Monday, December 23, 2013

MaMa's "Corn Oysters"


Now almost 10 years ago I put together a “cookbook” for my family made up of recipes from old notes, handwritten letters, recipe cards, photos and stories that had been collected from my grandmothers, my Aunt Lorraine, my mother, and a number of other family members. With most of them now having passed, it’s a real treasure for me to take a few minutes and read their handwriting, remember the photos, and recall the delicious meals that we as a family had shared together.  It’s amazing to read old letters, one notably from my paternal grandmother (“MaMa”) that recounts her trip home after coming to visit my parents on the birth of yours truly!!  While it included a recipe for “Damson Plum Jelly” (we will keep that one for a future essay), the letter recounts the details of her train trip from Cleveland Ohio to White Sulphur Springs in the fall of 1961.  A glimpse of a time gone by for sure!


As I picked up the cookbook today, my eye was caught by the recipe for “Corn Oysters” and the stories that Mama used to tell about them on a holiday table.  My father (recently passed), and his father Loche Andrew Livesay (yes, that’s not a mis-spelling of the last name, again a topic for a future essay) loved this dish, and Mama would describe how my grandfather would silently dive into a plate of “Corn Oysters” with such fervor and intensity that he would break out into a sweat right there at the dining room table.  While I can “neither confirm nor deny” that I have followed in my grandfather’s footprints over a delicious meal, my grandmother’s story still rings in my ears now over 15 years since her passing.


Give the recipe a try; I plan to as part of a Christmas meal featuring a baked Ham and Mama’s “One Hour Buttermilk Rolls”.  The holidays are a special time to enjoy with families and friends, and to remember those who have passed and celebrate their lives with memories, stories and maybe a few recipes!  I hope you and your family will enjoy these “Corn Oysters” as much as my family has over the years, and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New year!



Monday, December 9, 2013

A Hero, an Inspiration, and an Optimist

With the passing of Nelson Mandela late last week, it is more than appropriate to take a moment and reflect on and celebrate the impact of this unique man. In previous essays, I have highlighted the inspiration and impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the struggle and the impact of Aung San Suu Kyi. Here, once again, we have an individual who has fought against injustice, faced amazing personal and physical persecution, and ultimately has played a huge personal role in changing our world.

Over the weekend I was talking to some old friends who reflected on those days in early 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years of prison and vowed that Apartheid had no future and that “It has to be ended by our mass action. We have waited too long for our freedom.” Well, end it certainly did in a flood of changes that swept the world after the fall of the Berlin wall, the ending of South Africa’s policy of Apartheid, along with a boggling array of change over the past 25 – 30 years. While a lot clearly “has” actually changed over the past decade, we must be careful to not stand back, assessing or watching the world in the third person almost as a passive spectator! We need to be reminded that these changes have ALL come about by the beliefs, actions, and sacrifices of individuals and groups of people, all over the world, inspired by the spark of heroes like Nelson Mandela.

It was over 30 years ago, when my wife Jennie and I were students at college (The College of Wooster, class of ’83) that the issue of South African apartheid and the “divestiture “ campaign was sweeping across campuses coast to coast. Jen received a message this past weekend from a fellow classmate now living in India reflecting on how a group of students our senior year at Wooster met with the board of Trustees to call for the College to divest all investments in corporations doing business in South Africa. It was hugely controversial at the time in the fall of 1982, with the board of trustees pushing back hard on the students asking for change, unsure at that time whether Nelson Mandela was an inspiration or a terrorist. Jen is now a trustee herself, and once again it’s amazing to reflect just how much has changed in 30 years. Not passively like spectators, but inspired anew by the same individual, Nelson Mandela.

As I close today’s essay with the thoughts of Mandela’s impact on OUR world today, I want to share one trait of Mandela’s that truly seems beyond the potential of most of us…. that is his unending optimism. Think about it, he spent 27 years in prison, many in solitary confinement on Robbens Island, the Alcatraz of South Africa. Many years spent doing hard labor in the prison quarry, all for his vocal leadership of the ANC and his fight against the ruthless system of Apartheid in South Africa. He exits prison in early 1990 and begins a process with the leaders of South Africa, some of whom were his former jailors, to begin “truth and reconciliation” hearings to prepare the nation of South Africa for elections. No bloody retribution. No trials of individuals for “crimes against humanity.” He and then President de Klerk working together to frame a new “post-Apartheid” South Africa; absolutely amazing and hugely fueled by his unending optimism for the future. Mandela is quoted as saying that,

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.”

May we all be inspired today to keep our “head pointed toward the sun” and to keep our “feet moving forward” as we face the challenges in our world today. Injustice, poverty, and inequality are not realities of the past, but are real challenges that WE face today across the world and in our neighborhoods closer to home. Let us continue to take inspiration from Nelson Mandela to take an active part in creating a future that he would be proud of!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Return to Appleton

It’s now been over a month since my dad’s passing, in some ways it’s seems like a long time and in other ways the past month has literally blown by in a blink. My work tempo over the past few weeks has been a bit bewildering, having travelled coast to coast three times with customer meetings in New Orleans, Orlando, Minneapolis, and Atlanta thrown in the midst for good luck. What a month!

Since losing my dad, I have been drawn to make two pilgrimages of sorts, one to my mom’s grave back in Western Pennsylvania and one to my friend Bruce’s grave in Appleton Wisconsin. I don’t know if it’s an urge or desire to reconnect with my memories of those two specific individuals who meant (and mean) a lot to me, or in some way to immerse myself for a few brief moments in reflective physical environments.

Earlier this month I found my way to Appleton, renting a car in that familiar little airport, and heading out to visit familiar sights and old friends. I had a few hours open , so instead of heading straight to the cemetery, I turned south to pay a visit at a charming little cheese factory in Zitau Wisconsin. On one of my last visits before Bruce passed, he wanted to take a drive to see some old sights and to go out to his lake house to pay one last visit. With his advancing stages of ALS, Bruce was well past driving at that time so I loaded him into my car and headed west. Instead of heading straight to the lake house, he directed me to take a rural route which lead us to the Union Star Cheese Cooperative in Zitau. Here I was just a few weeks ago, now over four years since Bruce’s passing, pulling up to that same little cheese factory out in the chilly Wisconsin countryside.

While I was swimming in memories, the woman working behind the counter was diligently packing bags of freshly made cheese curds, a local favorite. With tears in my eyes, I picked up a bag of curds and added a block or two of their aged cheddar, Bruce’s favorite. Here I was having a visceral nostalgic experience and the woman behind the counter, while helpful, had things to do, bags to pack, and a large block of Colby-jack cheese on the counter that needed cutting and wrapping. I quickly paid for my cheese and headed out, back to find my way back to the cemetery in Appleton.

The leaves were turning colors brightly and the trees at the cemetery were beautiful, even on a cool drizzly afternoon. I had picked up some flowers and after cleaning up Bruce’s headstone, I rested the flowers on top and said a prayer. I didn’t want to leave so I started walking around the cemetery which sits on a bluff above the Fox River. Headstones of young children recently passed, of soldiers who fought in our civil war buried in the later 1800’s, of grandparents, and of teenagers all side by side. While I came that day to “visit” Bruce’s grave, I was struck by the expanse of human history surrounding me in that beautiful cemetery.

Later that afternoon I visited with dear old friends Steve and Nina, and the next day enjoyed a great breakfast with two other dear friends Donna and Marilyn who worked with Bruce and I at Kimberly Clark in the late 1980’s. Each conversation was precious, thinking back on times past but more importantly catching up on life today; the latest updates on kids and grandkids, challenges at work and at church, plans for the upcoming holidays and future vacations, etc.

