Friday, December 20, 2019

"Steadfastness" at Sunrise

As we turn toward the Christmas holiday break, with so much to be thankful for and to appreciate in our lives, I want to take a moment today to reflect on a theme/idea that I have been focused on this week... the concept of "Steadfastness."

Steadfastness; noun, the quality of being resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.

In some ways it is such an old fashioned word, not used in everyday conversation often, but one that is really ringing true to me as 2019 comes to a close.  This idea of being "unwavering" in times of challenge, "resolute" in times of uncertainty and "dutifully firm" when others might waver is an important ideal for leaders across the board.

Earlier this week, on my weekly call with my key leaders, I shared this word and concept as a key reminder for my team as we close out 2019 and pivot into 2020.  Just a short six months ago we closed on the purchase of Bolthouse Farms and what a six months it has been!  New teams being formed, a big business being stabilized, massive innovation being developed and launched into the market ( shipping to stores near you in early 2020, ha!!) , operating processes being re-qualified, and the list goes on! There is so much to be proud of and so much to do... six months in lets us see our progress and at the same time clarifies the amount of work that still its ahead.  It is that clarity that can seem daunting at times and what has triggered me to think about this concept of "steadfastness," and to encourage my team to be "unwavering on the path ahead.

In our business, being a large fresh produce company who plants and harvests carrots literally 364 days a year, this time of year can be challenging.  The demand is high for carts during the holiday window November through January and the weather can be tough.  This year is no exception, with a rainy streak happening in our key growing regions that makes the harvesting process challenging.  Our Ag team is doing heroic work, and we are serving our customers very well right now but every weather forecast update is a bit nerve racking, making it hard to stay "steadfast" in the face of forecasted weather events.  It is in this context that I share the photo above, sunrise over the Tehachapi pass in California.

I took this picture Wednesday morning from the parking lot at Bolthouse Farms in Bakersfield , looking east into the mountains.  As you can see , the sunrise was incredible that morning and while certainly pretty, it actually filled me with a sense of calm and confidence on the challenges that are ahead.  That sunrise reminded me ( physically and metaphorically) that beautiful dawns do come after dark and rainy nights, that the light of a new day brings possibilities and creative ideas, and that the light of that sky could help inspire me to be "unwavering" and "steadfast" as we find our way through whatever challenges that lie ahead!  I hope you can find a "sunrise" in your world over the next few weeks so that your path can be "steadfast" and "unwavering" in the face of whatever challenges that lie ahead!

postscript, "Steadfastness" for the holidays: I just wanted to add that I am encouraging my team, and I hope you do the same, to have a great and restive holiday with with families and friends as much as possible.  This is an important restorative time to be with your loved ones, to "recharge" physically and emotionally and to rebuild your personal "steadfastness batteries" so you can be fresh and ready for the the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in 2020!!

Monday, November 25, 2019

One Down and Two Deep

No, this is not some shorthand clue from a crossword puzzle…. Instead it’s a succession planning/organizational development concept that I have been working on in my new role at Bolthouse Farms.

As many of you know, I worked at Bolthouse Farms from 2009-2015 and had a great run at the company during that time.  We drove a lot of growth and expansion in the business during those years and I was one of the partners that lead the sale of the company to Campbell’s in 2012. ( 

In hindsight there are a ton of things that I am proud of from those days and both the business dynamics, the exceptional results and the wonderful people I had a chance to work with during that time top the list!  After leaving the company in early 2015, I started a consulting business and had NO CLUE that I would ever get a chance to come back to that same company, being one of the partners that bought the company back from Campbell’s last summer, closing on the purchase in June 2019.  Now as one of the lead executives at the company, we are working hard to get the company stabilized and to rebuild it into a dynamic, high growth fresh platform centered on the idea of “Plant Powering People.” (more on that in a future post for sure!)

It’s rare in a person’s career to have a chance to come back to a business, almost five years after you left it and work on building or re-building a once strong legacy.  The Campbell’s years were tough for Bolthouse Farms, and there are a lot of things to repair/correct/improve/change to get the company back on a growth path but no area is more important in that perspective than rebuilding the talent at the company for that journey ahead.  It’s in that spirit that I have been thinking about this idea about leadership development and succession planning that is captured in the title of this essay….” one down and two deep.”

The idea is simple… every leader take a moment and think about their direct reports “one down”, not the entire team of leaders in your organization but just your direct reports. Sketch that group out on a single sheet and then ask yourself if every one of those individuals are performing well in their roles, leading their teams well, generating great results and are “ready now” to move up or over into new roles that the business might need as it grows and expands.  It’s no small feat to say, “yes” to all the above attributes but if you can say “yes”, then you are mark yourself in good shape “one down.”  While this is a big step, the real challenge is to push yourself to see if you have high performing/”ready now” internal leaders ready to fill all of those     “one down” roles if needed, the step that checks readiness “two deep.”  

On a recent flight I did this “exercise” and was pretty blown away by the results.  We are rebuilding the leadership level in the company now and all of my direct reports are new to their roles, and while most are “alumni hires,” (folks who had worked at Bolthouse Farms in the past and who have come back to create the next chapter of success and growth in the company’s 104 year young history,) all of my direct reports are new to their roles and are doing great…. but while “doing great,” certainly not “ready now” to move into another leadership opening if needed. (“One down”) The real eye opener was taking the next step… thinking deeply about “their direct reports” and THEIR readiness to move up or over if needed.  As I thought about that group, “two deep,” it is filled with talented folks doing great work, but not full with “ready now” leaders who could move into key openings if required.  

