When Big CPG Meets Passion Brand: Building a Strong Team Starts with Trust and Compassion with Jane Miller, Jane Knows & Lily's Sweets
The world of food and beverage is filled with darling passion brands. They’re fun, nimble and innovative. It’s no wonder that so many people want to work for them. Sometimes the expertise, working in a Big Brand, can cloud the objectivity of an incoming employee and overly-excite the leadership of these smaller brands. So, just how can you best avoid a bad fit and create powerful transitions?
In this episode Jane shares advice on how to best prepare for these changes and opportunities, leaning on her own experience of transitioning from running billion-dollar brand families to becoming CEO of beloved naturals brand.
If you’re a founder/owner/leader of a smaller brand – you will learn:
- How to honestly assess your brand’s leadership needs
- Strategic hiring tips to help manage your and your new team members expectations during transition and growth
- How hiring for key strategic roles for your company, is a lot like dating
If you’re considering taking on a leadership role at a smaller brand – you will learn:
- How your experience can be a liability as much as an asset
- That compassion and empathy are valuable tools for successful growth and transition
- How to evaluate your own potential for learning and flexibility in order to become a powerful resource for your new business partner
When Big CPG Meets Passion Brand: Building a Strong Team Starts with Trust and Compassion with Jane Miller, Jane Knows & Lily's Sweets
About Jane Miller:
Jane Miller is the founder of a career advice website, Janeknows.com, and the author of Sleep Your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success). Jane is a food industry executive with experience ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Currently the CEO of Lily’s Sweets, she has previously held several CEO positions in the natural products industry, including Charter Baking Company (Rudi’s Organic Bakery)
Prior to Charter, Jane had twenty-five years of experience in large consumer product companies. She was part of an executive team that brought Hostess out of bankruptcy. She worked for HJHeinz as the Chief Growth Officer and then the President of the UK & Ireland Division. She ran the Western division of Bestfoods Baking (now Bimbo Bakeries). The first fourteen years of her career were at PepsiCo, where she rose to be the President of the Central division of Frito-Lay.
Jane serves as a board member at the University of Colorado’s Leeds Business School, Watson Institute and Eldorado Springs Artesian Water. Jane is passionate about mentoring the next generation of leaders. She has a Russian Studies degree from Knox College in Galesburg (Pivotal to her landing her first job at Frito-Lay – I hope we have time to cover that…), IL and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. She lives in Boulder, CO with her dog, Bella, and three horses (Gracie, Prince, and Lucky).
Lily’s Sweets – Lily’s Sweets creates no sugar added chocolate for baking and snacking. Founded on the principles of better-for-you foods, and imagined by someone who wasn’t willing to sacrifice her favorite treat that is non-GMO and gluten-free ingredients harvested through Fair Trade practices, and ensure every product is botanically sweetened—meaning no refined or processed sugars. – Yum!
Jane Knows – Jane Knows was born out of the idea that the business world can be difficult to navigate and the choices can seem insurmountable. To be blunter, it can really suck. Politics, unwritten rules, mean people—it is all out there. But that is just the external stuff. What happens when you do things to sabotage yourself? Self-sabotage happens a lot and many times you don’t even know you are doing it…until it is too late! So after thirty years in business, making lots of mistakes and then rebounding, I decided it was time to help the next generation of leaders avoid the School of Hard Knocks. Let’s face it: life throws obstacles at us all the time, shouldn’t there be a way to know how to deal with the obstacles based on someone else’s experience?
Sleep Your Way to the Top – Jane’s story of a small-town Illinois girl who made it to the top is a sassy, substantial read, headlined with myths (Size Doesn’t Matter/You Can Sleep Your Way to the Top); punctuated by devilish text boxes (“let’s walk out now and get drunk on morning martinis”); and containing end of chapter Mirror Mirrors to help 20-somethings (ANYONE) on their way to their individual tops. Sleep Your Way to the Top is the go-to guide for grads, pre-grads and new execs, showing us where it’s easy to get tripped up, who might trick us and how to make it past the pitfalls on our way to the corner office.
Who Moved My Cheese – A timeless business classic, Who Moved My Cheese? uses a simple parable to reveal profound truths about dealing with change so that you can enjoy less stress and more success in your work and in your life.
Diana Fryc: Welcome to The Gooder Podcast. Thanks for joining today. As partner and CMO of retail Voodoo and award winning branding agency I have met and worked with some of the most amazing women in the naturals industry, food, beverage wellness, even fitness. And as such, I decided to create The Gooder Podcast to interview these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights and expertise to help businesses all around the world become gooder.
Thanks for joining us today. I’m excited to introduce my guest, Jane Miller of Lily’s Sweets. Hi, Jane good to see you.