I had come back to Appleton to take a moment of reflection as I mourn the passing of my father, and while I certainly had a number of “reflective moments”, I left Wisconsin thinking about my life and the busy road ahead. I was so anxious to get home and see Jennie, Bryson and Marie and get caught up on the latest developments with homework, board meetings, play rehearsals, chorus concerts, etc. Just like the lady at the cheese factory, there were things to do, errands to be run, happiness and sadness to experience, tears and laughter to enjoy/ endure, in other terms there was life to be lived!

My continuing “takeway” as I reflect on all those who have passed before us, (those dear to me and a multitude unknown) is that life is precious and fragile and that life is to be lived NOW, not in some future, post-graduation/post-marriage/post-children/post-debt/post-retirement fantasy but NOW, today, this week, not someday but NOW!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The "Gravity" of Blockbuster

As an addendum to my recent essay “The Gravity of Success,” this week’s headlines regarding Blockbuster warrants a quick note. It was reported this week that as of January the last of Blockbuster’s stores, along with their DVD mail service, will close. After declaring bankruptcy in 2011, the enterprise once known for offering families all across North America a “Blockbuster Night” will shutter its last remaining doors. The amazing thing about this story is not the ultimate success of on-line vs. traditional retail models (though this is a great example of that dynamic,) but the speed of this decline and my personal experience with it that began at a dinner in Dallas in May of 2002.

Now more than eleven years ago, I was in a role that oversaw the Blockbuster relationship for The Coca-Cola Company. We had a team of bright and talented sales and marketing executives working on that business and we looked upon it as a very strategic commercial and marketing relationship. I remember quite clearly being in Dallas for meetings at Blockbuster’s Headquarters in late May of 2002, working on key partnership marketing plans and it was in that bar, now more than eleven years ago, that I witnessed a live version of the concept “The Gravity of Success.”

Quite coincidentally earlier that day, in late May of 2002, Netflix had announced their plans to go public. At that time, Netflix was just a few years old, primarily a mail order DVD rental company, which had never generated a profit. The “dot-com” bubble had recently burst, and many on-line startups were failing. I remember everyone gathering at the bar and the Blockbuster team toasting and laughing about the breaking news regarding Netflix. One of their team laughed that with over 9000 stores , spanning towns large and small across North America and across numerous other countries, who would want to wait for a DVD to come by “snail mail” when you could stop by at your local store and enjoy a “Blockbuster Night.”

In hindsight we all laughed and toasted what seemed to be the folly of that day. But now, just eleven years later, Blockbuster will close the last of their 9000 stores, and Netflix is soaring and innovating to new heights. It’s amazing in hindsight to see how wrong we all were, and how influenced we were by the historic drivers of success at that moment. In 2002, those 9000+ stores seemed like a huge barrier of entry for others, and that the physical experience of stopping by at your local Blockbuster was a convenient and entertaining part of your weekly routine. For Coke, all of those stores, and all of those coolers, and all of those shoppers were pure gold, both commercially and as a marketing resource. None of us that night took a second to think about the “virtual currency” that Netflix or other on-line media sources would someday dominate. We all missed it that night; we were all caught in “The Gravity of Blockbuster.”

I share this story not only to connect to this week’s headlines, but to reinforce that we all need to learn from history, and sometimes form our own history! The memory of that night in Dallas makes me humble and attentive as I reflect on my current work world and our current levels of success. The memory makes me want to be more critical of our current business drivers, and it is pushing me to try to “look over the horizon” at the possible drivers of our current success, our “9000 stores” that may be our Achilles heel in the years ahead. Equally I am attentive to watch the competitive landscape more attentively. Eleven years ago Blockbuster wrongly dismissed Netflix as a competitive threat. Wrongly dismissed to their detriment and demise! What new innovative small businesses and brands am I being too casual and complacent about? Reflect on your own realities as you read this essay and be mindful and active about lessons you can learn from “The Gravity of Blockbuster.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Gravity of Success

I had the chance this weekend at a very busy industry trade event to reconnect with many friends across our business. It was a huge success for our enterprise, certainly a new “high water mark” in our journey of dynamic growth and profitable expansion. It was at a small dinner last Saturday night that I had the chance to slow down and enjoy a wonderful dinner with a number of friends, deep industry veterans, where an interesting conversation emerged around the idea of managing success.

One of my tablemates shared that he had recently been at a conference where the chess champion Gary Kasparov was the featured speaker. He shared that Kasparov talked about his early success, winning his first world grand championship at the age of 22. When asked whether that was his toughest challenge, he quickly replied no. It was after a number of consecutive World Grand Championships that Kasparov was faced by a huge challenge that he described as “the gravity of success.” It is the reality that continued success is not inevitable, but has to be “re-earned” in each successive match, practice event, or work session. What made him successful in a past match would not be the key to his success in future matches. He is quoted as saying “winning creates an illusion that everything is fine ….. that after a victory we want to celebrate, not analyze.”

These comments from a chess champion made me reflect back on my own experience, and on my situation today. I have had the chance across my career to experience many businesses and brands that at one point seemed impenetrable and were ultimately found vulnerable. Now almost ten years ago, I was at dinner with executives from Blockbuster on the day that Netflix was launched. At dinner that night in Dallas, they laughed at the idea that anyone would go through the hassle of ordering DVD’s through the mail rather than visiting one of their more than 5000 convenient Blockbuster stores. To put it simply now ten years later, Netflix is now a major factor in the on-line entertainment landscape and the last Blockbuster store near my home was converted into a Smoothie shop years ago. Blockbuster had seen many months, quarters, and years of success, but somehow the “gravity of success” was too strong to enable Blockbuster to find success today.

While there are many examples across the landscape, (i.e. Woolworth, Kodak, Howard Johnson, Web Van,, etc.), the conversation made me reflect on my immediate reality. Our business has had a great run, driving profitable growth quarter after quarter for a number of years now. We have built capabilities and competencies as we have grown, realizing that business processes and systems are required in order to support historic growth and enable future success. Now with all of that said, were we becoming complacent? Were we getting lost in our “illusion” that everything was fine? Was the “gravity of success” lurking around the corner?

While it is clear that no one is immune to the tug of that “gravity,” the dinner conversation prompted me to take action on an immediate moment of success. As I said we have just finished a very successful trade event for our company, clearly exceeding past experiences and even our high expectations. Regardless of that reality, the dinner conversation prompted me to call for a “debrief conference call” this week, so we could review the experience in detail and while we will celebrate the “wins,” we will work hard to uncover and identify the opportunity areas form the past week. Kasparov said, “question the status quo at all times, especially when things are going well.” It is with that advice that I am taking action this week; I am appreciative that an innocent and pleasant dinner conversation has led to my awareness of, and respect for, “the gravity of success!”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ode to my Dad: part 2

Ode to my Dad: part 2

It is widely written that grief is a process, unique to every person, often coming in waves of happy and sad memories brought on by poignant and insignificant triggers. That description of “process” and “waves” is most certainly my reality after losing my Dad, now a bit more than two weeks ago. For me, I have been drawn to pull out old photo albums and mementos, wanting to remember and embrace some of the “old stories” of my family from years gone by. As I was sorting through some old papers in my bedside nightstand, I came across a letter that my father sent me more than seven years ago for my 45th birthday. It was a short letter, written in his clear steady hand writing, from an earlier time in his fight with Parkinson’s disease. After wishing me a happy birthday, he added a few lines of “advice” that made me smile last week, amidst tears, thinking of his good natured encouragements:

“I am tempted to give you a list of “advice”, but would boil it down to this:
• Just continue to be yourself
• Be a leader by your example
• Honesty, sincerity, and your love of people are the route of your life
• Watch out for those “management fads”
• And finally, keep your sense of humor!”

