I lead a “Zoom Call” for our Leadership Team at Bolthouse Farms, a group of 50-60 key leaders from across the company and across the country.  We were reviewing our Q1 results ( not pretty!) and reinforcing the key priorities for fiscal Q2 ( the N/D/J wild ride.) As I was reviewing the numbers and reinforcing the key priorities I scanned the “zoom screen” ( which went into 3 screens) and was struck and impressed by the talented leaders that were side by side in the “zoom squares.”  There was Phil and David…. Sam and Manny…. Todd and Mary…. Lott and Amy… Donny and Mike…. Gio and Adam…. (and the list goes on and on) …all “shoulder to shoulder” on my screen focused on finding ways to make this crazy business we call Bolthouse Farms a bit better tomorrow than yesterday, better in December than October, better in  Q2 than Q1.  It literally brought a tear to my eye seeing these bright talented leaders “in it together” and I was deeply humbled and thankful that I had the chance to lead THIS team of tremendous leaders, at THIS time in our company's history, to work on OUR challenges/opportunities TOGETHER… tears of appreciation and humility.

 

As you turn your thoughts toward your families and friends and the upcoming thanksgiving holiday, find your own moment of “appreciation and humility.”  Regardless of the challenges facing our world, our county, our companies, and our families, we are literally lucky every day to have the chance to make it all a little bit better tomorrow…. and Thanksgiving is a good time to work on reminding ourselves of that deep truth.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Monday, October 24, 2022

Sir are you Ok??? … Indeed, I am!

 

 

Well it has been a crazy few weeks, in candor a crazy few months!  After returning from an outstanding family vacation in mid-August, all hell seemed to breakout on the work front.  Business conditions have been very challenging, we have gone through a significant senior management change, and just last week took an action to reduce heads and expenses at the company in order to manage costs in the light of inflationary/recessionary headwinds.  While these challenges also face many organizations across industries, we are certainly feeling the challenges/pressures very directly and very personally as we head into Q4 of 2022.  It is this context that set the stage for a complex and challenging few days last week.

 

While all these business dynamics have been going on, a very dear friend of mine lost his brother to cancer.  The brother’s cancer hit hard, and the “battle” didn’t last very long, and at a very young age he passed away just a few weeks ago.  Knowing the family for over 30 years, I attended the memorial service last week wanting to show support for my friend and to honor his recently passed brother.  The service was filled with powerful and emotional tributes from family & friends and was accompanied by an incredible singer and guitarist.  The closing “song” was a rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” (a song that was also played at my sister-in-law’s funeral back in 1999) that was beyond poignant…. I found myself deeply moved as I sat in the last row quietly weeping.  The service ended, I paid my respects to the family, and headed back into the work challenges of the day…. Probably not the best of ideas.

 

The business issues were active and swirling and I spent the rest of the next few days on calls regarding costs, revenue trends, farming challenges, customer issues…. you know the normal swirl… and I found myself completely worn out as I headed to fly back to Atlanta late last week.  Now the logistics of commuting back and forth from Atlanta to Bakersfield California is never simple, but the “return trip home” always starts with a very early flight out of the little airport in Bakersfield in order to connect to a flight back to Atlanta later that same day… these days start early with a 4:45am alarm in order to make the 6:15 am flight to Phoenix.

 

It was on this plane that I had the moment of interaction that I captured in the title of this essay.  It was early, and the flight attendant asked if I needed anything to drink.  I must have mumbled a somewhat incoherent response, and he said, “sir, can I get you anything…. sir are you ok??”  Somehow that second question… “Sir, are you ok?” triggered me out of my haze and I clearly responded… “Indeed, I am!”  as I paused with my response in the air it became clear that I was not only “Ok,” I was way beyond that adjective!!  I am incredibly lucky to have the life I have!  A great marriage to sweet Jennie, two wonderful kids in Bryson & Marie, so many dear and close friends many that I have known for decades....a chance to work in a wonderful company in a great role with a great team… working with a group of senior leaders who are talented and deeply committed to the business across so many levels…. No I am not JUST “Ok”,... I am doing very well and am VERY lucky to have the challenges that at times seem so omnipresent and overwhelming.