Jane Miller: Hey, Diana, great to be here.
Diana Fryc: A little bit about Jane before we start so we can kind of get a sense for who she is. Jane Miller is the founder of a career advice website called Janeknows and the author of sleep your way to the top and other myths about business success, which I’m on chapter 18. Thank you. I’m in the bully boss section just FYI which is fun? I like the way you write. Jane is a food industry executive with expertise ranging from startups to fortune 500 companies and she’s currently the CEO of Lily’s Sweets. She’s previously had several CEO positions in the natural products industry including Charter Baking Company- Rudy’s Organic Food. Prior to Charter Jane had 25 years of experience in large consumer product companies. She was part of an executive team that brought Hostess out of bankruptcy, worked for HJHeinz as the chief growth officer, and then the president of the UK & Ireland Division. She ran the Western Division of Best Foods Baking now, Bimbo Bakeries.
The first 14 years of her career were at PepsiCo, where she rose to be the president and Central Division of Frito-Lay and learned not to bring a diet coke to work. And Jane serves as a board member at the University of Colorado’s Leeds Business School Watson Institute in Eldorado Springs Artesian Water. Did I say that right Watson Institute and Eldorado Springs Artesian Water? Yes. Jane is passionate about mentoring the next generation of leaders. She has a Russian studies degree from Knox College in Galesburg pivotal to her landing her first job at Frito-Lay by the way, and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She lives in Boulder with her dog Bella and three horses Gracie, Prince, and Lucky. Welcome and thank you for being here today.
Jane Miller: I am so excited. I can’t wait and thanks so much for reading my book. So you know a couple of little stories from my career and you can keep me a little bit honest.
Diana Fryc: No, I won’t, I won’t do that. So I myself is a pretty transparent person; I have to admit, I was feeling a bit intimidated when I was thinking about interviewing you, Jane, I tend to get that way around people that I admire. But when I started researching you, reading about your book, reading your book, listening to other podcasts and speaking engagements, I was overwhelmed with your combination of humbleness, confidence and transparency. Those of us that have spent any amount of time learning about or working with you might know where these traits come from. But I wonder if you might be able to share more about your beginnings in kind of a reader’s digest format, if anybody knows what that is anymore. Tell us a little bit about how did you get here? How did you get to be at Lily’s?
Jane Miller: Oh, my goodness. Well, let’s see, we’re going to tell the clock back really far. And for readers, I guess I need to go really fast. But I think let me just kind of start. I’m from Peoria, Illinois, and my mother became pregnant with me as a teenager right out of high school, and I had the opportunity to grow up in a family where my dad was pretty much absent and I had three younger brothers and at an early age for my mom and a pretty early age for me. My dad left us and really left my mom to take care of four kids and having had me right when she got out of high school, she never went on to college, and she frankly never had any kind of a job. And so back in those days, you could be a deadbeat dad, and all of a sudden you have a woman who is in her early 30s with four kids and has to support them all.
And so I have to go all the way back there, which is a long way from Lily’s sweets just to kind of say what my beginnings are really humble and I’m just so grateful that I had a mother who really was so supportive of me and really felt that the thing that held her back in her life was not having an education, that if she really could have had a different path of course, I probably wouldn’t have been born or my three brothers. But I think,she just had a really great respect for education and also for hard work. Imagine here you have someone who’s never worked and they’re in their early 30s and they have to support five people and have every low paying job that you can possibly imagine. She was a school bus driver and she worked in a nursing home and she was the girl that answered the 911 calls overnight and always had like three jobs at any one time. I think me, in a very early age, being around somebody who was such a hard worker, and really felt that she could have done something very different with her circumstance, it was so supportive of me in my journey, I think it kind of put me on the path to really study and get a good education, which then led me to end up getting an MBA and starting a business career in Dallas.
I started a Frito Lay and had a great experience and you mentioned a number of the companies that I’ve gone to and most recently at Lily’s Sweets. I’ve got about 35 years in the food business, but I think it really all came from strong work ethic and really being appreciative of opportunities and I think maybe that’s the thing that I’m most proud about, and maybe the thing that comes across in the humbleness or the confidence that you talked about.
Diana Fryc: Well, what I feel is equally there and to me, everything that I’ve heard you talk about is apparent that you’re passionate about sharing these experiences all of them and in particularly for women like you want to share with women and you mentioned your mom and I believe your grandfather as definitive influences in your life, in particularly this commitment to succeed and commitment to education. Is this also where your altruism and desire for contribution comes from?
Jane Miller: Gosh, I think that’s actually something that’s probably come a little bit later in life to some degree, I would say. I think when I started my career, probably like many of your listeners, and maybe even yourself, Diana, you’re so focused on your career, and you’re so focused on you that you just don’t and sometimes they actually look around and sort of see what else is happening and I think, for me, a lot of the giving back has come from as I become a more senior executive, that I’ve seen that young people and especially young women make the same mistakes that I made.