While I am tempted to take each of his points and break them down into action oriented connections for all of us today (maybe fodder for a future essay), I am struck by the authentic nature of his good natured advice. He wanted only good things for me, and over his career as an electrical engineer primarily for ALCOA, he learned a number of important lessons of leadership that he wanted to pass along. I remember clearly how he talked about certain of his bosses/leaders that really knew the work and the team and how that authentic connection made them effective and admired. Equally he talked about other bosses/leaders from the opposite end of the spectrum, more focused on “managing up” or trying the latest management “technique” (see “management fads” above) than really working on the challenges at hand. One story he talked about was of a boss that had fully adopted the principles of the “60 second Manager,” a popular “management fad” of the 1970’s. It seemed impossible to my dad how someone would/could expect to handle a situation in less than a minute, when the technical problem at hand could not even be described accurately (analytically/mathematically) in less than sixty minutes!

As I continue to dig through old papers and photos, I am certain that I will come across more nuggets of insight and perspective. For me the process is not solely nostalgic as the above quote suggests, reminding me today of ways to be a more effective professional and leader. Take a few minutes yourself, either with the “advice” from my Dad, or from your fathers or mothers, or your friends, mentors, or bosses and look for their “advice” on how to be more effective. Not only will it do your heart a bit of good (as it is doing for me), but you just might find a pearl of wisdom to apply to your life today.

Post script: Over the past few weeks I have received calls, notes, texts, and letters from a wide variety of family and friends and I can’t overstate their impact. Each message has brought me comfort and support, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who has reached out, thank you all!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ode to my Dad

We always worry about the wrong things. Last week, I was concerned about an out-of-town fishing trip, last second details at work, upcoming travel logistics, and potential topics for upcoming blog essays. At the time, it seemed like the appropriate focus, and thankfully, I added to that list having some time with my family and making sure I called my dad before I went fishing. What I didn’t know last Tuesday was that my father, Dale Hill Levisay, would suffer a dramatic cardiac event Friday morning and quickly pass away twenty four hours later. Thankfully, I did indeed talk to my Dad changing planes in the Minneapolis Airport last Wednesday morning, and while he had had a bad night, he was excited about my “Walleye Plans” and wanted a lot of pictures. I spoke to him one last time Friday afternoon as I was making my way to his home in Charlottesville, Virginia, (with the tremendous help and support of dear friends and “fishing buddies” Chris, Paul and Scott). He was present enough to ask about the fishing trip and wanted to know how many fish we caught. Literally a fisherman to his end!

The following is the obituary that I wrote for my Dad early yesterday morning. It is an understatement to say that words can’t equal a life, but at least it gives a brief overview of my Father:

Dale Hill Levisay passed away suddenly last Saturday, September 21, at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville. He is survived by his wife of thirty seven years, Doris Levisay, his brother James Livesay of Richmond, Virginia, his three children: Mark, Bill and Alice Levisay, his two stepsons Bill and Tom Dunwoody, and his eleven loving grandchildren. He is pre-deceased by his first wife Arline Levisay and a daughter Lois Ann Levisay.

Dale was born in Durbin, West Virginia, on July 2, 1930 and grew up along the banks of his beloved Greenbrier River. After graduating first in his class from White Sulphur Springs High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served his country aboard the U.S.S. Valcour and the U.S.S. Oriskany. Upon an honorable discharge, he entered Virginia Tech where he studied Electrical Engineering, ultimately graduating again at the top of his class in 1956.

Dale spent a long and productive career in the Electrical Engineering field, most notably working for ALCOA in a number of locations for over thirty years. He was always singularly proud of his executive liaison assignment that took him to Tokyo, Japan, for a few years late in his career. A holder of a number of patents, he is remembered fondly by ALCOA associates today.
After retirement, Dale and Doris spent many happy years in Louisville, Tennessee, and Williamsburg, Virginia, travelling the world and spending time with family and friends. Dale loved to tinker in his workshop, always creating new inventions that he shared generously. A scout master for many years, Dale was also an avid Ham radio operator, fisherman, and a keen gardener his entire life. He will be missed deeply by all who knew him.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations may be made in Dale’s memory to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. No public memorial service is planned.

Once again, we always get lost in the trivial business of life and always worry about the wrong things. Whether lessons learned from my grandmother “MaMa” (Dad’s mother), my first boss Bruce Paynter, or from my Dad’s passing this past weekend, I recognize that life is precious and fragile! In the end, all the material possessions (the “stuff & things”) of life wash away and all that really matters is the love in your life with those who are precious to you.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to be "Present", "Safe", and "Refreshed" in a Multi-tasking World

I am literally writing this essay flying to LA, listening to a great playlist on my I pad put together by my son Bryson (check out the band “Best Coast”, they rock) , keeping an eye on my work emails and hoping to have a few minutes to read todays “Huffington Post” headlines on-line before I land. Over the past few years in a job that requires extensive travel, I have become completely dependent on technology to enable me to be effective anywhere and anytime regardless of time-zone and location. I long ago dismissed the outmoded notion that an “office” is a static location in some corporate building where one schedules meetings. My “office” is wherever I have power and internet connectivity, wherever I can access my company’s network and connect to a good cell signal, whether in a remote airport gate, a hotel lobby, a street corner coffee shop, or a foreign train station. Technology has allowed me to be effective literally almost anywhere, anytime and I am constantly using this enhanced capability to “multi-task my brains out” in order to accomplish my goals personally and professionally. It is in this context that I want to share some thoughts or ideas on ways to be most effective in our wildly muti-tasking world:

Be Present: It is so tempting to always be doing two or three things at once. Think about it, we are often doing work emails while watching news or financial headlines/updates, while staying current in our personal social networking community. Heaven forbid that we might miss a posting from a group of friends with photos from a concert/party, or be slow to respond to a text from a work associate with an urgent, though maybe not important ( see a past essay “5% for #2” on that topic) request. In a recent executive review at work, we had an interesting experience. A large group had gathered in a conference room to discuss upcoming priorities and almost everyone had their ipads or laptops powered up and connected to the network. As we dove into the agenda it became clear that most folks participating in the meeting were ALSO doing emails, checking updates, etc. As it got to my turn to lead an agenda item, I covered a slide or two but then paused with a moment of silence to see how long it would take the group in the room to realize that I had stopped talking. Gradually, people raised their heads to look up at me and I waited for the last individual to look up, ultimately nudged by their neighbor in the conference room. I suggested that we weren’t holding the meeting to hear ourselves speak, and that if they wanted to be in the meeting then they should really be “in” the meeting. Choosing to be fully “present”, with all of your thoughts, experiences, and perspectives deployed to the moment at hand is extremely valuable and potent regardless of environment. When the moment arises, choose to be focused and great at the singular topic at hand, rather than distracted and merely adequate across a range of “muti-tasking activities.”

Be Safe: There is a growing realization and concern that multi-tasking in the wrong moments and environments can be dangerous and potentially lethal. Recently I was walking near a busy intersection in Santa Monica where I noticed a young woman walking next to me, ear buds firmly in place, and texting furiously on her iPhone. I stopped as we approached the busy corner, seeing the light turn red and cars starting to pull out ahead of us. Without even looking up, the young woman stepped off the curb heading blindly into traffic. I grabbed her arm to stop her, which caused her to raise her head to see me yelling for her to stop. While she seemed “pissed off” that I had grabbed her arm, she stepped back to the curb and went back to her texting. Unbelievably and blindly dangerous for what??
In a related vein I will add my voice to the growing chorus of organizations and individuals crying out against texting and driving. We as a nation have come to the realization that driving drunk is dangerous, potentially lethal, and thus unlawful and unacceptable! Recent studies show disarming similarities between texting and drinking when driving ( and we must take action culturally and legally now! The famous director Werner Herzog recently completed a short 35 minute documentary film that highlights the stories of a number of individuals and families involved in and affected by texting while driving. Please take a moment to watch this poignant film ( and take a note of the topics that were being texted at the moment of impact. It’s horrific, tragic and ridiculous how meaningless the topics are that distracted drivers to the point of turning them into killers!