This is in no way a critique of our organization, quite the opposite. The team that has come together is fantastic, highly skilled, highly motivated and totally rocks!  I am privileged to work with a group of team members who are so focused on the mission of the company and the tough work ahead.  What the exercise DOES illuminate is the idea that a leader’s job about nurturing and growing leadership talent is never done! We need to work hard on identifying young leaders “coming up” in the organization and work on getting them the experiences/exposure/mentoring/etc. that will help them achieve their leadership potential in our company.  Try this exercise, looking “one down,” and assessing your leadership team’s readiness “two deep,” and cascade the approach to your leaders.  I am confident that it might be a bit eye-openeing but also very helpful as you build your organization’s leaders for the future!

Monday, October 21, 2019

"A Militant Commitment to the Basics"

Recently I had the pleasure to have one of my Bolthouse Farms leadership team partners ( and good friend) Zak spend some time with me in Atlanta!  We have been "working our brains out" since well before we closed on buying back the company from Campbell's last June and it was a real treat to have him stop by and stay at my house and for us to work together from my home office a few weeks ago.  He was routing through Atlanta, coming from one of our customer's annual conferences and shared a number of headlines from his time there.  One theme came from the main stage presentation of the conference when the speaker commented that to be successful, one needed to have ...." A militant commitment to the basics!"  This phrase has really stuck with me over the past few weeks.  It is highly pertinent to the situation that I find myself in today in my work at Bolthouse Farms and it rings VERY true as I reflect on my career over the past 30+ years.  I want to take a few moments today to dig into this concept, and do a bit of exegesis as we explore its elements.

Militant: adj.  "Aggressively active, (as in a cause)

So many businesses need 100% attention, focus and energy and the business we bought last June is a perfect example.  The previous management team was focused on "selling the business", not "running the business" and the the recent business results tell the tale!  NO business nor organization runs on auto pilot and ALL businesses and organizations need intense, active focus.  The concept of being "militant" or "aggressively active" feels so apt and appropriate... we as leaders should not aspire to JUST be active, we need to work on being "aggressively active" in our work and actions!

Commitment: noun.  "an act of committing to a charge or trust"

At any level in an organization, we are NOT taking a role to only partially commit to the work required.  If we are in a role, and this is especially true for leaders, we need to be 110% INTO the role and the work required.  Especially when times are tough, or when business results are challenged (both ringing true for me today,) we need to check ourselves and insure that we are 110% "committed" to the role/work/team/budget/challenges that lie ahead.  We can't control so many things in the landscape of our work, but we CAN control our own levels of "commitment!"

Basics: noun.  "something that is foundational or fundamental"

It is so easy, especially when things are troubled or challenging in business to look for a new approach or strategy to change trends and drive future success.  While certainly needed and appropriate at times, it is ALWAYS appropriate to dig or grind into the fundamentals or foundational elements of a business.  I have found that after being away from Bolthouse Farms for over 4 years, I have needed to dig back into the "basics" of the business to really understand where we are and where we need to go!

I am very appreciative that Zak shared this message from the customer convention and I am very appreciative and committed to our partnership along with the other leaders at Bolthouse Farms!  All of us would do well to dig into these words and this theme and to push ourselves to bring them alive every day.  I hope that you leaders reading this essay can find an idea or an approach to bring alive in your organizations and i am confident that taking a "militant commitment to the basics" will serve you well on the challenges that lie ahead!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Your first loss is your best loss"

It's been three months since we closed on the purchase of buying Bolthouse Farms back from Campbells and what a ride!  The work has been beyond intense, the team dynamics inspiring on the whole to say the least, the short term business challenges have been extreme ( products of very poor business decision making by the past Campbells management team, but more on that later!!) and the list goes on....

I am so happy to be in this role, at this moment in my professional life, but it's quite a challenge on all fronts.  After more than 34 years in business, and after having spent 6 years here before ( 2009-2015 as Chief Customer Officer) the business issues & challenges are certainly requiring me to bring "all I have" to bear on what we have to handle.  I am humbled to have the chance to play a key leadership role at this moment in the 104 year history of Bolthouse Farms and am ready for the twists and turns in the months/quarters and years ahead!

In that spirit of humility, I pass along this story coming from a visit from none other than Bill Bolthouse Jr. , the historic leader of this company and the 4th ( it could be 5th??) generation of Bolthouse Family members that have lead this company from a small family farm in Grant Michigan to a leader in the produce industry today.  He and a number of his team members came to visit us in Bakersfield recently; he wanted to see the plant and connect with us as the the current leadership team who have the job to fix a ton of  damage caused to the business by Campbells over the past few years.  We spent an hour or so in one of our conference rooms, reconnecting and talking about the challenges we are facing and our plans for the path forward before he and his team went on a plant tour.  Bill was very respectful and pretty quiet throughout the meeting.  After one discussion of a particularly bad decision made by Campbells regarding acreage planning, he blurted out that ...." you're first loss is often your best loss!"  I had never heard that phrase before but in this circumstance , and in so many, it is deeply true!

The specific situation he commented on occurred not quite a year ago when the historic Campbells management team started to realize that they were "long on acres." The farms ag team came forward to write-off the extra acres and adjust the planting plans for the winter.  While it would have had a significant negative P&L impact ($1-$2mm), it was clearly the right decision to make at the time        ( remember this as the "First loss".). Instead, the management team in all its hubris pushed forward with the original planting plan and pushed the organization to "fix it."  Well, right before closing that one decision grew from a $1-$2mm problem to a $10-$12mm mess .... all created because the historic leaders couldn't see that "your first loss is often your best loss."