I think that I wish that somebody would have told me about some of the things that I was doing so I wouldn’t actually have done them all, like, maybe I would have still made a bunch of mistakes, but it would have probably been nice to have a few less mistakes and some of them are more difficult on your career. I think a little bit of my giving back was that I am really appreciative of the career that I’ve been able to have, and wanted to make sure that I can help others along their way and make it just a little bit easier because careers are hard and there’s a lot of bumps in the road. You said you’re on a book about horrible bosses. Horrible bosses can make such a big difference and how you view the world, view yourself and you view the company and if you have the perspective that this too will pass. And by the way, there are lots of horrible bosses out there. If you don’t think you’re the only person in the world with a horrible boss and sometimes it makes it just a little bit easier. So I think that’s where a lot of it came from, I think to my grandfather, just to bring him up, thanks for recognizing that he passed away when I was 13. So he had an influence very early in my life. He was a self-mademan; he ended up being a vice president at Bradley University in Peoria. But he was really kind of self-taught and he had such an appreciation of reading and education again, and was just very, very supportive early on. My favorite story about him is when I was really young, I would go to his house and instead of reading like green eggs and ham, we would talk about Woodrow Wilson’s life history and his leadership in World War Ⅰ and it was like, I didn’t really know Dr. Seuss, but I knew a lot about Woodrow Wilson and I think I just really appreciate that sort of, early on that intellectual curiosity in helping a young girl sort of want to learn more and sort of look outside her world a little bit.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, and maybe from a different angle too like one of the things that I walked away with and I’m in my late 40s and it was kind of refreshing and helpful for me to go, oh, even Jane did that. For me, it was like, I’m not alone. I’m not alone in making some of these choices, or I’m not alone in being in some of these situations. I’m not the only one that has had a bad boss or made a bad professional career choice or whatever. It’s just kind of nice to have that. Although I would say that would I have taken the advice had I read the book at 20? No, I probably thought it was interesting and I’m not going to do that. But at least at some point, I would have said after a couple of things, which is oh yeah, maybe I should go back and read that again and get some more learnings out of it. So I like that. I like that it’s not just 20 or 30. Like there are learnings in there that you can take throughout your career and I love it.
Jane Miller: Well, I think what’s interesting what you said, Diana is really what was my experience is that every time I read a book, from someone who I deemed or someone I admired or successful, they seemed like they were perfect. Like, again, you kind of like hear their path and all of us have revisionist history. I think some people; their revisionist history is very much all the positive and my revisionist history was, oh, my gosh, I think I’m remembering all the negative, or the stuff that I really kind of learn from. So I think that was part of what my goal in the book was, was to sort of say, we’re all going through this and is not unique and I think you’re really right, though, about when you’re ready to learn. I really wrote the book and my websites really targeted at people starting their careers, but what I’ve actually found is that really resonates more with women like yourself who have had some career experience, and you can identify with it, because you’ve been there and you’re like, oh my gosh, I’m not alone, as opposed to someone who’s 22 reading that go, “This is never going to happen to me.” And then it happens. They’re like, oh my God.
Diana Fryc: Essential reading for many, many, many of us and your website is the same as well, but there are more bite sized bits of information than like the book where you kind of kind of get into the meaty Jane so to speak, and you can get more of that feedback. So I like that you can have the bite sized feedback, but then if you want more, you can go a little bit deeper. So the topic that I wanted to talk about today that I don’t know if excited is the right word that I want to use, but it’s the real reason why I wanted to talk to you today and it’s a little bit of a sensitive and a tricky subject depending on who you are and what kind of what your past is like professionally, but I think your perspective and your ability to kind of identify like strengths and weaknesses in all scenarios, it makes you really great at being able to help me tackle this topic for a number of people. And what this topic is for everybody else that wants to know is this transition from this situation that we have seen happen with small and medium passion brands, natural brands, privately owned brands, is somebody comes from a large CPG multinational is ready to make the transition to a passion brand. Sometimes it’s a professional change.
Oftentimes, there’s a burnout, I’m tired of working in a big co. I want to be wearing multiple hats. I want to be working with people that I’m really passionate about. And then on the flip side, we’ve got these founder owners that are looking for this expertise to bring it in house and help them fix or catapult their brand to the next level, and something happens, and it’s not a good fit. And then now we’ve got two parties that have kind of separated and oftentimes with the smaller companies when it’s a bad fit, the collateral damages a little bit bigger — feels bigger because the system can’t absorb the shock financially. Sometimes relationships that are strategic relationships are impacted and then as a founder honor, you start to second guess yourself, you’ve made a big gamble, you thought it was going to be a good fit, and you start to question yourself, and that’s kind of the topic that I want to talk about, and we’re going to like, couch it from couple of different ways that I hope that you’ve had enough time to kind of stew it over Jane. But the first question is going to come from this direction. We’re going to say something has gone wrong. It feels like a Zamboni crashed.
