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: https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2010/07/legacy-of-bruce.html) 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!