When we talked about that story to Mr. Bolthouse, he talked about how hard that lesson is to learn, but how true it is in agriculture ( and in business broadly!) We all need to work on our ability to recognize when we need to take the "first loss" and not try to push/force/manipulate/etc. the situation to create an outcome that will never come to pass.  This is about judgment, patience and perspective and how to deploy them as leaders, not anger, impatience and hubris as failed leadership traits.  The next time you are facing a tough situation that might produce a challenging "loss," pause for a moment and ask yourself if this is might actually be a good "first loss" to accelerate into action!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

“Alacrity”… a critical word and idea for leaders…

It has been eight weeks since we closed on the purchase of Bolthouse Farms, and what a wild ride it has been!  The business is in rough shape and needs a lot of work.  The organization is in flux, and has been through a lot over the past few years, and the team and our culture needs a lot of nurturing.  I think across the board there is a feeling of excitement and a recognition that there is a ton changing in every aspect of our company; so when I say its been a wild ride I do think it's a bit of an understatement!!

Immediately in week one, I “re-instituted” my “weekly performance management calls”, where we review the metrics of the business (every Tuesday) and review the key issues and focus points for the company broadly, and key themes by department. This is a process/discipline that I have written about in a number of essays ( and an approach that worked very well for me in my last “stint” at Bolthouse Farms, 2009-2015!  This process/discipline may seem boring or monotonous to some, but “beating the drumbeat” of a business with regular reviews of performance, and a regular “refocusing” on the key issues is ALWAYS productive and will ALWAYS be part of my playbook!

  It was on one of these weekly calls that I was reviewing the every growing list of important & urgent priorities on our action list when I shared the concept of “alacrity” with the team with little pre-planning.  We have so much on our plates right now and while energizing, it is really hard work and as a sample of one I am working the hardest that I can remember across my career!  It seemed critical to me to try to bring energy and positivity to the work at hand for me personally and I wanted to share to the team broadly how we all had to dive in with a positive and energetic spirit.  A number of team members on the call looked up the word to insure that I wasn't taking too many liberties with its application to our circumstances and indeed, I was pretty close in my usage!!

Alacrity: noun
cheerful readiness, promptness, or willingness:We accepted the invitation with alacrity.
liveliness; briskness.

After the call was finished I had some team members suggest that the message was appropriate for a broader audience in the company (not just the folks on the weekly call) and we crafted an email to share later that week, summarizing some key themes and sharing the idea of “alacrity” as a key idea/attitude/approach that I was trying to adopt in this “wild” time!  A wonderful surprise was the hilarious picture below, which was put together by two members of my team ( AJ & Pam !!) who wanted to “illuminate” the idea in an easy to remember image!  There is no doubt that “Buddy the Elf” is filled with many things but he certainly dives into the challenges he faces filled with “Alacrity!!”

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Ten years later.... Bruce Paynter's legacy is alive and pushing me forward!

Its hard to imagine that ten years ago the week, my good friend and old boss passed away after his fight with the disease, ALS.  It was a unique and complicated/challenging time, and I view it as a real treasure of my life that I was able to spend a lot of time with Bruce in the months and weeks before his passing.  The stories, the little interactions, the funny moments of those times together all add up to an unusual collage of remembrance and lessons... many of which I have passed along in previous essays and a few that I will share as easy links in the following paragraphs.

Since Bruce's passing, I have shared his story not just through this blog but with groups of folks in retreats and presentations that I have lead at Bolthouse Farms or with a number of my consulting clients.   Hundreds of folks who never knew Bruce up in Appleton Wisconsin have come to know his humor, his insights and his wisdom primarily through the stories of those days I had with him in the spring and early summer of 2009.

While many of his stories hit home,  the video above that he made for the folks at Kimberly-Clark has been a keepsake of mine for the past ten years.   I keep it on my laptop desktop and rewatch it regularly, especially when I feel that I need a little nudge from my friend Bruce!   Another story  that has really triggered a lot of attention is his view of "Authenticity, the Foundation of Leadership." This specific story, and the related chart reviewed in the essay has really connected to a wide range of folks across roles and work environments.  The idea that "authentic leaders" have the greatest organizational impact and Bruce's view that the basis of authenticity is the alignment of a leaders "words and actions!"  Staying on the "authenticity rail" is a  significant concept in this area and I have watched it really connect to executives in their own leadership journeys over the past ten years.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Authenticity", the Foundation of Leadership

Last week I had the chance, the fortune, to spend a few days with my friend Bruce who has ALS.  I have written about him before, see the entry "Always pursue the Truth";  and while his disease is taking it's expected, unrelenting course, my time with him was precious.  Over the course of a day or so, we had the chance to have some amazing conversations which ranged widely over topics that Bruce wanted to talk about.  There were three conversations though that have stayed with me, that have affected me deeply, and over the course of the next few weeks I am going to write about all three.  The following is one that has to do with "Authenticity" and "Leadership".

As I commented on in earlier entries, Bruce was my first boss out of business school and proceeded to have a very significant career at a major, publicly traded, consumer products company.  He held a number of senior executive roles across his career and had the responsibility and accountability for a multi-billion dollar business and a large organization in his last role.  I am not sure what prompted him during my last visit, but somewhat out of the blue, Bruce brought up the topic of "Leadership" and asked me what I thought about "Authenticity" as a leadership characteristic.  Rather than diving into a rambling "sermonette" of my opinions on the subject, I had the good sense to ask Bruce what he thought about this idea of "Authenticity" in a leadership context.  Even with his voice restricted by a respirator, he started to talk about "Authenticity" as a critical variable in leaders.  That organizations knew immediately whether their leader was being "Authentic" or not .  In those moments of "Authenticity" , Bruce felt that organizations trusted their leaders dramatically more than when there were impressions of Leadership "Inauthenticity".

I asked Bruce how he evaluated/measured "Authenticity".  His comments rang true to my experience, but I was having a hard time trying to figure out how you might evaluate/assess this characteristic.  He said very simply, "alignment between words and actions".  He talked about an executive that he worked closely with who "talked a good game" about caring for and being focused on his team; but his actions showed that he really cared for and was focused on himself.  A clear example of misalignment between words and actions... a clear example of a lack of "Leadership Authenticity."As a result,  the organization doesn't and probably won't trust this leader very well.  Obviously a limiter to performance. In many  ways it would have been better for everyone, including the broader organization, if the executive in the example wasn't trying to portray an image that was so different from who he really is.  