People sometimes from the outside can see it happening and we’re now at this place where the parties have separated and there’s collateral damage. And I was wondering if you can kind of describe maybe tactically or physically what’s happening, and then emotionally what might be happening in these situations? And it’s a really big question and it’s not a simple answer. But can you talk about what experiences you’ve either had or you’ve seen where you can say, yes, there’s a little bit of this happening?
Jane Miller: Yes Diana, it is a kind of a big group of questions that you’re asking there and it’s so intense and personal and I’m going to kind of break it down into a couple pieces from my perspective, and maybe just sort of the starting place, which is, how does this happen to begin with?Which if that’sall right, and then we can kind of go dive into a couple different areas because like I said, you look from the outside and you’re like, well, duh, that’s kind of obvious. But I think what happens in a lot of cases and again, I’ve had the experience working for companies that are smaller in the natural organic space, and one of which didn’t have a founder and three that have had founders presently in the business. And so I’ve had quite a bit of experience here. And I would actually say, let me say, first of all, this goes to kind of my theme of my book and how I talk about my career is, I have made a ton of mistakes working with founders.
This is not necessarily I’m not saying this replace of judgmental or I’m viewing somebody else I can actually say that even with all the experience that I have had, it’s just really, really hard. It’s like in any relationship, sort of trying to get it right and so let me just sort of say that at the outset that anybody who’s listening to this and it’s just like I’m either an operator like Jane, or I’m a founder like Cynthia Tice who’s the amazing founder of Lily’s, that whichever spot that you’re coming from, it’s hard. It’s just really, really hard because you have a situation, where you’ve got a founder who has, like, created something amazing and they have spent a lot of times, their life, their money, their friend’s money, their parent’s money, all of that and so their whole persona is wrapped up in the brand. And then you have somebody like myself, who’s kind of a professional CEO, I guess, who has had all kinds of different experiences and who comes and goes from brands and jumps in and either fixes them or takes with the next level. And it’s a whole different mentality than someone who has raised this baby up to a point where like, the new person comes in to raise the baby. So you sort of act like where it starts is the way you got two people with two very different perspectives. So why do we come together? At some point, whether it’s the founder or the board, or investors or whatever sort of say, “Oh my Gosh! Founder, you’ve done such an amazing job.”
But to scale it, you need somebody that’s got operational experience and somebody they can build a team around them. Because a lot of times entrepreneurs are so amazing with ideas, but don’t necessarily have all the skills to attract the kind of talent that they need to take it to the next level. So you kind of have, like these two very different personalities that like to have the Zamboni crash that you’re talking about, like you kind of get together and you want to say, all right, so how do you take the best of both worlds of this entrepreneur who’s got an amazing idea and has put everything into it? And this operator who’s got so much experience and knows how to build a team? On the surface, you go, well, that sounds amazing, right? You’ll like match those two people together and it’s going to be something great.
Well, I think what happens is in a lot of ways, and a lot of times in my experience both viewing and being a part of it, is that the expectations aren’t always the same on both sides and I think you might be alluding to a little bit with someone with my background who comes from a big company and sort of steps into something smaller. I think we have our Superwoman cap on and we’re like, okay, here I am little entrepreneur, I’ve got all this big experience and I’m going to jump in and make you so successful because I’ve like done this on a big scale. Well, what’s interesting, and I saw this when I first went from my Hostess experience to go into Rudy’s Organic Bakery. Again, there wasn’t a founder involved, but it was still a company that was a lot smaller, and I definitely had my super human person cap in. I was like, “Oh my Gosh! Well I’ve run these big companies, and this is a little company. So I’m just going to translate the big company stuffs to a little company stuff.” And it literally is like two different languages. The first thing I realized, and for anybody on here, that’s dying to go from a big company to a little company is, if you have any kind of success, you know, you attribute it a lot to yourself, right?
You sort of say, hey, nobody could have done this as good as me at HJHeinz or PepsiCo or whatever is in my background. But what you realize when you go to a smaller company, is that you had this huge support staff in big companies, oh, yeah, you made a difference. You ran a division or, you exceeded all your expectations. But you don’t even know how much infrastructure that you had that helped you do that and a lot of times when you go to a smaller company, you have to create that infrastructure, and you don’t even know what’s missing, because you didn’t even realize that it was there to begin with. So a great example at Rudy’s we were managing cash on a weekly basis. This was a big deal, like how much money’s coming in and we would literally go customer by customer have we received a cheque yet? I have to say I ran a one and a half billion dollar business at HJHeinz, and I never ever talked about cash, it wasn’t even like a thing. Were you worried about making payroll? Or do you have to hold your own cheques before you pay for wheat or something like that? I think that there is this sort of sense that you’ve got all these unbelievable skills that are complimentary to the founder. But not necessarily, because it really is a pretty big jump from going from big to small, and it doesn’t always, sort of equate. So I think that’s maybe sort of the first gap.
