Friday, September 8, 2023

"Eyes wide open"



Over the past few weeks, we have been finishing up our business plans for our fiscal 2024 and I have been reminded by a number of close business colleagues that we need to have our “eyes wide open” as we lock down our plans.  What seems like a common statement kept coming up in conversations, work session and even in board calls.  It’s “funny” that a statement/phrase you have heard and used for decades all of a sudden takes on a fresh new meaning.


Taking an extra moment, I dug into the “definition” of the phrase, and it posed some interesting new perspectives:


“Eyes Wide Open”:

Ø  Fully aware of what is happening…

Ø  Fully aware of what COULD happen…



This dual-sided definition is so important to consider, and it was what caught me in today’s moment. 


First, this idea of being “fully aware of what is happening” is a HUGE challenge!  In our dynamic, fast paced, and fast changing world, the idea of being fully aware of what IS happening is very tough… and in my business context I have a hard time imagining how to accomplish that leading an organization with thousands of employees, across multiple geographic locations.  While challenging, there are a few “tricks of the trade” that I find useful, and you might find helpful as well that can help us all be a bit more aware of what IS happening:


Ø  Who haven’t you heard from?

o   Sometimes its helpful to think about what you HAVEN’T been hearing about lately.  What team, department, function haven’t you seen an update from lately and proactively reachout to dig in a little.  Remember, no news is rarely good news and taking that proactive step might be very helpful.

Ø  Work on your questions?

o   I often see execs work on their presentation materials and practice their formal/informal speaking/pitch techniques.  Rarely do I see folks using that kind of time to home in on the depth and quality of their questions.  It’s through questions and dialogue that we learn and grow and the quality/depth/thoughtfulness of the questions makes a world of difference.

Ø  Pebble in the shoe

o   Often when things are going well, we take a deep breath and don’t dig to see how we can make good situations even better.  By keeping a “pebble in the shoe,” we remind ourselves as leaders to always be digging, good days or bad.


Second, the concept of being “fully aware of what COULD happen” is a mind boggler… such a huge challenge, but an important idea to work on.  Just yesterday, I was in a board meeting when I was asked a question about what MIGHT happen if a certain competitor did a certain thing.  While a bit of a wild theoretical, it was actually a good question and live in the board meeting we discussed a few different scenarios that really expanded our thinking…. expanded our awareness. 

 While certainly not a “trick”, one suggestion I have here is linked to a root cause problem solving technique that I have written about previously, see    In this essay, I talk about the technique of “ask why 5 times” as a way to get to the core of an issue.  In the context of being “fully aware of what COULD happen,” I suggest that we all push ourselves to “ask what-if” 5 times when working on plans, strategies, etc.  In this process, it may also be helpful to bring in a few atypical voices, with fresh eyes, and fresh “what-if” questions.  While it might feel slow, or frustrating, I am certain that these steps may help you have your eyes MORE wide open, and will ultimately lead to better thinking, better decisions, and better actions!

Friday, July 28, 2023

FY'88/'97/'06 and FY'24... every new fiscal year calls for "fresh eyes and a fresh spirit"


Its hard to imagine that I have been in business for almost 40 years!!  Graduating from business school in 1985, fresh MBA in hand, I started my "sales and plant" training that summer as I dove into my new role as a Marketing Assistant for Kimberly-Clark.  Here I am 38 years later, in a great leadership role at Bolthouse Farms,  wrapping up our FY23 and getting ready to dive into FY 24 that kicks off next week.  While right now the immediate challenges and opportunities facing our business and team seem all encompassing... ( its been a very tough year and there is plenty to work on in fy24!!) ... the reality for me over the decades, and across multiple companies and circumstances is that EACH/ EVERY year has what seems to be an all encompassing set of challenges and opportunities and EACH/EVERY year calls for the business leaders to refocus and re-energize the team with "fresh eyes and a fresh spirit!"  Thinking back over the years, there are numerous examples of this dynamic that come to mind.... I will share just a few for context.