Since returning home, I found an old article from 1997 written by Kevin Cashman, titled "Authentic Leadership".  The following is a quote from the article that articulates Bruce's point well:  

The foundation of leadership is authenticity. How do we go about expressing ourselves more authentically?  I constantly challenge clients to ask, “Where is my leadership coming from?”  Do our actions originate from deep within ourselves, or are they coming from a more superficial, limited place?  Is our leadership arising from our character, the essence of who we are?  Or is it only coming from our persona, the external personality we’ve created to cope with life circumstances.

As I mentioned above , I am not sure what prompted Bruce to want to talk about this topic; but I have always found Bruce to be an amazingly "Authentic" person, friend, and boss.  This conversation gave me more to think about regarding the alignment of my words and actions, my "Leadership Authenticity". I hope that it might be a trigger for you too!

I sincerely miss Bruce and would love to have his available today as I dive into my new role as President of Bolthouse Farms Brands.  I could really use his good humored "push/nudge," his encouragement for me to go beyond my limited current thinking and find key insights for future performance.  As I reflects on the picture above of his grave in a lovely cemetery near the river in Appleton, I am once again reminded of his lessons for me today!!  Take a close look and you will see one of Bruce's constant quotes "Always pursue the truth..." on the bottom of the cemetery marker.  I can literally hear those words in my ears today, from 30+ years ago when I was a marketing assistant at Kimberly-Clark, working for Bruce, when I brought him some sort of analysis that was not quite finished and he would send me back to my cube with those words ringing in my ears.  While certainly appropriate then, with is very applicable for me today!  The business I have just jumped back into is in decline, and with lots of challenges across the board and a cursory review of the facts.... "the truth" will not cut it!  I need to listen to Bruce's advice today and push my company to dig deeper, search harder and "always pursue the truth" as we clarify the road ahead.

A ten year memory and salute to my friend and mentor.... Bruce Paynter!!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Significant Digits for 6/17/19: 200, 11, & 2 !

June 17, 2019 is going to go down in my personal history as a notable day on a wide number of fronts, and while the closing of the transaction to buy back Bolthouse Farms from Campbell's
(more on that later) it isn't the only significant event (or figure) that needs to be be noted today!

200:  This essay makes the 200th that I have posted over the life of this blog.   The topics have covered a wide range of topics across the 200 essays.   On the personal front there are stories of my grandmothers, my Aunt Lorraine and mother, my dad, my wife Jennie and our two kids Bryson and Marie.  There are over 100 essays on the topics of leadership, strategic planning, branding, and performance management; quite literally the list goes on!  It has been an amazing journey for me personally, which started in 2009 with some old friends from Coke wanting me to publish a story or two about my grandmother (the original "Turkey Bag" story became the first essay back in early 2009) and while VERY reluctant at first, I now think about writing essays all the time and miss my "writing time" if its been too long between essays!  I NEVER thought of myself as a writer but I always thought of myself as a storyteller and sometimes those stories can only be shared in written form.  As of today, there have been almost 60k page views from over 35 countries ( just last month I had almost 100 page views from separate readers in France of a specific essay.... impossible to know how or why that happened.... humbled by the interest and attention!)

11: Eleven years ago I left Coke and began a journey that has brought me to this amazing moment today.  At that time in the spring of 2008, with the financial crisis just beginning to emerge, it was a very scary time for me professionally and personally.  I wasn't sure of the path ahead, I didn't have a clear career plan charted post-Coke and the future looked uncertain and at times beyond intimidating.  Now eleven years later, that departure opened my world in so many ways, and allowed me to grow professionally and personally!  I am so thankful for my family and friends that have supported me so deeply through that journey, none more steadfast than my wife Jennie.  Through her support and the support of others I found my way to Bolthouse Farms back in 2009 (and started writing this blog that same year), started a thriving consulting practice in 2015, and am now improbably heading back to Bolthouse Farms as President starting today!

2: Its rare in life to be able to think about your legacy and take actions to affect it in your professional and personal lives!  In 2005 I wrote a little book on leadership while at Coke, titled Find Your Legacy, that began a journey for me on thinking about and trying to take action on this concept of "Legacy" in my professional life and roles.  Over three thousand copies of the "little book" were distributed inside and outside of Coke and there have been thousand of page views and meeting/retreat discussions on the same topic over the past 10+ years.  The rare and special opportunity I feel today is the chance to work on that Legacy at Bolthouse Farms for a 2nd time!  Joining forces with my friend and work partner for almost thirty years Jeff Dunn, we are diving back into Bolthouse Farms not only to fix/correct a number of business dynamics that have occurred during the past seven years under the ownership of The Campbell Soup Company, but to rebuild a strong, industry leading,  and enduring commercial and operating platform in the fresh/produce industry!  In other terms rebuilding a strong legacy foundation for the next chapter in the the 104+ year history of Bolthouse Farms!

I will close with a simple and humble thank you!  Thanks to all the family, friends and work partners who have been part of this amazing journey and a big presumptive thank you to my family, friends and the folks at Bolthouse Farms for being there for me and with me on the journey opening up in the months and years ahead!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Cherry Pie and a glass of milk…. interview tips from a diner counter…

As I have mentioned in previous essays, I have had the chance to work from a very early age. Somewhere close to my 11thbirthday, I took over my brother’s paper route when he got a “real” after school job.  After a few years delivering papers, I moved up in the world and got a job as a dishwasher at a local ice cream shop in a neighboring town.  While the job did have its benefits (mostly in hot fudge sundaes,) the pay was not very good and I started looking for a move up the economic ladder!  Soon I heard that the diner in our small town (Dick’s Diner, Murrysville Pa., still open today!) was accepting applications and I decided to stop by after school and fill out an application. 