I think the second gap- and I think this is a pretty typical mistake and I would say one that I know that I’ve made, is when you show up with your Superman cap, that you’re not valuing the founder as much as you should, that there really is something that’s been so great that that person has created and I think in a lot of cases, if you have the big company experience and you haven’t been an entrepreneur that you don’t have the empathy for what that person has gone through to get it to the stage and appreciate as much value that they can add going forward. I think there’s almost this disconnect, which is okay, now, I’m going to take it from here, hand me the baton entrepreneur and I’ll take it to the next level.
Well, the fact is that the entrepreneur who got it to that place should really be integrally involved in the thinking and the process, taking it to the next level. I think that’s hard to do for a lot of us because we have egos, and we think we’re there for a reason, and that the entrepreneur can get it to one point and we have a whole different set of skills that the company needs. Now the reality is, in my experience, the company needs both sets of skills in trying to figure out how you mesh them together. So that was a really long answer to your question, but it was a very complicated question.
Diana Fryc: I understand it because it’s complicated, because we’ve got two things going on. We’ve got the technical and the tactical, and then we’ve got the emotional component and they don’t always connect. Well, in fact, that’s usually where the tension is. Is that correct?
Jane Miller: Yeah, I think you’re dead on because I think, intellectually, nobody is arguing with what needs to be done. But there’s a heart piece of it, an emotional piece of it that honestly, I think someone who has my background doesn’t. And again, I can’t speak for everyone I can just speak for myself, doesn’t always understand the heart piece of it as much because we’re much more focused on that tactical technical thing that you’re talking about, as opposed to the real heart of the brand and I think this is the thing I love about entrepreneurs so much, is that they create something generally from their heart and that comes from a very different place than someone who spent their whole career trying to run a division of a big company.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. Okay, great. In this scenario when things are not going well, are there certain flags or sequences? It’s not like you’ve been in hundreds of these. So I don’t know that you can definitively say, but do you see a pattern of things that these certain things start happening in and now these are the watch outs and they can course correct. Or people should start throwing red flags up. Is that a question that can be easily answered?
Jane Miller: Yeah. I think there’s like an answer with my own point of view, and maybe others would have different ones. But I think there are a few flags that happen, I think, which is actually when I tell you the flags and the answer to the flags is exactly the opposite. So the flag that comes up first is that the entrepreneur and the operator are not talking to one another. They start to make decisions in a vacuum a little bit so the operator who might be in control begins to sort of dismiss the founder in some way.
The founder, instead of talking to the operator about that goes to the board or the investors to sort of say, “Hey, I don’t think this is right.” And I think the kind of the key thing is this disconnect of being aligned on what the company needs to do and instead of having the two people talk to one another about where their breakpoints are, or what’s not working, they kind of go their opposite directions. And it’s kind of like actually, Diana, like any relationship, instead of like trying to work at it, a lot of times, we kind of go opposite direction. So I’m going to go over here and the founder is going to go over here as opposed to say, wait a minute, why don’t we get in a room and line up, what’s working and what’s not working and what we need to change because we all have the same goals. It’s just sometimes our approaches are just so different, that they’re hard to reconcile. So it’s kind of like sometimes, maybe a bad marriage that we actually kind of need some counseling or something to get us together as opposed to us kind of go on our separate ways.
Diana Fryc: So almost like they’re trying to work around each other to still meet the goals, but it’s almost like you’re rowing the boat in two different directions?
Jane Miler: Yeah, exactly. Again, I think it kind of comes to and again, a lot of times what I’ve seen is the operator and the founder both have very strong personalities and really strong points of view. And again, I think they tried to come together on that, as opposed to operating independently and as you said kind of rolling separately, I think we’d actually see a lot more success.
Diana Fryc: Do you think those scenarios if they can be identified are salvageable or is that just once you start to see that it’s kind of like, time to start planning?