 

Maybe it was the combination of not enough sleep, (and maybe not enough coffee!!), and the powerful memorial service but that one simple question (“Sir, are you ok?”) stirred me out of my haze and helped me get a moment of perspective.  I hope that you have a chance to slow yourself down, and maybe ask yourself if you are “doing ok??"  We all need to shake off the blinders of the moment to remind ourselves that life is fragile and short, and that those who have passed before us are great reminders for all of us to try to enjoy the challenges that we face today, we will miss them when we are gone.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Empathy, not presumption, is key for leaders!

 

 

This is a quick essay from a leadership moment I had this week.  Leading in the context of the past few years has been challenging for me personally and for leaders across industries and organization size.  The dynamics of Covid with a large employee base (for us the majority of our organization works in the plant or on the farms every day), combined with massive supply chain disruptions, and wild inflation swings have created the most significant leadership challenge of my 35+ year career.  In this context, we have had numerous young leaders “step up” into big roles, with expanded responsibilities, to face the challenges across various departments.  It’s in this context that an exchange from earlier this week prompted this essay.

 

In a discussion with another senior member of our team, we were discussing the situation of a young exec who had stepped up into a larger role over the past few months.  My senior team partner expressed their worry about the young exec, concerned that they might have too much on their plate, and suggested that maybe we should “move something” to another young leader to help “balance the load.”  I listened and understood where they were coming from but suggested tht instead of just “moving some responsibilities to help out,” I thought we should have someone check in with them to see how they were doing…. Simply put, let’s ask before acting!

 

That suggestion turned out to be a good move because when the young exec was asked “how they were holding up with the new responsibilities?” they responded that they were energized by the new departments and all the new things to learn, and while they were working a ton, they knew they would get it “dialed in” soon and didn’t want to change a thing.   A well-meaning senior leader almost “trampled” the energy and performance of a growing your exec just because they “presumed” a bit too much about the situation without asking a singe question.

 

Its important to remember that this is tight balancing act and for leaders, especially in challenging moments, its critical to have an “empathetic” eye/ear directed towards the organization.

 

Empathy:  noun

  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

 

This need to be tuned into the company and the team is hard and often is a shifting landscape, so leaders actually have to work hard to their “empathy” radar up and working at all times.  The key in my mind is to not let that empathetic “radar” so too far without actually asking much needed questions.

 

 

Presumption:  noun

  1.  

an idea that is taken to be true, and often used as the basis for other ideas, although it is not known for certain.

 

 

Take a moment as leaders to reflect on this “balancing act” yourselves.  My encouragement is to keep you attention tuned into your organizations, but don’t let it go too far based soley on “your opinions!”  Ask some key questions through your process, and I am sure you will keep “presumption” out of your leadership toolbox.

 

 

 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Eyes Forward!


 

The past few weeks have been filled with challenges and setbacks from multiple angles.  Tough business issues, combined with senior executive changes and frustrated equity partners have led to a few weeks of mounting stress.  In the midst of that “whirlwind,” once again I received some heartfelt and “on-point” advice from my long-term business partner and good friend Cathy…advice that I think is applicable to so many of us in these broadly challenging days.

 

The setting was an early morning drive (and I mean VERY early) from Los Angeles to Bakersfield two weeks ago.  The stress of the mounting situation was digging into my sleep so on that morning, I was awake well before 4am and on the road before 4:30.  Heading north on the 405, I called to check-in with Cathy and shared the dynamics of everything that was going on… a helpful and sympathetic “ear” in a very tough moment.  After listening to my venting, she said “Bill, I have some advice for you today” … and boy was I listening… I needed something!  “She said, “remember as you head to Bakersfield today… Eyes Forward.!”  Those two words, “Eyes Forward,” were helpful that day and have stayed with me over the past few weeks.

 

While Cathy’s advice on that Thursday morning was applicable to the challenge of driving over the Grapevine on the 405, she was really talking about working to have a clear headset and focus on the challenges ahead, not being distracted by the distractions around us… nor the missteps of the past.  More that 10 years ago I posted an essay titled “over the hood-over the horizon” (you can find it at: https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2012/04/over-hood-over-horizon.html ) that touches on this idea of how to successfully navigate a challenging “road” in business or in life.  Cathy’s advice is a very good compliment to that idea, and in some way, they really make very good sense together.