Be Refreshed: Even in moments when we are being “Present” and “Safe”, multi-tasking will be pervasive broadly across our busy days, weeks, and months. It’s hard to put the technology down, even to grab a few hours of much needed sleep, knowing that there are emails, messages, contacts, etc. waiting out there! Try to find ways to step away from being connected ALL of the time, just to give yourself a much needed break. One example that works for me is an annual fishing trip “off the grid” that is coming up next week. Once a year I take a few days with some old friends and go fishing in rural western Ontario completely off the grid (I will save stories of the outhouse and the propane fridge for a future essay). At first it was more than disarming heading off from the dock and watching the cell coverage diminish and then go completely “dark.” Now with a few years of experience under my belt, I crave the idea of getting off the grid to take a break from the tempo and incessant onslaught of messages, if just for a few days. I prepare well for those few days every year, insuring that my team members cover the active projects and issues, with others tracking my emails watching to deal with any emergencies that might arise. It’s through that preparation that I now not only crave a few days “off the grid”, but come back “refreshed” and more than ready to dive back in!

It’s absolutely amazing what technology has allowed us to accomplish in our work and personal lives every day. I have no doubt that there will be new tools and applications in the years to come that will continue to enable us to “multi-task with abandon”, clearly at even greater speeds with greater impact than we can even imagine today. My council is for all of us (starting with yours truly) to take steps to be “Present, Safe, and Refreshed” so that we can convert this amazing “multi-tasking tempo” into a productive, healthy, and high impact life!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An inspiring Anniversary ... the fifty years ahead!

It is important for all of us to take a moment and remember and recognize the march on Washington for jobs and freedom that occurred fifty years ago today. I have often watched the “I have a dream speech” like many others all over the world, feeling inspired and challenged by Dr. King’s exhilarating words and delivery. As I reflect on this anniversary, there are a number of themes that I want to share.

The progress we have made: As a proud citizen of the city of Atlanta, I am proud that Dr. King called our city home and that Ebenezer Baptist Church is just a few miles from our neighborhood. Last weekend I had a chance to get on my bike, connect via the new beltline bike path, and work my way up to Piedmont Park in the center of the city. The weather was wonderful and the park was hopping and I was struck by the groups of kids all over the park; on the volleyball courts, on a soccer field, in the big swimming pool, and on the children’s playground all playing together clearly regardless of race. Here I was in a prominent southern city, within eyesight of Stone Mountain, and Dr. King’s speech came clearly to mind,

"I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. "

"I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

Here I was in the deep-south, with blacks and whites, south Asians and Koreans, Mexicans and central and South Americans and folks from literally all over the world enjoying a beautiful afternoon together, not even realizing they were all part of fulfilling Dr. King’s dream.

The progress not made: It is crucial to remember that the march fifty years ago was a march for “jobs and freedom.” As we sit here today, in late august of 2013, we have a lot of work to do on both of those fronts. Unemployment is still broadly at high levels all across the country, but if you look at the jobless percentages of those under 30, and especially for those young men and women of color, the statistics are frightful. In a landscape rife with national, state and local budget deficits, our ability as a country to invest in our children’s education, and candidly their future is under serious threat. Additionally in considering that the march was on the eve of the voting rights act fifty years ago, it’s impossible to mark this anniversary and not think about the challenges and limitations to the fundamental right to vote that are rampant all across our country. Again Dr. King’s words ring true,

"We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote."

We cannot be satisfied by the current tepid economic recovery and think that our economic woes are fixed. We can’t be lulled into thinking that just because our elected officials are more racially, ethnically, and gender diverse, that somehow it makes our democracy more open, more active and more vibrant. Clearly we have work to do.

The road ahead: Inspired as I truly am by Dr. King’s speech, I feel that we all need to be motivated and energized as we look at the fifty years ahead. Will we make progress on Dr. King’s legacy and be able to fulfill some of Dr. King’s unfulfilled “dreams?” Will our children look back on this day on the 100th anniversary (August 28, 2063) and marvel at the progress made, or be humbled by the yet unfulfilled potential? Since I am about to turn 52, I truly doubt that I will mark that anniversary, but I am more than hopeful that my children Bryson and Marie will celebrate that day. We should be clear that we all need to take actions now that will keep the march of progress moving forward, so someday our children’s grandchildren can all fulfill Dr. King’s dream,

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.
I have a dream today."

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

rule #3

It had been a very busy weekend, Bryson was playing in a national Ultimate tournament in Minneapolis and Jennie and I had gone up to support the team, watch the young man play, and visit some old friends. While certainly a bit hectic, it was a wonderful weekend all across the board; Bryson and his team played very well, the weather was outstanding, and Jen and I had a ball with our friends. As we were leaving town we were in a hurry and had to grab a quick sandwich on the way to the airport. We stopped at a Jimmy John’s in Blaine Minnesota and as we were ordering, the sign (pictured to the right) caught my eye.

To say the least I wasn’t expecting a moment of inspiration in the midst of the lunch rush at Jimmy John’s. Grabbing a sandwich and getting back on the road to the airport was my complete plan, but the sign caught my eye and especially rule #3.

3. Never Suck Your Thumb
Gather in advance any information you need to make a decision, and ask a friend or relative to make sure that you stick to a deadline. Buffett prides himself on swiftly making up his mind and acting on it. He calls any unnecessary sitting and thinking “thumb-sucking.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about “taking action” and in my previous essay (“Seeds of Today”) I encouraged readers to reflect on how MaMa (my paternal grandmother) and Goethe both encouraged and supported the idea that there was power and impact in taking action “today.” Now here I was in suburban Minnesota and Warren Buffett was sending that same message from a sub shop wall.

It’s important to reflect on Buffett’s Goldman Sachs investment in 2008. In the absolute midst of the financial meltdown, Buffett/Berkshire Hathaway invested $5 billion into Goldman Sachs and now almost five years later, that investment is now worth over $8 billion. What’s amazing about the deal is NOT the impressive return or the classic Buffett approach of buying when everyone else is selling. It’s the Wall Street legend that has him on the phone with the Goldman Sachs CEO Loyd Blankfein for 15 to 20 minutes and then making the $5 billion investment. 15 – 20 MINUTES!!! Truly no “thumb-sucking” there!

It’s an understatement to say that Warren Buffett is in a different league than all of us everyday investors. Sometimes these stories (and others like them) seem to be from another world, not part of my hectic, on the road, raising a family lifestyle. While that is clearly true, the message jumping off the wall is one that links with MaMa and Goethe. The time in our life for action is NOW. In whatever the endeavour, whether at work, in your social life, at your kid’s school, in your marriage, or even at a playing field in Minnesota, the time to take action is now.

p.s. I had the pleasure of meeting Warren Buffett at a Coke board meeting about ten years ago and my experience that night reinforces many things that have been written about him. I was literally at a picnic table with him and a number of my colleagues and other board members and I remember him telling very folksy stories about Omaha and his passion for Cherry Coke. I also remember that we were all eating corn on the cob he had a drip of butter come down his hand and hit his jacket sleeve. He laughed about how we was going to have to “hide the butter stain” at the board meeting tomorrow… just like us, he had only brought one jacket!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Seeds of Today

We have had a lot of rain this summer, especially up at our Cabin in the western North Carolina Mountains. While it does curtail our hikes and canoe trips, (and makes things a damp all in all), it has lead to some much needed family time. We have cooked more meals, played more games, and watched more movies than normal this summer; certainly nothing to complain about!