Dick’s Diner was a favorite of our family at the time; we were regulars on Saturdays for lunch or an early dinner.  They were known for great daily specials (The Spanish Swiss Steak), diner classics (hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches) and of course their pie (Coconut Cream, Dutch Apple and so many more!!)  I stopped in that day, now more than forty years ago and sat at the counter and asked for an application … thinking it wise to order a slice of cherry pie and a glass of ice cold milk to help in the application process.  The application was straightforward, I had solid experience in being a bus boy and dishwasher, and the pie and milk combo totally rocked.  I felt great about the whole approach until the bill arrived and I realized that I didn't have a dime to my name in my jeans pockets…. nothing in my bill fold, nothing in the car, years before credit cards were widely accepted (and I certainly didn't have one!) no ATM’s, no Venmo, no nothing!!  Here I was applying for a job and I couldn't pay my bill … I was embarrassed and mortified!!

Here is where the “interview advice” comes in because crazy stuff happens in life and this crazy moment happened to me applying for a job as a teenager.  The question isn’t whether crazy/challenging moments will occur in your professional life (they will!!) but how will you deal with those unexpected curveballs as they happen.

Back to the diner counter… after realizing my dilemma, I asked to see the supervisor to giver her my application and ask a couple of questions.  One of the old time waitresses gave me a little look but went back into the kitchen and brought out Wanda, the stern day-shift supervisor.  I handed her my application and sheepishly told here that I didn't have the money to pay my bill, but that I lived 15 min away (she had my address on the application) and I would drive straight home, get the money and be back in thirty minutes to pay the bill AND leave a tip. Wanda didn't say much, she just told me that I better get going if I was going to be back in thirty minutes.  I took off in my 1970 Chevelle and got home, got the cash and got back with a few moments to spare.  I sat back at the counter and there was Wanda, candidly surprised to see me.  She said that she hadn’t expected to see me again and certainly not back that quickly! 

The best thing I did that afternoon so many years ago was to deal with my problem directly…. No B.S., just a candid admission of MY error/problem and a clear action plan on how to move to resolution.  In any job environment, one thing a hiring manager is ALWAYS trying to assess is the ethical makeup of a candidate.  That moment at the counter turned into a “live TV” test of just that, allowing me to demonstrate my trustworthiness there and then!  If you are faced with a challenging moment or issue in an interview moment, deal with it straight on, admit the issue and work the problem, DON’T try to talk your way out it!

Lucky for me, Wanda and Dick’s Diner took a chance of yours truly and I worked there all through high school and loved the place.  To this day every time I get back home I stop in with Jimmy and Dave (my two high school buddies that still live there) and grab a meal at the diner and always try to squeeze in a slice of pie for old times sake!!  

Monday, April 29, 2019

Four “balancing points” for leaders

I just a few weeks, I will have the privilege to move into a significant leadership role in an organization very close to my heart.  I will talk more about the “big deal” in future essays (post closing) but for now I just want to express how honored I am to have the chance to have an impact and how seriously and intensely I am diving into the work ahead!

Through the process of due diligence I have been reacquainting myself with the business, digging into a number of key issues/opportunities and working to build a path forward that will be productive, thoughtful, category leading and filled with profitable growth (I know, no small feat!!)  This drive to reinvigorate profitable growth and industry leadership is at the core of my focus and as I dive into the work, I keep finding myself “balancing” four key focus points or leadership principles that I want to cover today:

·     Strategic Vision
·     Patience
·     High Expectations
·     Humility

These four ideas are central for leaders in any role in any organization.  What is unique for me is the dynamic that I am working to balance all four simultaneously in a moving and dynamic business situation and organization.  The image I keep thinking about is that of a table, with four legs that can expand and retract dramatically.  While I have no expectations for a calm/peaceful steady state “always perfectly flat and level” table, I do realize that I need to keep all four elements (legs) active and moving at all times, and that the dynamic of a “balanced” and productive leadership platform is a highly challenging and dynamic exercise! Lets take a second with each of these four “principles”

·     Strategic Vision
o  Definition:
§  The strategic vision provides an overview of where you want to be at in a specific time in the future. It helps provide an overarching principle(s) for all the detail contained in later sections. ... The strategic vision should present the ideal, but achievable, outcome.

Leaders must set the course ahead for the organization to understand and for all to clearly know “where are we going??” and “what does winning look like??” After having been away from the business for more than four years, and from seeing the mostly negative impact that the previous owners have had on the business, the road ahead is clear … a path of innovation, growth and exceptional execution re-focused on the foundational principles of the business and the brand.

·     Patience
o  Definition
§  The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

It is so tempting to try to fix or change EVERYTHING at once… to get AA the parts humming in perfect order literally in the first few weeks or months post closing on the business…. a innocent and naïve approach for sure!  I think back to two well read essays from this blog, “Aunt Lorraine’s Law” and “ Do Fewer Thing Better” both of which were MY admonishments to leaders to exercise patience, especially in the face of big challenges (the like of which I am facing now.)  Now is a key moment when I need to listen to my own advice, in balance with these other principles.

·     High Expectations
o  Definition
§  The word expectation comes from the Latin word expectation, meaning, "an awaiting." If you have great expectations, you think something good will come your way, but if keep your expectations low, you won't risk being disappointed.

Regardless of a sense of “patience,” leaders MUST set, model and expect high levels of performance from themselves and their teams.  Even in the most challenging moments (maybe most important in those tough moments) keeping your expectations high for the performance results of the next week/month/quarter/etc. is vital for successful leaders.

