Monday, June 29, 2020

"Storm the Breach".... but come well prepared!

As many of you know, I am a bit of a history nut and enjoy looking back at history to look for clues or advice about how to face the challenges of today.  In past essays I have turned to many voices across time, including Plutarch, Ghandi, Dr. MLK jr, and many others to help illuminate and inspire; today I am turning to Wellington... the British general most well known as the leader who defeated Napolean at Waterloo.

While famous for that final battle in 1815, a few years before he lead the British forces in Spain in what was known as the Peninsula Campaign, driving French forces across Spain ( the Iberian "Peninsula") ultimately ending in the final battle in Waterloo Belgium.  As Wellington drove across Spain, the French forces would take up defensive positions in various small "cities" that were defended by ancient stone walls and attempt to stop Wellington's advance.  In many off those situations, none more famous than the "Siege of Badajoz," the British artillery would fire upon the walls until there was an opening, or a "Breach," where one part of the wall had collapsed and was opened, the British infantry would "storm" into the "breach" and fight their way into the city, ultimately routing the defenders into a panicked retreat.

The notes above are taken from Wellington's dispatches from that time, and are incredibly detailed in the plans and preparations for the soldiers preparing to "storm the breach!"  This wasn't some sort of wild, unplanned assault but instead a highly coordinated, and well prepared plan to take advantage of an opportunity and to drive it to its maximum impact. ( the fact that he highlights the number of ladders and that the troops should bring "light materials" to be thrown into the ditch is an incredible level of detailed planning!)

I have reflected back on Wellington this past week because of a competitive opportunity facing our company.  We have owned Bolthouse Farms for just over a year, and late last week we received word  that a long standing competitor had announced their plans to close operations in the next 30-45 days!  What an incredible opportunity and in appropriate fashion we gathered our teams and within a few hours were having calls with key retail buyers to maximize our ability to capture the opportunity.... we were "storming the breach!"  The reality that this competitive news came a year after buying the company back from Campbell's, not a few weeks after closing last summer, is so key because it gave us the chance to "come well prepared" to this moment! We had rebuilt the team broadly ( still more work to go of course but we are in good shape with a great group of people).  We have rebuilt our operational capabilities and our quality system, allowing us to run the plant at efficiency levels well above a year ago and has expanded our capacity levels to allow us to take on more business AND do so profitably..... and literally the list goes on!  We are "storming the breach" and have "come well prepared!"

While success is never assured, and we will have some ups and downs in "storming this breach," this moment has reminded me of an important lesson; in business and in life you never know when an unexpected opportunity will present itself, but you are always able to build capabilities and become "well prepared" when the opportunity breaks to "storm the breach!"

Monday, June 1, 2020

Where to find hope today.....

It is with an incredibly sad and full heart that I write this essay today.  Our country and our communities are broken and in need of a tremendous amount of work and reconciliation.  In communities large and small, in the north and south, in the east and west, so many are wondering today where is the hope for tomorrow and what should they as individuals think/feel & do today??

  I share these same feelings and struggle today to find a "guiding star" to help remind me of the path forward.  Its is in that spirit that I share two quotes that have helped me today and I hope they can both be helpful to you.

 The first is a from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech from December of 1964... a message from almost fifty six years ago that sadly rings true today:

"I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."

The second is from a message that President Obama posted today.

"Let's not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves," Obama wrote in an essay on Medium.
He added, "The bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn't between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."

These two quotes give me a sightline on the need to turn our feelings and thoughts into actions in our communities.  I hope that you can find a path today, for you, your families and your communities to stay focused on the "oughtness" for all of humanity.  Stand up for what is right, stand up with moral courage and stand against racist injustice in our country;  find ways that we can all work to "model" a higher ethical code as a nation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

It has been a beautiful spring ...

It seems strange and uncomfortable to write that headline.... "It has been a beautiful spring..."  The tone feels somehow "off" as we are surrounded by a world fighting a virus with no known cure. The headlines this morning literally are bombarding us all with messages of "red states escalating the push to open", and "white house officials point the finger at the CDC..." among a plethora of news stories focused on the concern and seriousness of the disease that we are all facing.  With that said, and deeply internalized, last Sunday afternoon I was a bit floored when the words of this essay's title came out of my mouth as I was sitting by myself in our backyard.

The truth of the matter is that in the midst of this virus induced terror, it actually HAS been a beautiful spring in Atlanta.  The weather has been temperate so far, with lovely spring rains helping along the blooming of incredible spring flowers across the garden.  I have included a few photos to bring this to life, not highlighting a specific plant or flower, but just to share the casual beauty that actually IS blossoming right now in our back garden.