Well over a recent weekend, I was struck by the “sampler” (pictured here) that was sewn by my grandmother (yes, MaMa) many years ago. We had hung it up at the cabin, alongside a quilt that she had sewn, as a fitting reminder of her legacy in our lives and of her wonderful art! For some reason on a drippy Saturday morning I was struck not by the stitching or the overall design, but by the text featured on the samples…” All of the flowers of all of the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” I had grown up around this piece of Mama’s needlework but I had never really focused on the words, or their meaning to me at that moment.

We have just finished our first year after the sale of Bolthouse Farms to The Campbell Soup Company, and we have been wrapping up our plans for our upcoming fiscal year this summer. I have been so proud of the four years (hard to believe it’s already four years!!!) that I have been associated with Bolthouse Farms. We have accomplished a lot as an organization and are poised well for the opportunities and challenges in the future. With that said, as we look at the fiscal year ahead we have a lot to DO to turn all of our plans in market centered realities.

I have been struck through my career on the overall need to take action and be focused on superior execution, rather than superior intentions! This idea is not just a concept of our times, but has deep historic resonance. The prominent German writer, Goethe, is famous quoted as writing that:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

This notion of diving in, taking action on “what you can do, or DREAM you can do” is such a powerful idea. We are often slowed by our own uncertainties or insecurities. Is our idea really any good? Well maybe we need to do more research? The list of self-doubting questions goes on and on. Goethe is challenging us to not only act on what we can do today, but to take action on what we just might be able to do tomorrow!

As I look at MaMa’s sampler, I am reminded that she and Goethe (and many others of course) are all saying one thing. Take action and take action now on what you think you can do or maybe dream that you can do! Don’t wait for something else to happen or someone else to make the first move. Take action now! We all want to enjoy “all the flowers of all the tomorrows” in our personal and professional lives. Mama (and Goethe) is calling us to focus on getting busy planting “the seeds of today!”

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lessons of Life From Cooking Camp

My sweet daughter Marie, know too many of us as “ReRe”, is the center of this story that reinforces the idea that we learn the lessons of life in sometimes unexpected moments and locations. Over the past few years, I have shared stories about “turkey bags”, mountain hikes, Paris Metro stations, and historic family recipes. Well today my daughter’s experience at a summer cooking camp is the backdrop for a few moments of insight and wisdom.

Well I was back on the road this week with a number of key meetings in Santa Monica and Bakersfield. We had recently come back from a marvelous family vacation, so getting back on the road for a whole week away was a total bummer. The kids are busy this summer with all kinds of great activities, and this week was Marie’s week to attend a week long cooking camp at a local kitchen/cooking store. Marie has already established herself as our “cupcake queen” with her baking prowess, and is now expanding her horizons across the culinary spectrum. I love the fact that she shares my passion for cooking and I look forward to our time together in the kitchen!

I checked in through the week with my early morning calls to the family as they started their days back in Atlanta. Everybody was doing well, busy with their respective plans, and Marie was enjoying being at camp with a number for her close friends. In my call yesterday from my morning walk on the streets of Bakersfield, there seemed to be a different tone on the phone. Marie was clearly upset about something that had happened at the camp and with all the limitations of cell phones; I wanted to know what had happened. She shared that their big end-of-week competition was planned for Friday, and that she and her friends were teamed together to compete against the other kids at camp. They had to create, plan and cook a complete meal that would judged by the teachers and shared with the families of the campers. It sounded so cool, now I was really curious why/how Marie could be upset.

She shared that her little team had come up with a great menu (bruschetta, caprese salad, roasted pork tenderloin, and upside down strawberry shortcake….. total yum!!!) And as they were sharing it with one of the teachers, some girls from another team listened in and decided to replicate their menu item by item. They were cheating and Marie was understandably hurt, surprised, upset; you name it. The emotions were expected and predictable, it was her response that caught me by surprise. As she told us about the other girls and their actions, she shared that “she would rather lose than cheat;” such a moment of truth from my sweet 12 year old on her way to cooking camp!

In our era of media scandals of entertainers, sports figures, politicians, and financiers all cutting corners, bending the rules, or blatantly cheating to get ahead, Marie’s advice to all of us is powerful. The ends don’t justify the means … they never have and never will! We are judged not solely by “what” we accomplish in life, but maybe more importantly on “How” we live our lives. Are we generous and kind to others in need? Are we fair and truthful in our dealings with friends and strangers alike? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? These are certainly some of the core questions in life and I am humbled and proud of Marie’s response from cooking camp that she would “rather lose than cheat!”

Friday, June 14, 2013

Let the Ball Come to You

Over the past 90+ essays on this blog, I have often written about surprising and unexpected learning moments. Whether in a cab in Bakersfield (“The Story of Clarissa”), a walk in Des Moines (“Long look Garden”) or at a summer job many years ago (“The story of Floyd”), I have had a life filled with little stories and moments of insights and learning’s. Well last weekend that list continued to grow at my 30th college reunion.

My wife Jennie and I both graduated from The College of Wooster class of ‘83 (learn more at: ) 30 years ago this spring. We both deeply enjoyed our time there and look back on that fine liberal arts experience as a powerful foundation for our adult lives. Thinking about the reunion, we looked forward to getting back to campus, seeing old friends, telling a few old stories, showing off the campus to our kids for the first time, and getting caught up on all the positive things happening at the college. Jennie had a very active role in planning the events for the reunion and the entire weekend was packed.

Well the weekend was a ball, the campus was beautiful and the whole experience was a huge success! We haven’t laughed that hard in years (which is a reminder to actually work harder to stay connected with life-long friends …. More on that idea in an upcoming essay.) At one of the evening events I ran into a fellow alumnus from the class of ‘88 who was a member of my fraternity. After a few stories about mutual friends (those stories will NOT be featured in any future essays) we shared a bit about our current professional lives. I talked about my journey after Wooster, through an MBA at Vanderbilt, and on through marketing and sales career at Kimberly Clark, Kraft Foods, The Coca-Cola Company and now my current fun at Bolthouse Farms. He shared that he had recently left a long career in the publishing industry and he was pushing hard to make the “next thing” happen and he just wasn’t sure what that was going to like. There was clearly a bit of stress in his voice when he shared the story of his recent job change.

This poignant moment occurred late one night last weekend after a great beer tasting event; having just met this guy what was my next move? Well without too much deliberation I shared a piece of advice that I had been given many years before, which was to … “let the ball come to you.” In the late 80’s I had been at a crossroads in my career, wanting to make a change but not finding the right role/right company/right town/right boss/etc. It seemed that the harder I pushed, the less successful I became. Think about the idea of “professional quicksand”, the more you struggle, the faster you sink. Well I was pushing and really getting nowhere. A friend who was working in the sports broadcasting field at the time said, “Bill, run your route. You can’t be the quarterback AND the receiver. Run your route and let the ball come to you.” At that moment I thought the advice was too simple, and maybe off track. I had to do everything in my power to create and close on opportunities, … right??? Wasn’t that what I was taught at B-school? Wasn’t that the American model of Capitalism???

To say the least I did indeed heed that advice, and in a few months I had an interview at
The Coca-Cola Company, for a role that was perfect, for a boss that was great, in a city that I loved, that I nailed!! (Because I was ready to “catch that ball”) I shared that whole story with my fellow alum and while I am not sure what he is going to do with that story, it reminded me of how poignant that message was for me. In the scope of life we often think we have to be both quarterback and receiver on so many fronts. Maybe if we could all take just a little breath (any maybe one more sip at the beer tasting, ha!) and focus on running our “routes” of life well and being really prepared to make a great catch when “the ball comes to you”, we might all find a bit more peace and a bit more success as we face the challenges ahead.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jump the Shoal of Life

The only way to describe it was that it was a “pivot point” of life that I will never forget. Last Thursday night, at Eddies Attic in Decatur Ga, my sweet son was the opening act …. Yes his first professional gig and he totally rocked!!!