Jane Miller: Yeah. I think what I would suggest is that even before — so yes, it’s definitely salvageable. I think from a tactic standpoint is before a CEO and a founder get matched up, sort of officially to really spend some time together talking about values and their approaches and their expectations for what their role is going to be in the organization, versus just kind of diving into it and sort of assuming that it’s going to work itself out. I would actually even say, just the hard work of developing a relationship, before you get started is probably so much worth the time where you’re actually working on that and then knowing. Actually, the other thing I’d say is like any relationship, it’s not going to be perfect. But just having those ground rules, like you would enter in a personal relationship, like, okay, if I’m not feeling comfortable about this, I’m going to bring something up to you and I want to talk about it and let’s kind of work through it versus ignoring it. So I would just say, based on myself experience, I would go back in almost every situation and say, how do I get to know the founder better up front? How do we be super transparent about what our personal goals are and what we’re trying to get out of this? And then how do you take the time to build trust?
I think like right now, Cynthia Tice, who is the founder of Lily’s, the two of us have, I think we’ve become really good personal friends and I think we work really well together. And we’ve been working together for about two and a half years now and I would say that it’s like any relationship; we just keep working on it. Because I think initially, the two of us had very different opinions about what our roles were going to be and we just continue to talk about it and bring up things that work and things that don’t work and I just feel blessed to be able to be working with her because she’s very open about what she’s feeling and it’s really allowed me to be open and I think when we both feel that way, we’re able to create a relationship. But we still work on it all the time and I think we actually have a really, really strong relationship.
Diana Fryc: Okay, I like that. I think these are good habits to have for business and personal life anyways- I don’t think just for this scenario, I think is as you’re going through your professional life, knowing that you are going to want to connect with other people in a positive way at the end of the day. I think these are just good habits to put in place.
Jane Miller: Yeah. Well, I guess that’s funny, because I think, again, when you go back to my book, so much of it when you read it, it’s like there’s not any like the 10 things you should do to be successful. Probably everything that you read, you’re like, oh, that makes sense. Like either I did that or I’m glad I didn’t do that. But it’s just kind of human nature stuff and I do think that so much of the hard stuff about business is less about the business problem and it’s more about the people that you’re dealing with and how you solve those problems, whether it’s founder and CEO or CEO and senior staff or senior staff and their direct reports. It’s all about that rhythm of people, I think.
Diana Fryc: Agreed. So I’m going to flip this around kind of talked about how do you avoid a plane crash? How do you avoid and how do we get away from that? Maybe let’s start talking. We’ve already started addressing, how can we plan? I love this concept of when you’re bringing an operator in and your founder owner or if the operator says, hey, we should get to know each other I like that, before you make the commitment to work together to get to know each other it’s probably a handful of conversations to just kind of make sure it’s dating, right? It’s a little bit of dating. When we’re learning Looking at providing people some kind of guidance for these scenarios, let’s talk about when transitions work well, are there certain elements or tools that you can use to kind of start a good transition. And we can talk about it from two ways we can first talk about it from the brand side; who’s looking to hire in and then we could talk about it from the employee side, or the whoever’s coming in, whether it’s somebody at a director level all the way up to C suite, people who have or are going to have an impact on the organization. The two different ways; how can we prepare these people in asking what kinds of questions or what sort of tools?
Jane Miller: Gosh, that it’s really tricky. I think, just because how do you get transitioned into a business in a way where we can really make an impact right away? I think on the kind of the brand side is really understanding the history of the brand, and how it got there and not being dismissive of it. I think a lot of us kind of get trained to look at the issues as opposed to the beauty of a situation and I know that sounds a little warm and fuzzy. But I think that there’s something that’s super powerful, especially when you think about businesses being started from the heart, that you really understand the heart of the business and where it came from, and the backstory, and being appreciative of that, and the role that it played and the amount of kind of hard work that went in to building the brand. Again, I think part of this, if you come from a corporate background, brands have been in existence for a really long time and you just kind of come in and you’re like, okay, we’re going to refresh this thing as opposed to most entrepreneurs, they have something that’s generally pretty young. It doesn’t really need to be refreshed, it needs to be built upon as opposed to sort of reinvented and I think from a brand standpoint really understanding the DNA of what works for the brand and why it’s worked so far and what’s resonated. So I think that that’s really, really important.
I do think, as people come on board, really understanding clearly what the objectives of the company are and what the real goals are because when you sort of say something generally like, okay, you director, C suite or whatever, you’re here to scale the business, like, what does that mean? Are you trying to double it? Are you trying to get more doors, you’re trying to increase household penetration? Like, what are the real specific goals that the board and the investors are looking for? I think a lot of times we might come in and sort of almost be very general, like, I just know I need to grow this business, but really matching up the expectations of everybody involved in it and have everybody kind of be transparent about it. So I think there’s, again, it kind of goes back to communication, just all a lot of dialogue about one, the background on the business, but what is everybody’s role kind of coming in? And what are we looking for? And then, in fast growing businesses, which so many of these are how do you get people that are adaptable and can change? And I think that’s one of the hardest things is that I mean, let me use the COVID environment, holy cow! It’s been insane for us as a business because the last few years, we’ve spent all of our time really building points of distribution in bricks and mortar customers. I mean, that’s been our focus is to really get really used to be very broadly based. And then overnight, e commerce becomes a main way for people to be familiar with the brand and we’ve had to totally pivot as a company and we’re still are growing with our key customers.