FY88: After a few years at Kimberly-Clark ( I loved that company and my old boss Bruce Paynter!  You can read more about him in the following essay: I went to work for Kraft Foods in their ice cream business as Assistant Brand manager, Sealtest Ice Cream.  In the summer of 1987, literally a few weeks after I started, there was a product recall because of Listeria contamination.... a major emergency!  All hands on deck... all plants closed .... all product recalled.... it was a mess and I wondered at the time if we would survive the next few months.  The plants re-opened and product began flowing back to store shelves after a few weeks but the brand/business damage was massive.  Business planning was put on hold that summer, but we hustled to build the fy88 budgets late that year and while the team was a wreck ( yours truly fully included!!), the leadership team helped guide us with a reinforcing "fresh perspective" that the focus off the fy88 business plan was one word... "Recovery."  Recover the trust of lost consumers and customers... recover lost space at shelf... recover quality and sanitation protocols across the plants.... it was all about "recovery"! Clarifying and focusing us all on the path ahead for fy88 was helpful to the entire division and early in my career, it was a galvanizing experience to work through a DRAMATIC challenge and not only endure the moment, but come through it in a better/stronger place.

FY97: In late 1990 I joined The Coca-Cola Company in a Marketing Manager role, based in Atlanta, and dove into a company and a wide set of roles that spanned the next 18 years.  In the summer of 1996, I was promoted and sent to Baltimore to take over the role as "NE Area V.P." for the Fountain Division of Coke North America.  It was a big job and a huge change for me... my first role out of a Marketing function, and my first GM job.  The NE Area had missed their targets for the previous number of years and I was the leadership change "to shake things up" at that moment.  Building the FY98 business plan and budget was critical and as a new ( and novice ) leader, I used the process to bring the leadership team together so WE could build the budgets and targets together.  Looking back, it was all about "re-engagement" for the team... to get a group of great folks to get excited about making ( or beating!!) budgets and to get the whole team to signup for that type of culture.  It was helpful that I was so new, and frankly so inexperienced.... I could ask a lot of dumb questions and no one thought I had all the answers.... some may have wondered if I had any answers at all, ha!  FY98 turned into quite a turnaround year for the old NE Area, and it began a string of years where that team, years after I left the role, continued to exceed its goals!  

FY'06: In 2005 I had the chance to be a big part of the launch of Coke Zero in North America.  I played a very senior commercial role at that time, and the rollout of Coke Zero was the biggest undertaking the company had done since the launch of Diet Coke in the mid-1980's.  To put it mildly, Coke Zero was a hit the execution of the launch went very well, and very quickly it grew to be a +$1bb brand (yes that's billion with a "b"!)  In the afterglow of that incredible success, it was time to build the 2006 business plan and budgets and I was stumped.... how were we going to cycle 2005??  Again "fresh perspectives" really helped... and with the drive of a new CEO at the company, we used 2006 to expand the Coke Zero footprint, strengthen the entire brand portfolio in the process, and use that year to redouble our efforts on leadership training and development.  2005 had been so busy, and so wild that we had lost track of succession planning, development plans and leadership development a bit and it was helpful across the board to refocus on building the team so they could be ready to do great things with Coke Zero and other innovations/M&A opportunities in the future.

I share these three examples, these three somewhat random years just as a way to highlight that while the years/circumstances change, the role of leaders in planning is always key and working to have "fresh eyes and a fresh spirit" is key for all of us.  For those readers turning the corner into FY24 like we are, I wish you a good year ahead.... for those of you getting ready to build those FY24 plans, keep your eyes and your spirits as "fresh" as possible and I know you will find you path with the challenges and opportunities that will face all of us in 2024!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

100k… and I was the “doubting blogger!”




I wanted to take this moment, in the summer of 2023 to say thanks to the thousands of readers of this blog, and the essays that I post regularly (ok, about monthly!) trying to touch on “lessons of leadership and life.”  As you can see by the “dashboard” below, I hit the milestone of over 100k pageviews in the past few days, covering the 254 essays that I have posted over the past 14 years.


  As I sit here writing essay 255, I think back to the start of this little adventure and how close I came to killing the idea before it started…. I was certainly a reluctant and “doubting blogger” back in march of 2009 when I posted the first essay titled “Legacy” which you can see here:  At the end of the opening paragraph, I included a line that still rings true today...

