Monday, July 25, 2011

We Deserve Better!

It is rare that I write about a topic in this blog that is related to a current political topic. With more than two years past, and over 60 essays written, my main purpose in this blog has been to share thoughts and stories that could be thought about as “lessons of leadership and life.” Unfortunately, our current political impasse regarding our debt ceiling, deficit, spending and taxation levels, et al, has lead me to be focused on one idea … we deserve better !

Regardless of political orientation, whether on the right, the left, or the broad “un –named middle” of the American political spectrum, we must remember that we are all first and foremost Americans. Today’s N.Y. Times included an article titled “Working with a new script to stop a train wreck,” stated “Now, partisan and ideological boundaries are powerfully self-reinforcing – a double layered Great Wall of Division, buttressed by fund-raising patterns and gerrymandered House districts.” This can’t be what we aspire for our democracy!

As Americans we have the freedom to travel broadly across the world, and when we travel and enter a foreign county, it is important to remember what our passports DO NOT say. There is no section for Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Independent, Green, or any other possible political party affiliation. There is the simple line that reads,

“Nationality: United States of America”

As Americans, we must remember the tortured political crucible of our beginnings. Somehow in the midst of unbelievable political turmoil, early Americans came together to form a nation and a government, based on a few fundamental principles, still very relevant today.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (U.S. Constitution)

I aspire that today’s political debate be more centered on a few of these ideas. Do the competing proposals help us “establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility,” and “provide for the common defense”? Does inaction on the mounting deficit (again regardless of party) help us “promote the general welfare”? Finally, does political grandstanding and brinksmanship help us as Americans “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”? We must remember that though the debate is very current, our actions (or inactions) will bear fruit, good or bad, for generations to come.

With all of this said, I am not without hope for our collective, American, future. We have a history of facing great challenges and achieving great things. I continue to be reminded of an inspiring quote from Dr. Martin Luther King jr. that I have commented on in earlier essays:

“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 flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech)

It is in challenging and frustrating times like today that we must seek the “oughtness” not the “isness” of mankind. We as Americans are not merely the “flotsam and jetsam” of American politics! We need to stay focused on the words of inspirational Americans , whether from the 1780’s or the 1960’s, and expect and demand our elected officials to take action on behalf of all Americans today, and for our posterity to come!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Customer Service …. From the back of the parking lot!

The past year or so since joining Bolthouse Farms has been a wonderful experience for me; learning so much and getting a chance to work with so many terrific individuals. After a career in marketing and sales of more than twenty five years, it’s invigorating (and at times very challenging) to have a chance to build new skills and have so many new experiences. I am appreciative to have this opportunity and I am trying to “savor” the experience every day, (some days easier said than done!)

One of the groups that I absolutely love working with is our merchandising team, “the secret ingredient” for Bolthouse Farms. This team of young, dynamic, energized professionals is the frontline of our business, calling on retail stores every day, working hard as an ambassador of our company to make every store a great representation of our brands and products. I have a chance to work with these folks a few times a month, never enough, and I always come away being impressed and inspired by the talent and the motivation. Whenever I have had a few tough weeks, I always try to spend a day “in the field” with one of our merchandisers and consistently I find the “spring back in my step!” A number of months ago, I was spending a day in the field and had the chance to share the following story from the early days of my career.

The story goes back to one of my first weeks working for Kimberly Clark. As I wrote about in the essay “The story of Earl”, I spent the first six months after joining K-C in a formal training program. We spent the first few months in sales training, then a month at a mill, before heading to headquarters and joining a brand team as a marketing assistant. I had spent a few days with a sales trainer, (a very seasoned salesman named Tommy Griffiths) and I was given a sales bag, a route book, and told to report back to the office on Friday. I was on my own, that much was sure, so I headed off on my route trying to hit at least 10 stores a day. My job was to check on and merchandise all of K-C products in the store, (notably Kleenex facial tissues, Huggies diapers, Hi-Dri paper towels, Kotex feminine care products) always working to expand Availability and Space. (I will cover AMPS in a future essay; little did I know that I was working on the “A” and the “S” in those early days.)

Well one day on my route, I pulled up to a small rural “Big Star” grocery store, parked right up front, pulled out my sales bag and started heading to the front door. I had taken a step or two when an older fellow wearing an apron with a name badge asked me why I was parking “up front.” I stopped in my tracks, trying to make a good impression, and introduced myself as his new Kimberly Clark sales rep and that I was at his store to check on the K-C products.
With a slow southern drawl, he said “son, if you are here to shop, you can park up front, if you’re here to sell, you park at the back of the parking lot.” He added that after I had moved my car to the other end of HIS parking lot, I should bring a few stranded shopping carts with me as I walked to the front door. Casually he turned and went back into the store, leaving me standing on the front curb. I didn’t really understand how, but just by parking my car, I had angered the manager of this grocery store. Quickly I went back into my car, drove it out to the end of the parking lot, and started again. I picked up 2-3 shopping carts and rolled them across the parking lot as I walked to the front doors. After dropping off the carts, I gathered my sales bag and entered the store. Graciously, the manager walked right up to me, shook my hand, and asked my name. The rest of the sales call is lost in the haze of memory (now almost twenty six years ago), but the memory form the parking lot is fresh today.

I shared the story because regardless of the situation, whether in a customer’s office, a meeting room, on a conference call or in a parking lot, we need to be aware and conscious of our actions and how they might affect our customers. It’s important to remember that THEIR jobs are hard, THEIR challenges real, and regardless of OUR agendas or priorities, we must always work to translate them into THEIR measures of success. We often get very wrapped up in OUR issues and challenges, but it is my experience that success starts by trying to understand THEIR challenges and priorities. That “Big Star” store manager wanted to insure that HIS customers had the best parking spots for HIS store, making it easy for HIS customers to enter HIS store and easy for them to carry their groceries out to their cars. It was a simple yet profound lesson of orientation. Was I thinking about the store manager as I pulled up in his parking lot that day so many years ago, or was I thinking about myself?

The photo above is from a recent visit with one of our talented and inspiring merchandisers in Ohio. As you can see, she is standing beside her Bolthouse Farms vehicle, parked at the back of the parking lot! Well done!