·     Humility
o  Definition
§  freedom from pride or arrogance the quality or state of being humble

I am a big believer that leaders need to be appreciative and “humbled” by the role they play.  The chance to lead organizations and teams of individuals is no small thing and we, as leaders need to be deeply appreciative of our roles.  Too many models of bombastic/arrogant/prideful political and business leaders surround us today, and I for one think back to the most impactful leaders in my 30+-year business career and I assure you they were not that kind.   The individuals that left the biggest mark on me were the ones who were great teachers, ones that know how to balance these four principles effortlessly (at least it seemed so) and who took the time to work with me and to build my skills and experiences in the roles I had AND for future opportunities.

I wanted to take a moment this week to share these four ideas and how I am working to find a balance for all of them as I dive into the road ahead on my end. As leaders I encourage you to keep all four ideas active in your minds and realize that there is no “steady state”, “perfectly level” leadership situation or moment!  You will need to tradeoff one versus the other, and keep balancing or re-balancing these four leadership attributes to handle and succeed in the moment at hand… good luck with your balancing efforts!

Monday, April 15, 2019

A generous and gentle act of kindness at the Bakersfield airport…

Let me start by saying the past few weeks and months have been a wild ride, culminating in signing a big deal that lead me to Bakersfield last week.    While I am sure that I will cover this “new deal” in coming essays, I want to share a story that happened very early Saturday morning as I was heading home to Atlanta.

It was a little past 5:30 am, with a cheap cup of coffee in hand that I made my way to gate 3 at BFL (the airport code for Bakersfield.)  Early mornings are busy at the airport and last Saturday was no exception; multiple flights heading to multiple cities all leaving between 6and 7 am.  Gate 3 had the Denver flight, which I was taking enroute to Atlanta and just before general boarding; a young mother brought her eight or nine year old daughter up to the gate.  I realized immediately from past experience that the young girl was flying to Denver as an unaccompanied minor and the mom had the paperwork envelope and was reviewing it with the gate agent.  Once the paperwork was finished, the mom turned to the little girl and they both completely melted down…. right at the jetway to gate 3.

It was a heart wrenching scene, mom and daughter hugging tightly, both sobbing/shaking and when it was time for the flight attendant to escort the little girl down to the plane it was so hard to watch.  The mom, fully in tears, waved and blew kisses and ultimately slumped into a seat by the gate, trying to wipe the tears from her eyes to no avail.  All this set the stage as general boarding was called…. such a sad scene, so early on a Saturday morning!

BFL is not serviced by Delta so Saturday I was on a United flight to Denver, changing planes and airlines to make the Delta flight back to Atlanta.  Since I don't have very good status on United, I was in one of the last boarding groups and as I got on the plane I noted a young woman sitting in my seat. As I reached for my ticket I realized that not only was she in my seat, she was sitting in the seat immediately next to the little girl in tears.  The young woman maybe 18-20 years old, caught my eye and silently directed me into her seat across the aisle, one row up.  I didn’t blink and eye and got into my seat and belted in for the flight to Denver.

The next two hours of the flight were completely inspiring…. The young woman holding the little girl’s hand, telling her stories, showing her pics on her phone and by the time we were halfway to Denver they were playing some game on an I-pad and giggling like dear friends… it was beyond charming!  I was blown away by how kind it was for that young woman to take control of the situation, change seats to be close to the crying girl, and to make the entire context of the moment, especially for the little girl, completely renewed!

As we exited the plane, many us had to wait for our bags that had been gate checked and as I was standing planeside, the young woman came off the plane heading to destinations unknown.  Not wanting to be pushy, I just motioned to her and as she slowed, I told her what a wonderful thing she had done that morning and how impressed I was by what she did and how she did it!!  Only slowing a touch, she said a big thank you and said that is was no big deal, anyone would have done that!

In retrospect I am certain that the young woman was wrong when she said, “anyone would have done that!!” Unfortunately we are living in a time too filled with anger, suspicion and caustic rhetoric rather than simple and generous acts of kindness in our communities, our companies or even in a small Californian airport!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"It's really hard to be late when you are 8 minutes early...."

To start, this essay is not a rant, nor a tirade on the lack of punctuality broadly in professional environments across America.  In fact, inspired by a coffee "meeting" this morning, it is a reminder of the power and impact of timliness and punctuality in our everyday personal and professional lives.

Earlier today, I had scheduled to meet a friend of my son Bryson's ( a fellow Bruin and Ultimate player, Michale P.) at a great coffee place in Westwood near the UCLA campus.  While originally the plan was to meet at 7:30am, I needed to move it back to 8 am due to some early conference calls on my end and Michael was super flexible to make the change.  Having "advanced my position," ( see   for more on that topic)  I actually did the calls from outside the coffee shop and was finished with twenty minutes to spare and who walks up to say good morning twenty minutes early but Michael !  With no reference or context I blurted out a phrase that my family and most everyone who has ever worked with/for me have heard me say hundreds of times that "its really hard to be late when you are 8 minutes early!"  While it sounds a bit wacky, I deeply believe that being on-time is MOST of the time a choice, an outgrowth of our choices, and MOST of the time deeply in our control.

This approach work on being a bit early to things stems form my early childhood.  My dad was a Navy veteran and the ships he served on worked on a timetable and a set of "watches" that were rigorously upheld with little variance.  As kids the idea that we might be late for Church, or god forbid a flight, was beyond comprehension!  When I was 10 or 11 I took over my brothers paper route  (The Pittsburgh Press, evenings through the week and Sunday mornings) and if those papers weren't delivered by 5 pm Mon-Sat and by 8 am on Sundays, there was hell to pay from my paper route customers!  Later in high school I worked in a 24 hr. diner  in my hometown and while it never closed ( in those days it only closed on Christmas day), every shift had its duties and after school each day I needed to bring up ( from the store rooms in the basement) the flour , sugar, yeast, pie fillings, etc. every day so the night bakers could bake the pies and rolls EVERY night.... always like clockwork!