I had come back from a business trip a number of weeks past and heard the Bryson announce that he was going to open for Sydney Rhame, a marvelous young singer songwriter who was the headliner on May 30th. Now Bryson has been really working on his guitar and I knew he was very talented (a proud father comment of course) but the opening act? Just him? A 30 minute set of his own original music? Really??? I was convulsed by questions and nervousness. Was he ready? Were his songs really good enough? You know the normal kind of nervous parent questions, which only seemed to lead to more questions rather than a lot of easy answers.

Well the important fact highlighted above was that Bryson announced his plan, he didn’t ask our views/thoughts /or permission. When he was asked by Sydney to be the opening act, he quickly and confidently said yes. No asking or pausing, just yes.

Well to say the least we all were a bit nervous as we (Bryson, Jennie his awesome Mom, Marie his very encouraging sister, and dear old nervous Dad) headed to the club last Thursday night. As Bryson went off to do the sound check, we settled in and started to greet the growing number of friends and family who came out to see the show. It was amazing; 30 kids from his school came to see him and the show was sold out with 150+/- folks crammed in to the little club.

Well before you knew it, Bryson was up on stage (see picture above) and started his set of original songs. I am not sure how to describe my feelings during his 30 minutes on stage that night. Beyond proud, beyond impressed, beyond affection… maybe in another language there is a single word for the feelings I felt. In English all I can say was that I was totally blown away with pride and love, swimming in tears, listening to that boy sing and play his guitar.

In one of his songs, titled “Yearning”, Bryson says to “Jump the shoal of life and take my hand,” quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The lyrics were poignant and deeply thoughtful; musically the song was intriguing across various tempos. Right there at about 8:30 last Thursday night, I had stopped being just the proud doting dad, I had become a fan!

Well Bryson finished his set, we all went crazy, and Sydney came on stage and totally rocked for over an hour. As the closing song of the night, she had Bryson come back on stage and they performed a cover of the Lunineer’s “Stubborn Love.” The whole evening was fantastic and pretty unbelievable! To say the least I felt ashamed of all of my doubts and early questions, now clearly washed away by the talent and the applause! As I age and work to become a better and better Dad, I know I will have more of these pivot points with Marie and Bryson; moments when their talent and courage push me out of being the nervous doubting dad to just being a raving fan!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gratitude, the Key to Happiness

Last Monday started off more hectic and scattered than most days. It had been a very busy and over scheduled weekend, after an exhausting week of travel the week before. The weekly sales numbers had come in softer than expected and the level of urgent AND important (see the blog essay “The Tyranny of the Urgent”) email traffic that morning had hit a fevered pitch. The week ahead also seemed daunting, heading west later that day for key customer and planning meetings throughout the week, looking to arrive back in Atlanta by 11pm Friday night. Just reflecting on last week quickens my pulse and raises my blood pressure, ha!

Well with that lead-in, I was obviously not feeling very grateful or happy when I drove off to grab a quick lunch with an old friend, before heading to the airport last Monday afternoon. We sat down and quickly caught up on what each of us were doing professionally and personally. Early on in our conversation it became clear that all the things I was griping about, (the business headaches, the travel, the upcoming planning meetings, etc.) all seemed to sound pretty good to my friend Sean. When I shared that later that same night I would be crashing at a hotel near our offices in Santa Monica, Sean’s eyes lit up remembering that same hotel and how close to the ocean it was located. I left that lunch nudged a bit by it all, trying to understand what I was missing. Was my day/week/weekend so terrible or stressed that I just couldn’t see how lucky I had it? Had I totally lost my perspective on all the tremendous things in my life because of a few tiring days?

As I headed to the airport, I checked in with my work partner and dear friend Cathy and as I shared my lunch revelations/musings she quickly commented that “you know Bill, Gratitude is the Key to Happiness.” As is often the case, Cathy is a source of truth and perspective and as my attitude and focus started to change /improve, I literally googled her quote and immediately found the following:

Gratitude: A Key to Happiness
William F. Doverspike, Ph.D.

Although happiness is sometimes viewed as a state that can be reached by achieving some goal or acquiring some possession (e.g., "I would be happy if only _____"), psychological research suggests that happiness is more related to being grateful for what we already have. Gratitude is a subject that has received considerable attention in psychological research. The efficacy of gratitude interventions has been studied in clinical samples (Duckworth, Steen, & Seligman, 2005), student populations (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006), and general adult populations (Seligman, Steen, & Peterson, 2005).

Gratitude visit. In a placebo controlled empirical study, Seligman, Steen, and Peterson (2005) validated the gratitude visit as a way of increasing happiness. Compared to participants who were instructed to focus on a time in life when they were at their best and to reflect on their strengths, participants who engaged in a gratitude visit reported more happiness for one month after the intervention. Participants were given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but who had never been properly thanked. They were instructed to perform the exercise for only one week. The gratitude visit involves three basic steps: First, think of someone who has done something important and wonderful for you, yet who has not been properly thanked. Next, reflect on the benefits you received from this person, and write a letter expressing your gratitude for all he or she did for you. Finally, arrange to deliver the letter personally, and spend some time with this person talking about what you wrote.
Using another intervention known as "three good things in life," Seligman, Steen, and Peterson (2005) asked a different group of participants to write down three things that went well each day. In addition, they were asked to provide a causal explanation for each good thing. The participants were instructed to perform the exercise every night for one week. At the one-month follow-up, participants using this exercise were happier and less depressed than they had been at baseline. More importantly, they stayed happier and less depressed at the three-month and six-month follow-ups.

Gratitude journal. Empirical studies have shown that those who kept gratitude journals felt better about their lives. Compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). A related benefit was also observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Compared to research participants in the other experimental conditions, participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period.

A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) resulted in more positive effects that did the weekly intervention. A daily gratitude intervention resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy compared to a focus on daily hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). Compared to participants who were instructed to focus on daily hassles or social comparisons, those who used the daily gratitude intervention were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another person (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

Suggested steps. Consider making a gratitude visit to someone who has been especially kind or helpful to you but who you have never properly thanked. Reflect on the benefits you received from this person, write a letter expressing your gratitude, and make arrangements to personally deliver the letter and discuss what you wrote. After making your gratitude visit, start keeping a daily gratitude journal of three things that go well each day. Reflect on three good things that happen each day as well as their possible causes, and write down these things in your gratitude journal at the end of each day. At the end of a month, review your journal, reflect on how you feel, and identify someone to whom you will make your next gratitude visit.

Duckworth, A. L., Steen, T. A., and Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Positive psychology in clinical practice. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 629-651.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology. Special Issue: Positive Emotions, 1(2), 73-82

I will let you all be the judge of Dr. Doverspike’s premise and whether his ideas of a “Gratiutude Journal” or a “Gratitude Visit” would work for you. What I do conclude is that all of us in our busy lives could benefit from just a few minutes a day to think about all that we should be grateful for in our personal and professional lives. By focusing less on the work/emails/texts/etc. that have not been accomplished versus focusing more on the people/accomplishments/special moments & memories from our lives I am confident that we will be more “grateful” in our day to day lives and ultimately happier!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The World Needs More Love

When I started out in early 2009 to share a few “lessons and stories of leadership and life,” I had no idea that now 89 essays later (yes this is #90!) I would still have a number of things to share, and maybe none more timely and important than this topic today. Over the years I have often jokingly shared in a moment of business strife , or petty personal turbulence, that “the world needs more love” ; trying in my own way to nudge the listeners of the moment to try to choose a more hopeful, maybe even a more loving solution to the issue at hand. Well surrounded and at moments engulfed in the violent madness of our times, this “quippy” admonition seems timely and very important.