But we didn’t really have a big expertise in e commerce; we had a small business there and it was one we were nurturing. But now we have got to be able to play big time in e commerce to be successful. And so here you get a company that all over sudden, then I’m sure this happened to many companies, you have to pivot because the customer and the consumer more specifically has changed so dramatically. So I think this sort of sense when somebody comes into a new company, that you realize that unlike a big company, like HJHeinz has been around for 150 years, that a little company that is so from the heart that’s growing so fast, you need to be able to change and it isn’t, you’re just doing the same thing you need to really be able to pivot as the world pivots around you.
Dian Fryc: Yeah. And I think a little bit on that, if you are a HJHeinz, or a Frito- Lay and you do need to pivot you’ve got a whole entire team dedicated to making that happen was sometimes, depending on how small your brand is, 300 million could be small, 5 million could be small, you may not have the resources that can make those changes eloquent. I think that’s, finding those people that can be in your organization, that’ll be like, “Sure, I’ll learn that. Sure. I’ll take that on.” I think it could be a challenge or maybe not as a smaller brand, do you find that there’s a different mentality with people that work in the smaller brands versus the bigger brands?
Jane Miler: Yeah, I think you’re actually hitting onto something that is like so pivotal, which is this idea that, that you really let, that you embrace change. That’s one of our values as a company, because things are changing so fast. Actually, I really believe strongly that nobody likes change. That is like, we all say we like change, we like change, if we’re in charge of change, we like change when change happens to us as to trying to get people that actually are comfortable with change and realizing that their job may change, and that they’re still going to be valued and appreciated. It’s a really difficult thing to tackle. I’d have to say, I’m so proud of the Lily’s team, though, I feel that we really have managed to bring this sort of the right balance of people that are sort of functional experts and really good at what they do and then people that are able to kind of pivot and take on different responsibility is as the work requires.
Dian Fryc: That’s great, congratulations, because I think not everybody has that. That’s great to hear.
Jane Miller: It’s really hard because again, if you don’t like change and you’re an environment that’s constantly changing, but I think you can also develop the skills to adapt to change if you’ve got kind of the right structure around you and the right support where you don’t feel like you’re going to be left out to dry or something if something goes the wrong way. I always say it’s been interesting I have to say now, that I have at least that I think kind of helped me in my career, but I never had it as the same till I came to Lily’s, which is we make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. And it kind of gives you permission to not second guessed yourself, but just to say what I know today, I’m making the best decision I can now tomorrow, I might have totally different information, and maybe that decision is obsolete. But yesterday, it was a really gooddecision.
Diana Fryc: I’ve had a few of those.I think we all have. In regards to change, I remember when the dot com explosion happened in 2000 and I was working for dot com and was in I think round three of layoffs and our parting gift was a book called Who Moved My Cheese?Did you read that?
Jane Miller: Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah. That’s a great book.
Diana Fryc: As a quick read, this was interesting. But I remember that was, I think harder when I was younger because I thought I had more control over circumstances. Now I’m kind of like…
Jane Miller: Yeah, that’s actually the pivotal book to know about change is Who Moved My Cheese?Absolutely. If anybody who’s listening hasn’t yet got it, you just it takes about two minutes to read, but it is literally the best probably book about change that’s ever been written.
Diana Fryc: And broken down so simply.
Jane Miller: Right.
Diana Fryc: Let’s talk a little bit about what are the indicators that a brand is ready to or should bring on kind of this expertise and it may not be financial, it might be emotional, it could be a number of different factors. But I think sometimes people bring on the expertise because they want it but their organization isn’t quite ready for it.
Are there indicators and can you talk to them a little bit?
Jane Miller: I think that’s probably the biggest question, which is when do you hire, who do you hire sort of the sequence of that? So if you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re trying to say, should I bring a CEO on? Or do I bring a head of sales? Do I bring an R&D resource on or do I look at sort of the head of finance. First of all, I would say, not to be pressured to bring on full time people to start with. One of the beautiful things about the natural and organic industry today is there are so many amazing resources in terms of partial CFOs, partial sales teams, partial HR people, so that you can really partial marketing people, you can really sort of look out there in the world and sort of say, I don’t have to bring on all of these full time people as I’m trying to kind of build out my team. It helps in a couple different ways. One is, sometimes we’re just growing so fast. So today, you think you need one resource and maybe that you don’t.