 “Regardless of age or experience, no one is too old to learn, to grow, to see new insights and I am hopeful that this blog will foster growth in the writer and reader alike.”


This platform has certainly fostered growth for “yours truly” over the years and I am so grateful that I DIDN’T let my own reluctance/doubts/uncertainties stop me from posting that first essay so many years ago!  I had left working at The Coca-Cola Company in 2008 (hard to imagine that it has been 15+ years) and as I started to transition to other endeavors, I had some of my old “Coke friends” ask me to share a s few of the stories that I told in meetings back at the company.  Like the “Turkey Bag Story” featured in the first essay and the link above, I had a few “old stories” that I had shared over my 18 years at Coke.  I had never written them down, so I had no easy way to share them with others.  One of the folks asking for the stories kept at it and suggested that I create a blog and post them on-line.  It seems crazy today, but at that moment the suggestion of me “writing a blog” seemed ludicrous…. I wasn’t a blog writer sitting in some wayward coffee shop (naïve and insulting!!), I was a corporate exec working towards my next gig… (Bolthouse Farms was still six months away.)  Well, my reluctance was worn down over a few months and I posted the first essay, and ultimately five others in March of 2009 thinking that might be the end of it…. a blog of six stories for easy reference… little did I know that almost 250 essays later, decades in the future, I would be sitting here today highlighting all these essays and the 100k pageviews.


It’s interesting to look back at those first essays, which not only include the “Turkey Bag Story,” but also feature a personal favorite “Aunt Lorraine’s Law,” and one of the most read essays of all the 254 posted “The Three Impact Points of Leadership.”  They were relevant then and still resonate today.  If you think about the metrics, with 100k page pageviews, and 254 essays posted the average essay would have 394 pageviews (it’s just math.)  Well, the bell curve on this blog doesn’t work like that, there are the “Top 10 Most Popular Posts” (you can see them over on the left side of the blog, just scroll down a little) and each of them have more than a 1000 pageviews per essay, many essays have a few hundred pageviews, and there are dozens with less than 50.  Some of the “Top 10” were written back in 2009, yet two were written in the past few months.  One of the things I have learned through this writing/posting adventure is that you never know what essay/topic will hit home, and literally be shared and read by thousands across the world, and which will be read by 20-30 folks and sit quietly on the sidelines… it’s not up to the writer for sure.  Once you post an essay, its literally “out there” and the rest is up to the readers to decide!


I will close with a big and humble thank you… thanks for taking the time over the years with these stories and thanks for sharing them with others.  I will keep adding to the essays “regularly” and I hope that a few stories in the future months and years will hit home like a few have done over the past decades.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Resilience… the key to “Steering into the skid”

 Over the past few months, I keep finding myself referencing and essay I posted years ago titled… “Steer into the skid.”  It’s now almost 8 years ago that I posted that essay (which I have copied below) and it seems more relevant today than ever.  It’s interesting to think back to 2015… we hadn’t experienced the global nightmare of the Covid Pandemic, we hadn’t watched the horrific events of the January 6th, 2021, insurrection unfold at our Capital, no invasion of Ukraine as of yet (though the 2014 invasion of Crimea should have put us on notice) …. and the list goes on.  It seems incredible to think about the issues, crises, and challenges that we have experienced over the past 8 years and at times I wonder how we are finding our path through such times of turmoil.

 The premise of the original “Steer into the skid” essay is to overcome challenges/issues in your life or in business, you need to dive into them “headfirst!”  Denial, avoidance, displacement, and obfuscation are all tempting, but diving into the problems at hand “steering” into them is the only way “out of them.”  It’s in this vein that I have been “chewing on” the key attributes of individuals (and certainly leaders) who are navigating these challenging times successfully… and I keep coming to a common answer:


Resilience: noun, 

1)    The capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness

2)    The ability of a substance or an object to spring back into shape; elasticity


These two complementary ideas, toughness and elasticity …. i.e. “Resilience”… are key attributes in troubled situations.  As a leader of a wonderful company, I think about this from a few vectors.  First, what can I do to build up my own “toughness/elasticity?”  How do I keep a patient headset, and a clear-eyed view of the business dynamics at hand and how do I personally “bounce back” from any setbacks we face.  Second, how can I teach and help our team of younger leaders grow THEIR resilience now so they are ready to face challenges in the years ahead.