This deeply ingrained approach was really put to the test in college when I was getting set to take the GMAT's ( the entrance exam for MBA programs) and needed to drive over to a university that was fielding the exam close by to my undergraduate college ( Kent State University was 47 miles from The College of Wooster where I earned my BA.)  Now this was back in 1982, well before any google maps/ I-Phones/Internet/etc. and while I knew how to get to Kent State University ( where I saw the Clash during their "London Calling tour", maybe more on that in an upcoming essay,) I had no idea how to find the building where the GMAT was being given..... long story short, I was on campus in plenty of time but ultimately 25 minutes late to the actual exam room and ultimately bombed the exam!  The good news is that I had time to take it again that winter, and did a lot better the second time around ( arriving 30 min early!!) and ultimately was accepted into Vanderbilt's MBA program and the rest is history, but at that moment the consequences of not being "8 minutes early" seems immense and life changing!

I share all of this background as a reminder that I learned early in my life that being on time ( or maybe even a few minutes early) really matters and that the consequences of being late can be dramatic.  Triggered by Michael's early arrival today, I was reminded on how taking action to arrive early all the time, whether for an early morning coffee or to a major presentation is always a good idea!  It is our choices and actions that will guide whether we are "25 minutes late" to a key event that lies ahead or if we can count on being "8 minutes early" to insure that we are there with plenty of time to make the impact that we desire and intend!

Monday, March 11, 2019

The "Silver Arrow" dynamic in planning

It may seem an odd place to start, but this essay comes from an experience I had at a boy scout camp in Western Pennsylvania as a kid.  The setting is the early 70's, I was a young scout and my brother was five years older than me and an emerging Eagle Scout ( who also earned the "Order of the Arrow" which is quite a distinction) and my dad was the Scoutmaster of our troop in Murrysville Pennsylvania, my home town.  Every summer the scouting calendar was very active with hikes, campouts, etc. but  every year we went as a troop to a local boy scout camp,  Camp Conestoga in Somerset County.  This lesson on planning comes from an experience I had there on the archery range more than forty years ago!!

Unlike my older brother who excelled in scouting, I was always a bit more of a plodder.  While I worked on my merit badges, outdoor skills and the required knot tying and first aid activities, I was a more "middle of the pack" scout.  One area where I did have some unique proficiency was on the archery range, which stemmed from my dad owning archery equipment and us all learning how to shoot as young kids.  When I got to Camp Conestoga that summer and realized they had a serious archery range and a "end of camp"  competition, I was all set!  Early in the week I signed up for the camp wide archery competition and was excited for the event to start at the end of our time at the camp.  While not a widely attended event, I was excited to see a good number of other scouts coming out to shoot and to watch the event and was exhilarated to learn that the winner of the event would win "The Camp Conestoga Golden Arrow Award"( note gold not silver) and the winner and his troop would be announced at the end of week all scout campfire!!  Now that was big-time!!!

The event was set for each shooter to have three arrows to shoot, and to shoot those arrows from three different distances, with the low scoring scouts dropping off as the distances increased.  The first set-up was very easy, maybe 10 yards, and I had three great shots and advanced easily to the next distance.  The second position was from 25 yards out and while harder, I knew that distance, adjusted my trajectory and made three good shots and made it to the final round.... the long distance shot!  Now I would love to say that the third position was 100 yards or more and while it felt like a mile, it was probably in the 50-75 yard range.

My first arrow flew and dug into the ground well short of the target, a total miss!  My second shot hit the edge if the target, but just barely, and glanced off .... zero for two!  My third shot actually hit the target but was in an outer ring, nowhere close to the bulls-eye!  The two or three other scouts who made it to the third distance were also challenged, but one fellow got two of his three arrows to hit the target, and one stuck pretty close to the center.... I had come in second and was to receive the "silver arrow" (no plaque and no camp wide announcement) which was a pretty generic aluminum shafted arrow....pretty disappointing after all of my buildup!!

While not a very high-water mark in my scouting career, that experience at Camp Conestoga taught me an invaluable business lesson that I have reflected on often.   At the third and longest distance, In order to be successful in actually hitting the target, one needs to imagine the arrow's flight in the air and actually aim for the curve of the flight, not the target itself, in order to be successful.  I really needed to imagine a series of hoops in the sky that my arrow needed to fly through in order to be successful .... the exact same discipline needed to be proficient in business planning!!

I am in the middle of a project currently where we are focused on hitting key five-year metrics, and instead on being myopic on those specific out-year results, I keep reminding myself to focus on the annual and quarterly metrics in years 1-3 (the hoops in the sky) knowing that the only way we can achieve those results in five years is to meet and exceed the closer-in targets/"hoops."  It may seem overly simple, but across my career I have been part of or consulted with too many groups that get inspired by but at times consumed in "destination planning", myopic on the end results completely forgetting the "required flight" of the business required to accomplish that destination.

My advice today is to stay focused on and active in the discipline and work of planning in your business. Take the time to look out to the horizon and imagine/dream about where you are trying to take the business/department/team that you are responsible for but always remember the "silver arrow."  Before you start shooting your "professional arrows," refocus/re-aim on the "hoops in the sky" and insure your close-in action plans will guide your arrow to the farthest target!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Optimism, a force multiplier for Leaders:" Redux

A number of years ago I wrote an essay on the powerful impact that "optimism" has on organizations and how "optimism" is a powerful tool for leaders broadly. ( see more at   )The center point of the essay emanates from a quote of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on how he felt that a military force's impact and effectiveness was enhanced or "multiplied" by the level of "optimism" of that organization.  This idea continues to ring true to me today, in business and across political/ cultural leaders more broadly!  "Optimism"is an important tool for leaders, and one that seems to be in short supply broadly today.  In this essay I want to connect this concept with the most recent "Annual Letter" published by Bill and Melinda Gates.