It was two weeks ago that I landed in Boston, the morning of the marathon, to attend a 3 day global leadership conference. Our hotel was about a mile from the finish line and we had a member of our team running in the marathon that fateful Monday and a few of us were planning on going over to watch him finish. Due to some “required “rehearsals that afternoon, I stayed back at the hotel while a few members of our team headed over to the finish line. At 2:50pm that afternoon, everything changed with the twin explosions and the senseless injury and death brought on to so many innocent bystanders. Standing in the hotel lobby a mile away, I watched with the world the news headlines as sirens streamed by heading to the bomb site. Quickly armed police came to our hotel and everything went into a lockdown mode. Surprisingly quickly we were able to contact our friends who were over near the finish line. All were physically ok but it would take hours before they could work their way back to our hotel. Obviously so many others were not nearly so fortunate and over the past two weeks the violent and senseless madness of the Tsarnaev brothers has been evident to the world.

With that said, if you actually take a close look at the headlines over just the past two weeks, they are filled with violence and madness all across our world. Now it is so easy for me to say that “the world needs more love”, but I feel strongly that we are going in exactly the wrong direction. Regardless of creed, nationality, age, sex, or belief system, the world does not need more hatred or violence! It does not need more cynicism or critique! It does not need more maiming or killing of innocent children! It does not need more weapons or war! It DOES need more love!

Over the past 89 essays I have tried to keep my personal political and spiritual views on the sidelines knowing how divisive those topics can be. Instead I have tried to share my ideas and suggestions in ways that would, or at least could, appeal to a broad set of readers regardless of orientation or nationality. It’s actually very interesting to see that of the almost 15000 readers so far, there is a wide audience of readers from countries so varied as Ukraine, Iran, The Netherlands and Canada. It’s in that spirit that I want to quote a previous essay (The Golden Rule at Dulles Airport.) In looking over religions spanning across countries and continents, there is a strong common thread that we should treat others as we wish to be treated. Reflect on the commonality across so many traditions!

The Universality of the Golden Rule in the World Religions

Christianity All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:1
Confucianism Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.
Analects 12:2
Buddhism Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Udana-Varga 5,1
Hinduism This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.
Mahabharata 5,1517
Islam No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
Judaism What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.
Talmud, Shabbat 3id
Taoism Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien
Zoroastrianism That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself.
Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

Now maybe my simple admonition might seem a touch naïve and that the idea that “the world needs more love” should be obvious to all. It is certainly clear from the headlines of our time that we need to work harder on this idea, actually working to turn this concept/idea/belief into real action; actually choosing paths and actions of love not hate rather than being the innocent bystanders on the sidelines of this race we call life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Praise in Public, Coach in Private

Across a business career that now spans well over 27 years, I have had the chance to experience and learn a wide variety of lessons from a wide range of inspirations. In some instances it took me years to realize the power and impact of a key lesson (as described in a recent essay “Execution is THE Strategy) and in some situations I have been applying and sharing a lesson that I learned years ago, the source of which is now lost in the fog of time. Thus let me preface this essay to say that I am certain I owe the following idea to some historic boss, teacher, or peer and I officially apologize for not being able to more appropriately credit the source today.

As you can easily see from this blog, I believe deeply in the power and importance of Leadership and am always working on my craft in this area. It’s an honor and a privilege to lead teams and so often leaders literally blow it by thinking they can “drive” organizations to do their will, execute their strategies, and follow their directives. In my experience successful, engaged organizations are ones where the leaders follow the three simple principles of leadership; to educate the minds, inspire the hearts, and direct the hands and feet of their teams. (Learn more about these principles in the essay “Three Impact Points of Leadership”) it’s in this context that this simple of idea, to “Praise in Public, Coach in Private” comes to life.

There are so many “leadership moments” that occur every day in a leaders work life that it is impossible to pre-plan your message/tone/approach for every high impact moment. Certainly there are key meetings, presentations, speeches, etc. where pre-planning is a must; being intentional about your content, your context and your approach is not optional! It IS a requirement of leadership. My comments today are about all of those unplanned, unrehearsed moments that are high impact situations without the benefit of pre-planning. In my experience keeping the idea of “Praise in Public, Coach in Private” close at hand will serve all leaders well.

Praise in Public: in situations where you encounter positive outcomes or positive actions from your team, don’t shy away from praising the individual or the team publically. Whether live, on a conf call, or on a group email, let the team know WHAT you like in the situation and maybe more importantly WHY you like it! Let it out, don’t hold it in! Your team wants and NEEDS to know what you value and what great performance looks like. Across my years in business I have never been in a situation where I have felt an organization had too much praise, or had “become soft” because of excessive praise. Across all the engagement surveys and team input sessions, the lack of feedback from senior leadership was MUCH more common an issue.

Coach in Private: in situations opposite from the above, where the results and/or the approach to the work did not meet expectations try to avoid public environments for pinpointed/direct/negative feedback. If you really want that individual/team to learn from the moment, the last thing you want them thinking about is their embarrassment in front of their friends and peers. Equally for high performing associates who “got this one wrong”, you as the leader owe it to them to quietly and privately dive into the situation to see where they or maybe YOU got it wrong as well. Berating high performers publically is a typical first step for those associate to actually listen when headhunters call.

While it seems simple enough, I can promise you it is often hard to put into practice. Recently I participated in a board meeting where the leader became energized on a specific issue brought up by one of his direct reports. Rather than deciding to “Coach in Private”, he dove into the individual with a growing stream of critique and reproach. Not only did the other board members feel left out and ignored the individual in question (a high performer in the company) ultimately shut down and the discussion literally stopped. Was there learning? Was there insight? Was there progress?

Now I know there will be moments where all of us will struggle to bring this idea to life consistently. We will be tempted to “Coach in Public” and maybe “Praise in Private” or more likely to not praise at all. Keep the simple idea of “Praise in Public, Coach in Private” present as you go through your busy lives of leadership, and I am confident that not only will you be a more effective leader, your organization/team will be more energized, engaged, and your results will be more successful.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Advance Your Position

So many of us lead hectic work and personal lives, racing from one commitment to another, on one flight to another, one conference call to another, etc., etc, etc.. I am almost out of breadth just describing our normal pace of life! In previous essays I have shared my thoughts on taking a few moments to proverbially “smell the roses” ( Long Look Garden / Ode to a Shunpiker /The Big Spoon ) and while I am certain that I will write more on that again sometime in the future, this essay is about a simple idea that may help you navigate life in overdrive.

I often think about and try to plan out my calendar a few weeks at a time. I have found it a bit unrealistic to try to go much beyond 3 to 4 weeks out with the ever changing landscape of work commitments, customer meetings and the inherent travel related to these commitments. Even with all the best planning, the combination of my family commitments and my work obligations can at times feel overwhelming. I have found that one approach that helps me a lot is looking ahead at my commitments and working to physically and proverbially get one move ahead, e.g., “advancing my position.”
Here is an example of what I am talking about; every Tuesday I hold a weekly conference call with my team across the country. There is not a specific time slot for the call, due to my constantly changing travel schedule, but I have held it every Tuesday for the past 2-3 years. Well on many Tuesdays I have found myself with a morning customer meeting, the weekly call scheduled mid-day, then a flight off to another work commitment. In these situations I have found that if I move quickly from the morning customer meeting to get to the airport, move directly through security, then off to a quiet corner near my gate, I can lead my weekly team conference call with a little less stress…. again “advancing my position”. Sure it takes a few minutes of forethought, but taking the variable of a “backed up” security line and a possible missed flight out of the equation is a major stress reducer for me.

