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!