I also reflect on this idea as a parent of two great “kids” in their early 20’s.  Both faced covid in their college experience, our son in his senior year and our daughter in her first year.  For both of them it was beyond disruptive, but both are doing well, both graduated successfully, and both have been pretty “elastic” coming out of that nightmare.  I wonder how we as parents can help our children build strength, “toughness,” endurance and “elasticity” so they might weather the storms that will most certainly face them in their adult years ahead.

I am thinking about and working on “resilence” personally and hope you can find some inspiration in that work as well.  Read below the original essay from 2015…





“Steer into the skid”,  9/18/15


As a teen growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, “Drivers Ed” was a fact of life and taught during the summers at my High School.  Of my many memories of “summer drivers school,” none are as fresh and stark as some of those famous films created to scare the pants off of young drivers.  A few classics are up on “YouTube,” you should checkout “The Last Date” or “Highways of Agony,” …… Classics!!


One of the challenges of taking “Drivers Ed” during the summer was trying to learn to drive safely in icy and snowy winter conditions.  One of the lessons from those summer driving classes was the teacher’s repeated message to “steer into the skid” if the car lost traction on an icy road.  It seemed so counter intuitive to actually steer into the direction where you were skidding, it felt like steering into the path of trouble!  While hard to understand, the first time I hit an icy patch as a young driver and did the opposite, steering away from the skid, I sent the car into a 360-degree spin and ended in the ditch.  No one was hurt, and the front fender of our 1970 Chevelle dented a bit, but a lesson was learned.  In future moments on icy streets when I started to skid, I remembered the lesson and gently “steered in to the skid” and in most moments avoided any issues/ditches!! 


As I was recently recounting this lesson with my new driving son (not many icy patches here in Atlanta but a good driving lesson anyway,) the story and memory got me thinking…. This idea of “steering into the skid” is not merely a lesson for a young driver; it is actually a powerful lesson for life!!  As we come upon the “icy patches” in our business worlds or personal lives, we need to be reminded to of this lesson and “steer” into not away from the challenges/obstacles/problems we are facing!


Business World:  In business we often focus on our moments of success, looking for ways to replicate them across broader markets/verticals/brands/products/teams.  We typically “steer away” from situations that are not going well, wanting to spend our energy (and our our team’s capacity/capabilities) on trying to replicate what’s working rather than deeply understanding the areas that are not going well.  We almost have a sense that if we just get better on the “good stuff”, the “bad stuff” will just “go away” or be lost in a haze of broader success.  Dangerous ideas and deeply untrue!


Rather than avoiding the weak spots of our business, we need to “steer into the skids” of our business.  What markets/verticals/brands/products/teams are doing the worst?  Which competitors are doing the best to take our market share?  Where are we most vulnerable in the next few months (operating plan horizon) and across a multi-year landscape (strategic plan horizon)? 


I am certainly not suggesting that we ignore the “good stuff ” in our businesses; we do need to replicate our successes all the time.  What I am specifically focusing on is to add intensity, clarity and focus on the weak spots if the business, proactively “steering into the skid” across the landscape of the business model as a method to avoid fatal professional “crashes.”



Personal Lives:  In our personal lives this same adage also rings true.  In a life that is hectic, time stretched, and often stressful, it is tempting to take any available “open time” to take a breath and relax.  While I certainly an advocate of this idea on many fronts, I have come to realize that the issues/concerns/problems or “skids” in our personal lives rarely “get better” on their own.  Think about a marriage, a friendship, and a parent-child relationship that has friction or concerns.  Letting them “simmer,” waiting to “deal with them” at some amorphous time in the future is never a good idea.  This idea applies to our physical lives as well.  If we are dealing with a chronic health issue, dive into the problem, don't put it off!  I have a dear friend who recently underwent emergency cardiac bypass surgery after failing a “run of the mill” stress test.  The good news is that he is recovering well.  The scary part is that he had postponed three previous stress test appointments and was on the verge of delaying the test appointment that he dramatically failed; that fourth delay could have resulted in his early death, rather than a successful operation and progressing recovery.  It took him a while but he ultimately did “steer into the skid” and he is back safely on the road of life.