Equally this idea works as I think about flight schedules. Too many times over my career have I been at the mercy of flight delays and cancellations that have impacted my work obligations. In situations where I have an early meeting in a city that requires a flight, I don’t start looking at the flight that gives me just enough time to barely make the meeting. This essay is NOT titled “By the skin of our teeth”, ha! Instead, I have learned to take those variables out of the equation and if I have a significant meeting commitment, I often will fly into that city the night before, or in the worst case, I will work to book my flight one or two flights early JUST IN CASE something happens … because while we like to plan for best case scenarios, it’s naïve/foolish to do so all the time!

Remember we can’t control everything in our lives but we can control our personal controllables! Work to take the risks and variables out of your personal equation, giving yourself more room to execute the myriad of deliverables on your plate and increasing your chances for success. Try to “Advance Your Position” as you dive into the days and weeks ahead and see if this little/simple idea can be helpful to you to reduce stress and enhancing your chances of success!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Better to Know !

It was early in 2000, I had just moved back to Atlanta after a few years living in Baltimore, and it was time to get serious and find a doctor. I hadn’t quite turned 40, (that was in September 2001, fodder for a future story) and as a new father I was getting focused on four door sedans, life insurance options , and a full time GP. After a few enquiries with friends, I made an appointment with a highly recommended doctor at Piedmont Hospital who was still taking on new patients.

I had stopped by a week before my appointment to give blood so the doctor could do a full workup for my first visit. In normal fashion I arrived a few minutes early and I was impressed when they took me back to the exam room 5 minutes early. After the required measurements (height and weight of course) a nurse did a battery of x-rays as well as taking an EKG. So far, it all seemed very thorough and I was feeling like I was in the right place. Soon enough the doctor came in, introduced himself very professionally and let me know that we were both the same age and that he liked patients that he could relate to directly and very openly. I quickly agreed, saying that I was looking for a doctor that I could see regularly for my annual physicals and any issues that might pop up over the years.

After a few minutes of taking my family history, he asked me whether I thought with a few lifestyle changes I could get my cholesterol “under control.” Since at that time I had no earthly idea what my cholesterol metrics were, I said with an earnest voice that I was certain with a little exercise and by watching my diet I could get things in check. As if I pulled a trigger of some sort, he jumped up and said very loudly, “Mr. Levisay, you are a liar!!” Well I was ready for almost anything that morning but being called a liar by my newly met Doctor was not on the playlist! He exclaimed that my cholesterol number was 357, and that there was NO way with a little exercise and diet I would or could make a dent in it and that if I wasn’t ready to go on a statin drug immediately he would not take me as a patient! With that, he walked out of the exam room, leaving me bewildered in my boxer shorts.

Well the long and short of the story is that I did start taking a statin daily soon after, my cholesterol is now below 150 with a very good split of HDL and LDL levels, and I have a very active relationship with that same doctor, now entering our 13th year. The lesson that day that is certainly true in one’s health but also in your business life is “It’s better to know.” Sure I was living in ignorance before entering that doctor’s office more than 13 years ago, but it was better for me to actually know my cholesterol levels so I could actually DO something about it. This idea is easy to talk about but difficult at times to practice in business; but regardless if your situation SEEMS in growth mode or in trouble mode, “it’s always better to know!”

There is a famous quote from Warren Buffet where he suggests that the stock market is highly fueled by greed and fear and that one should “be greedy when the market is fearful and fearful when the market is greedy.” While a deeply wise idea regarding the stock market, this concept holds true in thinking about this idea of “it’s better to know.” My experience is that in business moment s when things seem to be going great, setting records and beating plan, it’s important to go looking for the areas that might show signs of early weakness. Look for markets or products or at innovation that are not meeting their success hurdles, often not easily seen because they are being eclipsed by the broader success. I use the phrase “look for the dark in the light” to describe this approach. Similarly you need to be able to “look for the light in the dark.” In situations where things are tough, maybe you are behind your plan targets and having significant competitive challenges, it’s easy to become myopic on all the things that are not working, rather than looking for glimpses of success and winning within the broader challenged context.

Just like my cholesterol score from years ago, this lesson that “it’s better to know” is a good adage for business and life. Regardless if situations seem very good or very bad, it’s always makes sense to understand them better; to dig deeper into the moment and seek to find the data to help illuminate the dark (or the light!)

Remember …. It’s always “better to know!”

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Execution is THE Strategy

Execution is THE Strategy

Isn’t it interesting that sometimes it take us years to realize that the lessons we learned a long time ago are needed today? Well that ‘Insight”, if I can be so bold, is present in my work life today, literally going back to a book, a set of meetings, and some key lessons that occurred almost ten years ago.

It was in late 2003 or early 2004, when I was leading retail sales for North America at The Coca Cola Company, when we invited the famous consultant, business adviser, and author Ram Charan to be our keynote speaker at a leadership meeting held in Atlanta. Ram, along with Larry Bossidy, had just released their book “Execution, The art of getting things done” ( and Ram lead a very focused and energetic discussion around the singular concept of “Execution.” At that time the business world I was immersed in was looking for new strategic avenues for growth, thinking that new products, new ad campaigns, new markets, possibly new categories were all the preferred routes for growth. This idea of Ram’s around building a culture of “execution”, literally focusing on the operating system itself and becoming maniacal around measuring and improving a company’s “execution metrics” seemed too simple, or maybe that we “had been there & done that.” Well little did I know that almost ten years later I was digging out my copy of his book and finding it relevant and highly impactful to my business today!

I have been at Bolthouse Farms for almost three years now and I am so proud of this company, our wonderful healthy products, and the amazing team I get to work with every day! We have had a lot of success growing our business broadly over the past three years and I have had the chance to learn and grow in this role in ways I didn’t always anticipate. As a leader when you work with a talented, motivated, and focused team much of your work is done. Well that is my very fortunate truth! In that light, we have reached new heights in parts of our business not by exploring new team configurations, or new categories but by building our “Execution” muscles.

One specific example came to mind recently when we worked on ways of taking a historic successful promotion to new heights. We followed a few simple pathways that you might find helpful in your business:

1) Expand your “expectations” for success. It’s easy to think that your historic successes are “tapped out” and that your focus as a leader should be on the areas not working as well. Not so fast! Take your best performing situations (markets/brands/promotions/etc) and raise your own expectations for success. If it’s been that good in the past, maybe we could/should expect 10%, 20% or even 30% greater performance in the future.

2) Use your “best in class” performance to guide the average. In any situation the average of any performance is made up of high, mid and low performers, the typical “bell curve” reality. We looked inside of this strong performing promotion and looked for the best performing market in the past. With that as a model, we took the actions and practices form that market and started building the playbook for broader translation.

3) Nurture next phase “best in class” performers. Identify solid performing entities (markets/ reps/distributors) that are in the middle of the “bell curve” but that are open to new ideas/thinking/approaches. Use them as pilots to try ideas from your new “playbook” (see #2) and soon you have multiple entities competing to be the very best.

4) Correct the “bottom of the bottom”. Look hard at the very bottom of the “bell curve” and identify the absolutely WORST performing entities (markets/ reps/distributors). Take personal action; get involved to understand the situation and identify the core barriers of success and take actions to correct some of the barriers NOW. Maybe “best in class” is beyond expectations, but for the lowest performing entities, average performance looks great!

While these four ideas or pathways aren’t exactly found in Ram’s book, our focus on core executional principles rings very true to his principles. Through these four simple ideas, we have continued to create new levels of executional success and thus new levels of results for our business!

While it might indicate certain “slowness” in my leadership capabilities that it took me almost ten years to apply his lessons, I am certainly re-energized around the idea that “execution” in itself can be the central strategy for productive marketplace growth. Be careful not to be tempted to look only outside your business for the keys for growth. It’s is my experience that there are tremendous opportunities for growth and success by looking deeply at your execution metrics today and making that focus a core strategy for your business in the future!