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!!
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!