Whether in your personal or professional lives, think about those old “Drivers Ed” movies and remind yourself to find more opportunities to “steer into the skid.”  There is no way to live a life absent of challenges/obstacles/problems or issues.  Don't spend anytime “wishing away” your problems; instead take a few extra moments (both personally and professionally) and dive into the problem areas, “steer into the skids,” and take action (don’t postpone your stress test appointment) in order to have a smoother and safer “ride” ahead!



Monday, May 29, 2023

Keep swinging…. The lesson of Alex Cora



I have been a baseball fan my whole life… from my early days growing up watching the Pirates win the ‘71 and ’79 World Series and more recently following the Braves and watching them win in 1995 and 2021.  It’s in this context that it may seem a little crazy for me to reference Alex Cora…. never a Pirate nor a Brave…. but as a Dodger in 2004, he achieved an incredible feat in a game at Dodger Stadium that has inspired me recently as a lesson for business, leadership, and life.

It was late in the game, bottom of the 7th inning, when Cora came up to the plate, and quickly went behind in the count 1-2 (that’s 1 ball, 2 strikes for those non-baseball fans).  What came next is the fodder for the history books.  Alex Cora proceeds to foul off 14 straight pitches… one after another… and on the 18th pitch of his at-bat he hits a 2-run homerun…. The longest string of foul balls before hitting a homerun in recorded MLB history!!  Long-time Dodger announcer Vin Scully called it:


“What a moment! 9:23 on the scoreboard, if you want to write it down for history. What an at-bat!” Scully exclaimed. “That’s one of the finest at-bats I’ve ever seen, and to top it off with a home run, that is really shocking.”


While this incredible baseball achievement is recorded in the history books, I want to focus on the implication for the rest of us…. those of us who are “swinging” at the plate of life/business and who can learn deeply from this story.


Like many others, as you live your life you face challenges and exhilarations professionally and personally.  As a life-long optimist I typically see the “glass half-full,” and usually bounce back quickly from setbacks and challenges.  Recently the combination of some very challenging health news from a family member, combined with some extreme business dynamics has set me back on my heels a bit and I have struggled finding the “next gear” forward.  It’s in this light that the lesson of Alex Cora’s 14 foul balls comes to mind.  Its deeply true that we can’t control many of the issues that come our way (remember the recent blog essay, “The lesson of Donny”) …. all we can do is control how we react to those issues/setbacks and my lesson from this baseball moment is to “keep swinging” regardless of “the count!”


The odds were against Cora that night in 2004.  With a 1-2 count, he had almost a 40% chance to strikeout in that “at-bat” and a very small probability of getting a hit of any kind, none-the-less a homerun.  Instead of being defined by “the odds,” he just kept swinging…. Just kept trying to put the ball in play… he recalls about the night:


“From what I remember of the at-bat, I only had one thing in mind — to shoot the hole between first and second,” Cora recalled. “I just kept rolling over, rolling over.”


Let us all take a lesson from that night in 2004 and try our best to ignore the pundits and the statisticians of life/business.  Regardless of the challenges/setbacks, we need to keep trying to make things better… make tomorrow a bit better than yesterday…. let’s work to keep our energy up and to “keep swinging” to put “the ball in play” in whatever situations we face personally and professionally!



Monday, April 24, 2023

A moment of inspiration: Desiderata


Just recently i received this "text poem" from a dear friend and work colleague Todd... remember, no last names on the blog!  we have worked together for years, actually decades, and out of the blue he sent this text to me.  Its rare for me to reference poems in this forum but over the last few weeks/months I keep going back to this text and re-reading with different frames of reference.  