On top of the incredible weather and flowers, it has been ( so far!!) an incredible spring for my heirloom tomato plants!  I raise two tomato varieties that have been passed down in my family, one a old orange tomato variety that my grandmother raised for many decades before her passing in the late 90's and another that my childhood friend Dave Carfang's family has raised since the early 70's.  They are flourishing with the sunny days, cool nights, and steady moderate rainfall this year and have already started to put off a large quantity of blooms that is an early record for me!

While "off tone," and possibly "off message" to comment on this dynamic, I actually find it encouraging and "needed" (at least for me) to find a "little ray of sunshine in the midst of all the darkness.  I find these moments so helpful; where I can step out of the tempo of the work of the day, or the worries about the virus, our society, my family and those dear that I love and take a quiet breath and take in the beauty that surrounds us.

A month or so ago, I was leading a department wide zoom "call" at work,  and shared a similar story that seemed to ring home to number of others.  It was early April, the fear of Covid-19 and the "quarantine activities" we as a family and as a nation were taking to "flatten the curve" were in full gear.  Work challenges were very intense, and I had decided to take a quick walk,( to get in some steps as my friend Cathy would say) and as I went down the block I was actually startled by a power bed filled with huge blossoming irises.  It was incredible, the blues/whites and purples all in full bloom and I literally stopped for moment on the sidewalk and just took in the beauty.  as I shared that story to my team, I encouraged all of them to take a moment to get away from their screens, to take a walk or "get some air" and to pay attention to flowers or trees that they might find in their neighborhoods.... hoping that they might have a moment of beauty amidst the challenges like I did!

That dynamic is the same that I comment on today.... we will never forget the spring of 2020 with so much tragedy and so many deaths.... but that will not be the only definition of this spring!  Equally true will be the beauty of the irises, the snapdragons and the pansies and maybe, just maybe, the best tomato crop ever!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Leadership with a Growth Mindset: Reconsidered

Here as we close out April of 2020, it’s hard to even reflect on a time that the Covid-19 crisis wasn't the center of all issues and concerns. While it seems hard to remember back to November or December of last year, when this virus was nothing more than an emerging news report from the distant city of Wuhan China.   In the midst of this very nowfocused time, I was nudged by a good friend and work partner Angie as she read and commented on one of my essays from 10+ years ago.  Her comments pushed me to re-look and re-consider some of my thoughts/essays and as I was digging through some of the old essays, I came upon the one below from late April of 2011.  The essay, titled Leadership with a Growth Mindsetis one of the most read of my essays, hitting the #6 ranking out of 200+ published.  Additionally I published it as we were coming out of the very challenging Great Recession,and it helped me (and hopefully hundreds of others) reorient ourselves for the growth path coming out of that tough period.

As I look back on the essay, I find a number of things still ringing very true, but I think there are a few ideas/ comments that I want to reconsider:

·      Where I sit now, I would put #6 as job #1!  Thinking that I put Take care of yourself /your teamas the last item on my list, rather than the first seems really off track today.  We need to really work hard on insuring that we are being proactive with our own health, and that we are good role models for our teams as well! 
·      The ideas I put into #5 I want to make more important today.  I didnt emphasize enough the importance of an outside orientationwhen I wrote that our opportunity as leaders is to work on ways to improve our organizations ability to listen to/learn from the marketplace.  Think how much has changed, not just from April 2011, but also from January of 2020!! We can never be outside orientedenough and we as leaders need to work on modeling that orientation more today than I even considered nine years ago.
·      It’s interesting when you read your own writing and realize you are falling into a trap that you described!  In #1, I asked the reader if they ever heard someone say, with everything we are dealing with our performance is actually not that bad.Here I was warning of this headset nine years ago and I was on a Zoom call just this week when that comment was exactly shared and I nodded along; not strongly objecting to the notion in the midst of our current challenges.  I (maybe along with others) need to take my own advice on this one for sure.

Take a moment when you can, and re-read the essay below and consider it in the context of our reality today.  See what themes hold true for you and what ideas that you might want to edit, correct, or emphasize in your world today!

Leadership with a Growth Mindset: April 29, 2011

The landscape is changing and while nothing is ever certain, I am a deep believer that “change is certain, progress is not”. The economy has come a long way from the heights of 2007, the collapse of 2008 and the low lows of 2009. Certainly the recovery is tepid, with job growth (and in fact gdp) growing slower than anyone would like; yet the trends are still positive. In this “new” landscape of growth, I believe that we as leaders need to refresh our thinking, our priorities and our skills in order to be successful leaders with a growth mindset. Just a few years ago, I remember being in a meeting with a customer who was describing their overall flat revenue trends as “you know Bill, flat is the new up.” It’s hard to say whether that perspective was appropriate for that moment; what is not certain is that for today’s business environment, “up is the new up!”

In thinking about this dynamic, I want to share a few ideas that might be productive as we lead with an increasing “growth mindset.”