 

As I reflect on this essay, I am pretty consumed by the challenges of the moment, both in my business life and across the world.  The past few years of living in a Covid plagued world, with accelerating political divisiveness, global military crises, escalating climate change issues, ( and I could go on…) have seemed daunting to the point of overwhelming.  The issues and challenges seem so omnipresent that charting a path forward appears out of reach.  It’s in this context that Cathy’s advice rings true… “Eyes Forward!”  If we take a moment, we need to remember that there have been daunting challenges across the centuries…  dramatic issues of plague, war, starvation, cultural crises, etc.  That historic perspective is not meant to be depressing and fatalistic.  It is intended to remind all of us that living and leading in the context of massive challenges is nothing new.  In those historic moments, just like today, Cathy’s advice is helpful and needed!

 

As you the reader take on the challenges in your world, whatever they are and from whatever direction they emanate, keep your focus on the road ahead and remember… “Eyes Forward.”  Companies, countries, and organizations of any size need leaders that help make sense of the chaos of challenges that face us and help chart a course FORWARD working to make the path of tomorrows a bit better and more productive than the days that are past.  I have often said that we have an infinite inability to affect yesterday, and an infinite ability to affect tomorrow ... and all the tomorrows in our future. 


Eyes Forward!!

 

Friday, August 19, 2022

You can never say thanks enough…

 


Over the years, how many times have you as a leader recognized key team members for exceptional work?  I am sure that your answer goes something like mine would….” as many times as I can.” Well, I have just been involved in a major project at work, our acquisition of the Evolution Fresh juice business from Starbucks (press release below) and I am learning once again that leaders can never say thank you enough for the truly heroic work of their teams.

 

Across my career I have now been involved in a number of M&A events, but this is the first one that I personally lead.  I knew it was going to be a major piece of work coordinating the “carveout” of this business unit out of the Starbucks corporate structure, but I had NO IDEA just how much work it would actually take for the Bolthouse Farms team and the Evolution Fresh team (and the Starbucks corporate team, equity partners and so many others) to bring the process to a successful close (that happened on 8/1/22!!!) and to ensure the uninterrupted continued operations of a very successful business at Evolution Fresh.  The work has been incredible, and the what’s most notable is that the work of the teams ALL ACROSS THE BOARD has been exceptional and inspiring. 

 

 I can tell stories of team members working through multiple nights to get major IT roadblocks handled…. or others in HR who worked shift after shift to ensure that the frontline team members could do their jobs and get back to work just minutes after closing, or finance team members who checked every single payroll record to make sure we could have  a successful payroll run after week one, or legal team members who oversaw EVERY detail of the required work and are still overseeing the details of TSA agreements and requirements, or operations team members who reorganized the production planning schedule to ensure high customer service levels in the midst of the ownership transition… and the list could literally go on for pages!  As the leader of this initiative, I am blown away and truly humbled by the quality of the work and the success of the outcome all across the board and as I commented above, I can never say thank you enough!

 

Now a moment of perspective… as a 60 yr old with over 37 years in business, I have the awareness that I am in the closing chapters of my professional career (duh!) and don’t have too many more events/projects/deals like this left.  It is in this context that I am even more appreciative of the incredible work of the teams across the companies.  I have found inspiration and energy from the exceptional work of so many and at this place in my career, that’s pretty incredible!

 

All I have left to say….. is thank you!






Monday, July 11, 2022

“Hopeful Optimism” is a fundamental requirement for Leaders… now more than ever.


 

As I mentioned in a recent essay, the headlines of global warfare, mass killings, economic downturns and renewed attacks on our democratic institutions have been exceedingly difficult to navigate as an individual, none-the-less as an organizational leader.  In addition to these more macro (and more significant) issues, our business has been faced by inflationary cost pressures and recessionary headwinds like so many other enterprises large or small.  While we are still a wonderful business, in a strong growth mode filled with many untapped opportunities and an exciting acquisition on the horizon, these past few months have brought serious challenges and have required us to rethink our priorities and business plans for our upcoming fiscal year that kicks off August 1st.

 

It’s in this context that I wanted to share a few thoughts about how important it is for leaders to not only understand the challenges we are facing and work with the team to “steer” a successful path amidst those challenges…. It is vital we do so in the context of “hope” and “optimism” even when the challenges seem daunting.  Recently on a flight west, I “went looking for hope,” and read some essays and quotes from various world leaders across history that were able to find and sustain “hopeful optimism” in exceedingly challenging contexts.  One famous quote is from Nelson Mandela speaking of his 27+ years incarcerated on Robbin Island, a hard labor prison in South Africa run by the Apartheid government at that time,  

 

 

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

 

 

Completely humbled and inspired by Mandela’s comments and “spirit,” I assessed our situation and came away a bit more hopeful indeed.  