At certain moments I have reflected on it through a lens of a busy ( stressed) business leader.  At other moments I have seen it though the eyes of  parent, or a spouse; regardless of perspective I keep coming back to it and "re-thinking" my take on the poem and finding new points of inspiration and impact. Earlier today, flying west for my work, I read it once again and was struck by a specific set of "stanzas" toward the end of the poem:

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

This admonition to "nurture strength" hit me like a ton of bricks.  I have been on a heavy pull over the past few months ( in honesty almost 4 years since the summer of 2019) and the business challenges that lie ahead need my focus and "strength" now more than ever.  The idea that "many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness" is a truth that I can relate to.... and one that I want/need to work against.  I am part of an amazing team, an amazing family and am part of incredible communities here in California and at home in Atlanta.... I am not alone and need to remind my self, and be refreshed by that important truth.  The admonition to "be gentle with yourself" is so helpful and healthy to "hear."  We all hold ourselves up to very high standards and expectations and we need to remember that we are all "children of the universe," working hard to do our best and we don't always get it all right.... we need to give ourselves some room and space in this crazy walk of life.

A big thank you to my friend and work partner Todd for his sharing this inspiring document.  Take a read of the complete text below and I know you will find some nuggets of inspiration to bring into your life at work or at home... and I will keep it handy for future "re-readings" without a doubt!

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

by Max Ehrmann ©1927

Monday, March 20, 2023

A lesson from Donny…



California has been in the news a lot lately for its incredible stretch of wet/snowy winter weather.  After years of drought, the past few months, really starting in November has kicked into a new gear and the rainfalls and snow totals are incredible.  Kern County, where I work, has seen almost 9 inches of rain over the past few months, with rainfall running 177% to normal as of mid-March and another ½ inch of rain is forecasted for early this week…. It just keeps on coming. The snowpack in the Sierras this year has been incredible as well, with snow levels reaching historic levels.  UC Berkeley runs a “snowlab” at the Donner Pass in the Central Sierras and has recorded 668 inches for the season so far (that almost 56 feet!!) and is on track to likely surpass the historic record of 68.24 ft measured in 1938…. Its absolutely incredible!


Being in the Ag business, this extreme set of weather conditions has been very positive in a “strategic”/ long term view, and extremely challenging through a “tactical”/short term lens.  Strategically not only will the rain and snowpack re-fill reservoirs, and break the long-term drought conditions, there will be enough rain and snowmelt to actually “recharge” the aquifers in numerous growing regions, allowing the land to be restored to better more productive levels for future growing seasons.  Conversely the past few months have been incredibly challenging for our carrots to grow, gain size and length, and numerous fields have been swamped and damaged by flood conditions.  It was in the midst of one of those tactically challenging moments that a few “wise words form Donny” really hit home.


Donny is a inspiring leader at our company with over 45 years of service, who leads our Farming team.  His level of experience and expertise is unparalleled, and his level of passion and commitment to our company is always incredible!  It was an early rainy Thursday morning, as we “walked the carrot tables” ( see: when the chatter of the group was about the latest atmospheric river to hit California  ( we have had 29 since October 1.)  Donny listened for a moment, then commented to me that “ Remember Bill, you can’t control the weather but you sure can control how you respond to it!”    So true and so wise!!


While Donny’s “missive” was focused on the weather challenges facing our carrot crop at that moment, his “nudge” for us to focus on our “response” to it translates to business and life broadly.  We all have faced roadblocks, setbacks, unexpected challenges and barriers in our work AND in our personal lives.  I remember so clearly losing my mom to cancer when I was 13 and wondering how I was going to fare as I turned the corner to high school with my world turned upside down. Those High School years were tough, with many difficult moments… but I found my way.  I couldn’t control my mom getting sick and passing away so early in her life…. but I did control my responses to that tragic event.  While Donny wasn’t around in my world back then, his recent advice was as applicable to that situation (and so many others over the years) as it is today as we face more rain this week.


I share this story as an encouragement to all of us as we approach our work and out lives.  We WILL have challenges/issues/problems face us across time and we MUST remember that most of the time we can’t control them; equally true are the words of Donny, and his push for all of us to focus on our responses to those same challenges.  I feel fortunate to have the chance to share this story and very lucky to work in an organization that most often is focused on Donny advice and spends its time focusing on “our responses!”

Monday, February 27, 2023

Here we go…. Again!!


Its February and the weather across the country has been a mess…. Intense rain and snowstorms across California where I am now working, with record snow packs anticipated this year once we emerge from a harsh Winter and move in Spring.  In this context its time once again to think/dream/fantasize about a warm southern spring and weeks in mid-April when it will be time to plant the tomato seedlings in the warming soil of the garden.  