1) Raise Expectations. As leaders, we need to raise our own expectations for accelerating results in the business, capabilities across our organizations, along with our own skill sets. The last few years have been tough, really tough! With that reality there comes an understanding and possibly a tolerance for average performance. Ask yourself whether you have ever heard yourself (or other leaders) say, “with everything we’re dealing with, that performance is actually not that bad.” While tinged with compassion, I actually think it’s a disabler for an organization. We need to be vocal about raising our expectations for accelerating results AND our work performance. Think of it as the “what” and the “how”. We need to accelerate the results in the business (the “what”) and we need to improve our business practices (the”how”) across organizations. It’s my experience that if the leader doesn’t “raise the bar”, it often never gets raised.

2) Improve Talent. Over the past few years, the job market has been very tight. As business trends improve, the job markets should/will follow. In this changing landscape, we need to insure that our best, highest performing people are engaged/challenged in their roles and excited/energized to come to work every day. What is equally true is that we need to take action to remove underperformers quickly. Nothing is more de-moralizing to a high performer than a tolerated/accepted low performer. Every job opening should be thought of as an opportunity to raise the talent “bar” for the organization as a whole. I use the acronym of PTI (Progressive Talent Improvement) to remind myself that every new hire should have the capabilities/experience above the average level of the current organization. By utilizing PTI over time, you can (and should) be continually improving the organizations capabilities and potential.

3) Increase Speed, NOW! This improving business landscape is not only occurring for you and your company. It’s occurring for your competitors and their executive teams. When working on innovating new products or services, improving customer service, building new skills, or even filling open positions, do it faster. It’s dangerous to assume that you have the time to wait, time is a luxury that few businesses have!

4) Be Paranoid, competitively. I learned early on in business that competition never sleeps nor takes vacations; they’re always trying to take your business. Now I am a complete proponent of work/life balance, taking your vacation days, and getting a break from the business as an individual. My council is to be careful/paranoid as an organization. Never under assume an adversary’s capabilities and intent. If you operate with a constant “nervous itch”, you will be more likely to compete and win in any competitive landscape.

5) Increase your organizational listening and learning. As markets improve, there WILL be more innovation competitively. New products, new packaging, new technologies, etc. have all been on the rise over the past few quarters. An improving business landscape will allow companies to take more risks than they have over the past few years. This reality is happening. Our opportunity as leaders is to work on ways to improve our organization’s ability to listen to, and learn from, the market place. Work to reinforce that all departments/functions could and should be more “outward” oriented; more tuned into the competitive landscape, hungrier at all times to capture and share insights and learnings from the marketplace.

6) Take care of yourself/take care of your team. As you can tell from the above topics, I clearly have the sense that the tempo and demands of business will be accelerating in the days/quarters ahead. As such, it is critical to insure that we are also taking care of our own health and the health of our teams. We all need to keep up with our sleep, our exercise, our physicals, etc. Keep an eye on your team members that are starting to work weekends and late nights regularly. Sure there will be moments when a key need/deadline requires extra-long hours, but week after week this behavior wears down an organization and ultimately reduces performance. 

In closing, I want to reinforce the idea that growth is not inevitable! Certainly improving business trends are welcome (very welcome), but without a more growth oriented leadership approach, the “change” that is happening across our economy will not be translated into “progress” for you, your team, and your organization.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The foundation for a "steadfast " leader

It was less than four weeks ago, 3/16/20,  that I posted my last essay, "“Calm, Steady, & Clear-minded”…. A leadership model for challenging times."  The Covid Pandemic had reared its ugly head across the globe and had spread broadly across North America.  I was still working from my office in Bakersfield, but was realizing that California was about to institute a state-wide "stay-in-place" order and that I needed to get home to my family in Atlanta.  It is incredible to think that those moments of working on flight options to leave California to come back home were only three weeks ago.... the world has dramatically changed and the challenges we all are facing continue to grow.  While I received a number of positive comments about the last blog essay, I want/need to amplify on it today.

The Leadership challenges that so many are facing today are daunting.  What are the next set of requirements organizationally that we will need to deploy next week?  How can we prioritize the health and safety of our employees AND continue basic business operations to sustain the business and the job security of those employees? How to mobilize, direct and engage a newly virtual professional staff very used to working in small groups in informal office settings???  I won't try to speak for others, but the list continues to grow for me every day!

It was in the midst of those challenges and stressors that I took a moment to think about that past essay and took a moment to re-read it and a few other recent entries.  In late December I posted an essay right before Christmas that talked about the idea of being "Steadfast" is the face of challenges.  While I am certain that I felt challenged at that moment late in 2019, it pales in comparison to how I,  and millions of others are feeling today.  With that reality firmly placed, it is interesting to dig into the need for leaders to be calm, steady, clear-minded and steadfast as they face incredible issues and challenges in their day to day work.  These four ideas run across my recent writings and are four ideas that I am working hard to bring to life right now!  In that spirit I did some digging this past week, some "etymology" ( the study of words) to dig out some insight behind these simple concept... what is the foundation of a "steadfast" leader??