 

While the business has its challenges, they are actually fairly visible and on the whole things we can work to control (expense management and wholesale pricing actions in the light of strong inflation pressures).  Equally they are challenges not faced solely by us, but are pressures being felt by our competitors in equal OR WORSE fashion!  Things might be tough, but we might be gaining advantages on the competitive landscape!

 

As I think about our organization broadly, and our leadership team specifically I am very encouraged.  While this group is broadly young (many have never faced a tough recession and high inflation at the same moment), it is so strong and a very “ingenious” bunch of problem-solvers.  Their energy and enthusiasm are strong but will be tested in the challenging days ahead; a team that I feel lucky to have a chance to lead in this specific moment!

 

Now I don’t want to suggest that our challenges today IN ANY WAY compare with Mandela’s plight on Robbin Island…. BUT …. If he was able to find a path of “hopeful optimism” in the midst of that nightmare, how can we as leaders today not find that spark in our landscape??  Our organizations and teams need us now more than ever…. to be candid and clear-eyed on the challenges ahead but also energized and forward-looking ( “keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward”)  on the opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead… they need us to be “hopeful optimists” now more than ever!


postscript: Nine years ago, I wrote an essay about Nelson Mandela that is also very appropriate to the challenges of today.... take a look if you have a second:https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-hero-inspiration-and-optimist.html

Monday, June 13, 2022

A “Hymn” for us all…

 


 

Like so many others, the terror and tragedy of the recent mass shootings have brought me to my knees both figuratively and physically.  The horror of Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa and even yesterday’s shooting in a concrete plant in Maryland continues the nightmare AND truth that we live in a uniquely violent gun filled country.  The data and TRUTH of that last statement is undeniable and not a partisan view of fact/news vs “alt facts/news.”  The following table is from a recent United Nations study that clearly shows our unique and, in my opinion, “nightmarish” place in the world.      






 

An underlying truth that this table doesn’t highlight is that an incredible number of these “gun violence deaths per 100,000” are deaths of children.  The fact that our county is not only this violent but also this “unsafe” for our children is not acceptable and cannot be the legacy that we (our generation of American adults) leave to the generations to follow.

It is in this context, in a dark and discouraged moment last week, that I was inspired by the poet Amanda Gorman.  She was interviewed on NPR regarding her perspective and response to the recent gun violence and she described herself as “optimistic and stubborn” on this topic, which she collapsed into the single descriptor that she was “obstinate” regarding the current trends.  That adjective hit home for me…. I want to be MORE “obstinate” regarding gun violence…I want to be MORE “obstinate” about supporting advances in gun regulation and controls … I want to be MORE “obstinate” about ways to make our society safer for our kids as school, at home and in our communities…. And the list goes on!  She continued on to read her recent poem “Hymn for the Hurting” which I have added below, and it inspired me deeply.  The stanza towards the end hit home to me and her admonition that we all  “May we not just grieve, but give: May we not just ache , but act;”  is so profound…. in the midst of OUR nightmare of American Gun Violence, we all need to find ways to “give” and “act” for the sake of our children and our communities.  I hope you find her words as poignant and powerful as I have!


Hymn for the Hurting


by Amanda Gorman

Everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed and strange,
Minds made muddied and mute.
We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.
And yet none of it is new;
We knew it as home,
As horror,
As heritage.
Even our children
Cannot be children,
Cannot be.

Everything hurts.
It’s a hard time to be alive,
And even harder to stay that way.
We’re burdened to live out these days,
While at the same time, blessed to outlive them.

This alarm is how we know
We must be altered —
That we must differ or die,
That we must triumph or try.
Thus while hate cannot be terminated,
It can be transformed
Into a love that lets us live.

May we not just grieve, but give:
May we not just ache, but act;
May our signed right to bear arms
Never blind our sight from shared harm;
May we choose our children over chaos.
May another innocent never be lost.


Amanda Gorman is a poet and the author of “The Hill We Climb,” “Call Us What We Carry” and “Change Sings.”