Now I am one of those gardeners who have always dreamt about having a big expansive garden, filled with different vegetable varieties like my brother Mark, but who have just enough light, space and decent quality soil for about a dozen tomato plants.  For years, and actually many decades, my family (starting with my paternal grandmother MaMa) and I save seeds every year and start our “passed along” tomato seeds from “scratch” …. no seedlings from the hardware/garden store for us!  This year, as you can see the picture above, I have started three different varieties and am already getting excited for this year’s fresh Tomatoes from the garden later in the summer.  There is something about this annual rhythm that is very re-affirming for me… a certain cycle of life/seasons/crops that have nothing to do with business challenges, political strife, global conflicts, or any of the myriad of “stressors” that surround us in 2023… just the simple reassuring tempo of a garden and the potential for delicious fresh tomatoes in the heat of the summer!


Now lets talk about the tomatoes!!  Today we would call all three “heirloom varietals”, a phrase that was unknown to the generations of gardeners that have saved and passed along seeds fro centuries /millennium.  Two of the varieties have been grown by our family/friends for decades and decades, and I am proud to have seedlings sprouting again in 2023!!


Pictured to the right are a few tomatoes that I had harvested last summer.  The most “famous” for our family is the quirky orange/yellow tomato that was handed down from my grandmother that we have kept going for decades.  When it ripens, it has darker stipes on its ridges and MaMa called them “old stripers.”  A short plant only measuring 5+/- feet tall, the fruit are delicious and make a light, and beautiful pasta sauce.

Another old varietal that has been passed down in a friend’s family since the early 70’s is one I call “Big Pinks.”  My childhood friend Dave and his family raised these tomatoes for years and years and I was lucky enough to get a small packet of seeds from Dave’s dad a few years ago.  These plants will grow to incredible lengths, and put off very large pink tomatoes; while Dave’s dad grew fruit that weighed more than 2 lbs., I have succeeded in growing lots of the “Big Pinks” larger than 1 lb.

Finally I have the “Green Zebras,” a tomato with incredible colors that I have now grown for a few years.  My sister-in-law passed along some “heirloom tomatoes” from a farmers market box and these crazy green tomatoes caught my eye.  When ripe, that are green with dark strips on the outside, but you cut them open and they stipes of red, yellow, and orange running through the INSIDE of the tomato… incredibly beautiful and tasty!!  


Just describing them makes me hungry for summer, in the midst of a messy February.  The combination of the annual seasonal rhythm and the connection of each varietal to family and friends make this process precious to me.  I look forward to what might come this year, and maybe, just maybe I will finally raise a “two-pounder” of the “Big Pinks” ….. wish me luck!


 postscript: As I head into my 60’s, these “habits/rhythms” are becoming more and more important and more grounding to me personally. I a touchstone to my grandmother, born in 1901, and to childhood friends and their families connects me to the “long pattern” of life          (maybe a title for a future essay?!?) vs the microsecond fading reality of pop culture today… I am thankful for the tomato plants for more than just the great bounty in the summer… is a connection rod to my life and my past.

Friday, February 10, 2023

“The discipline of desire…”




In my business, its extremely common to get email updates on performance issues/budgets/forecasts regularly…. certainly, daily and occasionally, even hourly!  Early this week, one of my key leaders (way to go David!!) sent an early morning forecast update (NOT filled with good news) that included a reference to John Locke to make a point.  On a dark, early February morning in Bakersfield California let’s just say I was not expecting a quote from one of the “fathers of the enlightenment!”  I won’t go into too much detail, but John Locke, a moral and political philosopher lived at the end of the 17th century, was a contemporary and “pal” of Sir Isaac Newton and had a great deal of influence on the thinking of the “Founding Fathers” of our country.  


While not the quote referenced in the early morning email, the note reminded me of one of my favorite John Locke quotes:


“The Discipline of desire is the background of character”


I have written often in this blog about the idea of the “character” of leaders; specifically commenting on authenticity and integrity ( vs charisma and affectation) as the “foundation” of successful leaders.  ( see:  While these ideas deeply ring true, Locke’s “nudge” about the “discipline of desire” caught my attention this week and is worth exploring.