Digging into the latin derivation for the key word "steadfast," it is interesting to NOT find one single word as the historic reference point but instead three words....

"Steadfast": adjective

firm, stable, steadfast, steady, stationary, lasting

firm, solid, strong, steadfast, steady, reliable

constant, firm, steadfast, steady, unchanging, consistent

"Stabilis" is the root for our english word of "stable", "firmus" the root for our english word "firm," and "constans" the root for our english word "constant."  It made sense to me that in order to be truly a "steadfast" leader, you had to do more than just one thing!  You needed to be stable, firm and constant all at the same time.

While the idea of trying hard to work on three ideas at once is certainly a challenge, it did make sense that the foundation for would need to be varied, interconnected and made up of various elements.  Like many foundations in architecture, you need multiple elements working with and against each other to form a solid base.  Being "constant"/ unchanging, can at times seem to work with and against the ideas of being "stable"/ stationary and "firm"/ steady.  Like many things for leaders, there is never a simple answer or formula,  but there are ideas/concepts that will help all of us.  During these exceedingly challenging times, I encourage all of you to be your "steadfast" best!  Remind yourselves of these three foundational ideas and I think it will help you and your organizations survive and hopefully thrive during this incredibly difficult time.

Monday, March 16, 2020

“Calm, Steady, & Clear-minded”…. A leadership model for challenging times

Here we are in mid-march, 2020 and the entire globe is facing enormous challenges and unknown threats from the spreading Covid-19 virus.  Governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals are struggling to come to grips with this crisis, and growth of confirmed cases and tragic deaths are growing dramatically.  In this context we are watching some political leaders struggle to stay focused on the facts, looking to edit/spin the headlines for political gain, while others are embracing the data of the situation, looking to scientific experts on the topic and are making tough, at times unpopular,  but important and required decisions to slow the spread of the virus in our communities without a single thought of political gain.  This essay IS NOT a message of political critique, but one of looking for leadership models in trying moments; and essay focused on finding a few themes that I am trying to apply myself in the leadership challenges that our company is facing today . Like so many other businesses, Bolthouse Farms is working its way through this crisis and we are trying our best to lead well in times of challenge and accelerating change.  While I know we aren’t getting it all right, I know that the leadership team is working hard to lead the company well, making good decisions quickly and decisively as issues arise.  While doing so, we are trying to remind ourselves to stay “calm, steady, & clear-minded” in the face of amazing challenges.

These three words are a kind of “mantra” for me these days, literally repeating them over in my mind whenever the tension mounts, knowing that for me to be the best leader I can be for this wonderful company, I need to keep these ideas front and center at all times.  I am sure that these three ideas could be helpful to you as well, and hopefully a quick refresher will help you stay focused on the challenges you are facing in your worlds today:

Calm: adj., not showing or feeling nervousness, anger, or other strong emotions.

Steady: adj., regular, even, and continuous in development, frequency, or intensity.

Clear-minded: adj., sensible and think clearly, especially in difficult situations.

Take a moment and reflect on each of these ideas, and it seems so simple.  Each idea makes sense and each adjective would be helpful in this crazy moment.  Then, imagine the idea that we as leaders need to work hard to do all three, at the same time, all the time!  These three simple concepts become superhuman aspirations…. and while certainly a challenge, I do believe it’s what our communities, our families and our businesses need now more than ever.  Here are  a couple of suggestions that I find helpful in my pursuit of “calm, steady, & clear-minded,” and maybe they will be helpful to you:

Ø Get plenty of sleep:  sacrificing sleep, and especially doing it over a few days (or a few weeks) is a recipe for disaster in this pursuit.  Work hard on your sleep patterns and remember that your sleep will not only help with the principles above, it’s also key to a healthy immune system personally.

Ø Slow-down: so much is happening so fast, we need to TRY to slow it down, take a few deep breaths, step outside to gain your composure and stay focused on the challenges and approach each issue and decision as focused and present as possible.

Ø “Aunt Lorraine’s Law”:  For those of you historic readers of my blog, you will have seen me reference a phrase of advice from my dear Aunt Lorraine from when I was a child.  She often said, “William, you can eat anything, if you take SMALL BITES, AND CHEW THOROUGHLY!” While she was probably chastising me at that moment to eat my broccoli, those famous words have never been more powerful or appropriate!

Take your time and reflect on these ideas, and as I said above NOT from a political angle but from a view of how we all can be great leaders in this moment…. leaders that can model the ability to stay “calm, steady and clear-minded” in the face of dynamic challenges!

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!