I have made it a habit over the past few years to read the "annual letter" as soon as it is released.  I always find it a interesting, data filled, thought expanding read and I am frequently triggered by new learnings and insights highlighted in the letter.  If you haven't had the chance, please take a moment to read this years letter in full (  In the closing section of this years letter, I was struck by a passage that related directly to the idea of "optimism" and how the Gates Foundation broadly, and Bill and Melinda Gates personally, were working with this dynamic:

"We get asked a lot these days whether we're still optimistic about the future. We say: Absolutely. One reason is that we believe in the power of innovation. But an even bigger reason is that we've seen firsthand that for every challenge we've written about in this letter, there are people devoting their ideas, their resources, and even their lives to solving them.

When we're feeling overwhelmed by negative headlines, we remind ourselves that none of us has the right to sit back and expect that the world is going to keep getting better. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to push it in that direction.

In that way, we've found that optimism can be a powerful call to action. And it has a multiplier effect: The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic."   (the bold/underline highlights are my addition.)

These closing paragraphs ring deeply true to me!  The idea of feeling "overwhelmed by negative headlines" is a weekly reality that I personally share, and yet the letter reminds us that "none of us have the right to sit back and expect that the world is going to get better."  We all have to take action to create a future that is different and better than today.  We all have to find our own ways to be "optimists" in the face of negative headlines, world occurrences and political rhetoric.  We all need to find ways to be join the fight and be "optimistic" leaders, whether in the organizations where we work, community groups where we volunteer, or in our day to day activities in our neighborhoods and cities.

Take a second and re-read the closing sentence from the quote above....

"The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic."   

I want to encourage all off us to join in this "optimistic" push forward and to be part of a growing group of "optimistic" leaders driving for a better future!

note: I am proud to highlight that my brother-in-law,  Jan-Willem, works for the Gates Foundation and his involvement has opened my eyes to their work, approach and significant global impact!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Seat 27D... a lesson in disciplined pre-planning!

Its seems hard to believe but three years ago this month I had knee replacement surgery.  Today, three years later, I am doing great and my knee is strong (much stronger than before the surgery!!) and I am more active today than before the surgery.  Like many of my knee replacement brothers/sisters, the recovery process was VERY challenging and I am so thankful to have friends and close family members who really took care of me (physically and emotionally) in those first few weeks/months after the surgery.  It may seem far fetched, but its in this context that I want to explore the elements and focus points of "disciplined pre-planning!"

My surgeon and his team had been very clear with me, "no driving for 6 weeks, no flying for 8 weeks" and while I heard those words, I was "certain" that I would be an exception and already started thinking about car trips and flights ahead of that schedule; wow was I wrong!!  Once I came home from surgery, I was blown away by the pain management issues and the mobility/flexibility limitations so after a few days I forgot all about "beating the timetable," and started trying to imagine how I would every be able to navigate a car, or an airport again.  While at that moment it seemed a distant aspiration, I dove into my PT regimen and really started feeling better and more myself after four or five weeks.  It was then, that I booked my first flight, ATL-PHX (atlanta to phoenix) and started working on really "pre-planning" the details of that trip.

Let me pause to say that I am so fortunate to have a trusted friend and work partner, Cathy, in my life now for over 22 years!  Cathy and I have worked closely together in numerous work situations, back when I was at Coke, when I was at Bolthouse Farms and most recently over the past four years with Levisay Consulting.  Wherever I am working/traveling, I try to start the day with a checkin with Cathy to get grounded on the issues and priorities at hand.  I am deeply appreciative for the past 22+ years and am looking forward to many more ahead!!  Back to the flight , ATL-PHX.

Cathy and I worked on the travel logistics together for that trip and I was obviously nervous and worried.  I was moving around without a "walker," but needed a cane for support at that moment and knew I wasn't going to be able to run or even walk very fast to make a flight.  In addition, my knee was VERY tender and any bumping or banging was going to be a disaster, so lots to consider when making arrangements.  Cathy worked on the travel logistics and got me into a large, exit row aisle seat (27D if I remember correctly) on the Delta 757 and the trip went without a major hitch!!

The reason for this story comes from my flight last week to LA where I sat in seat 27C of the same kind of airplane and had a fellow passenger coming down the center aisle of the plane completely banged into and jammed my right knee, my surgery knee!!  While painful and surprising, it wasn't devastating since I have had such a good recovery over the past three years.  While no big deal last week (I felt fine the next day actually,) it did make me wonder what would have happened if that had occurred on that ATL-PHX flight back in 2016!  It would have been devastating and a total mess and as I was imagining the pain (yow!!) I realized that it probably wouldn't have happened at all since I was in Seat 27D, not 27C on that historic flight.  Think about it, 27C is an exit row aisle seat with my right knee open to the aisle..... right in the action zone, where 27D is an exit row aisle seat where my right knee is protected from the center aisle and adjacent to the middle seat passenger.

This may all seem trivial and a bit technical, but it struck me last week how we ( probably totally Cathy!!) had really thought thorough the planning for that trip back in 2016 and insured that i not only got a exit row seat with a lot of room, but also one where my "weak knee" would be protected from the center aisle passenger traffic.  That was the lightbulb moment for me, "disciplined pre-planning" kept me safe on that trip ATL-PHX!  Really thinking though a situation allowed me to avoid the "bump" and the "jam" of the passengers in the center aisle that happens so frequently.  having a work partner like Cathy who really knew my challenges and issues at that moment allowed me to have a successful trip without accident or issue!

As you think about your future trips, or business plans, customer meetings, candidate interviews, board discussions, etc.,  take an extra second and ask yourself if you are looking hard enough at the situation at hand to determine the seat 27D (vs seat 27C) option that will allow you the most success at the challenge that lies ahead for you.  Take an extra moment to do the "disciplined pre-planning" and I am confident that you will benefit from the time and energy spent!