In today’s landscape of political or business leaders and their impromptu tweets, salacious social media posts, or headline grabbing prognostications, Locke’s concept of “discipline” seems a touch old fashioned or out of step.  


Discipline: noun, the ability to control yourself, or other people, even in difficult situations. 


In a fast-changing world that in my view is full of “difficult situations,” the ability to “control yourself” is the starting spot.  For me, the past six months have really put this to the test; months that combined challenging business issues exacerbated by intense weather pressures.  I found myself in mid-January absolutely at my wits end and faced an unusual “test” during a leadership mtg that I called and lead.  I had pulled together a group of top leaders to do a “deep dive” into current performance and to rebuild the “big-rocks” that should be our focus for the back half of our fiscal year.  The meeting was intense as everyone started seeing the business trends and challenges in the same stark light that I perceived.  


I could tell that my patience and energy were at a low point, after months or very tough business results and weeks of “bomb-cyclone” rains, so instead of hanging around grabbing some pizza with the team, I quietly headed back to my apartment.  This act was out of character for me ( I love to hang with the team!!) but at that moment, in that situation, I knew that if I hung around that night I might have said something, or shared something that I would regret….I was frustrated and tired and thought he best plan was to “control” my situation and head back to the apartment in Bakersfield.  A close friend called a couple of hours later trying to find out “where I went” and I shared that I was down, tired, and needed to crash… nothing dramatic, just needed a break.  


While that low point in mid-January is in the rear-view mirror today, I think back to is as a good reminder of the need for leaders to stay in control…to be focused on the “discipline of desire” … as a way certainly to build character personally but as a method of positive impact for their teams.  Think about challenging moments yourselves that you may be facing today, or in the days to come, and find ways to keep your self-awareness high and stay in-control and disciplined as you navigate the “difficult times” ahead.





Thursday, February 2, 2023

"Put one foot in front of the other" ....


The last few months, and more specifically the last six week since Christmas week of 2022 have been some of the most challenging of my career.  Late in the summer of 2022 I took on an expanded responsibility at the company, moving into the role of President and C.O.O. in September.  At the same time business challenges, combined with inflationary headwinds and other industry wide dynamics made the operating pressures very present.  What made the past few weeks exceptionally challenging was the un-forecasted "bomb-cyclone" that brought almost a years worth of rain to our growing regions in just four weeks.  The rains started just after Christmas and didn't really stop til early last week.  I always knew that farming is hard ( now who said "Farming is easy??") and that lesson was driven home with distinction in January.  We harvest more than two million pounds of carrots EVERY DAY, and that dynamic was deeply challenged by the recent rain event.

I share these "woes" as just one of many California ag companies ( and ag employees) who have had a rough ride and are now quite literally digging our way out of the rainy mess.  Its been a tough run and I am  so proud of our team battling the elements to do what they could to plant and harvest our carrots between storms, flooded fields and roads, and cold and wet weather that just didn't stop!  Its been tough, but the team I have a pleasure to work with, shoulder to shoulder, is an inspiring crew that cares about the land, our carrots and our customers regardless of weather forecast.  Its a team of "doers"that inspire me every day and are huge energy driver for me every day. As you can see from the picture to the right, the recently harvested carrots look great, and we are getting back in the fields and the harvest conditions are improving every day!

I don't usually quote song lyrics in my essays, and have never before quoted lyrics from a old Christmas TV special ( "Santa Claus is Coming to Town",) but this jingle and these words kept going through my mind as we faced challenge after challenge these past few weeks:

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
You never will get where you’re going
If you never get up on your feet
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowing
A fast walking man is hard to beat

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule be the exception
A good way to start is to stand
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
If I want to change the reflection
I see in the mirror each morn
You mean that it's just my election
To vote for a chance to be reborn

I know this song comes from a quirky holiday show released in 1970, but the actual words hit home.  I share all of this as a way to suggest that we all are facing challenges in our work and in our communities every day.  While they may not be "bomb-cyclone" driven, or caused by some sort of "atmospheric river," they are real and can feel overwhelming.   These issues and challenges in our lives call on us to respond and take action and as the song suggests, "a good way to start is to stand"!  Hang in there and remember...." you will never get where you are going if you never get on your feet."