Two, a lot of times to bring somebody on full time is really expensive and I think one of the big things that I learned, coming from the big organizations and this is going to seem so obvious, but you just have to be scrappy, or you have to be so sensitive about any decision that you make on money. And I would just say that again, I thought I adapted pretty well going from big company to small but I think that it took me a while to really be much more thoughtful about every dollar as if it was my own dollar and I think entrepreneurs are so good at that. And I think those of us that are coming from the corporate world, we say you know that we get it, but until you’ve actually spent your own life savings on a business, you don’t totally get it. So I would just say as you sort of think about the organization, what I always like to think about is one, can you hire somebody as a partial versus full? Two,really be supercritical about what your skill set is and what you need it being complimented. So what I see with a lot of entrepreneurs is they’re really good at sales or marketing and they’re not always so good at operations or finance. Again, that’s a gross generalization, but let’s just useit as an example. So, if my skill set is I came up with a great idea. I’m amazing with customers, and I’ve got all kinds of great marketing ideas, because I’m like a self-promoting wonderful, fabulous founder, but I really don’t know how you get this stuff made and you can make any money on it. Like making sure that you’re really being honest about that and really making sure that you’re kind of complementing your skills.
Along those lines, I think something that is really overlooked and I didn’t realize it, both from my career not just as a CEO of a smaller company, but just as a person growing up in a career is just surrounding yourself with people that can give you good advice. I don’t know Diana if this was ever your experience. But I had a big part of my career where I felt like I couldn’t ask any questions, like I needed to have the answers. And so much about this stuff is if you haven’t been through it, you’re just not going to know it. It’s just some of us just not intuitive and I think tapping into people that have come before you and have dealt with problems that you’re going to be faced with and not feeling like you have to have all the answers and it doesn’t mean you have to have an advisory board of like 1000 people.
But having like a number of people that you could reach out to and ask them a question; a good friend of mine has this concept of being a five minute mentor and it’s such a great idea, which is because people get kind of scared about being an advisor or mentor, like, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to be a super heavy lift.” But literally, if you had a question for me, Diana, and you sort of said, “Hey, Jane,I got one thing I want to ask you today,” as opposed to, “Can we just kind of talk about things in general.” If you said, there’s one thing, it’s so unintimidating for me to answer that one thing as a mentor, as opposed to sort of being the be all and end all for every answer that you need. Maybe I would just say from a tip standpoint, think partial versus full, really understand what your personal gaps are, and then not be afraid to kind of surround yourself with other people that can be resources and answer questions so that you don’t have to have all the expertise.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, I think women have a harder – like we’re comfortable asking when it’s personal. But when it’s professional, I think sometimes we behave a little bit different like if I ask, that means that I don’t know.
And that might be perceived as a weakness and we start to go down a rabbit hole what a simple request is. So I’m glad that you said that.
Jane Miller: Yeah, I think that’s a great observation for sure. Then we start to sort of second guess ourselves like, I should have had that answer. Why didn’t I have that answer? And then yeah, you do go down a rabbit hole. So yeah, and I do. I think it is sometimes uniquely a female characteristic, because we’re so much more empathetic. Like, we’re always trying to think about where the other person’s coming from. I don’t have the answer you’re thinking, “Oh, my Gosh, I didn’t do that right. Because they’re not going to think that I’m very smart.” While, again, to generalize, a guy would be like, I’m just going to ask the question, who cares what they think about me?
Diana Fryc: And I think there’s some learning there for I mean, that’s at least I behave that way. I ask a question or ask for help X, Y, and Z and I think if I can just start to remember that there’s different ways. So that’s great. So I really feel like we’ve given some really nice nugget help points. People kind of give people permission to go, it’s okay to fail if you’re going to do this thing, here are some watch outs. Here’s some things to be considerate of yourself and your organization, your brand, but then also with a future employee, and then vice versa, if you’re coming into a brand, I think some really great points that are easy to write down and keep in the back of your mind. So I love that. I would love to ask you a couple of questions outside of this space if you’re okay with that still have a little bit of time?
Jane Miller: Absolutely.
Diana Fryc: Okay.The first thing that I like to do always, your lilies, come on now everybody loves lilies, and you’ve worked with some really amazing brands Rudy’s in included, what do you find interesting, business side, consumer side about the natural space right now and are you watching anything from a trend perspective? That’s just interesting for you. It may not be news, but just it’s interesting to you personally.
Jane Miller: Oh, I love that question because I am absolutely intrigued with COVID and how it’s going to change our eating habits. We’re like really trying to understand a lot of what’s happening and so many people are saying, hey, coming out of this, I’m going to be eating healthier;I’m going to be more conscious and yet, you see, all of the big brands that haven’t grown in such a long time, are growing like crazy. I’m specifically in the sugar space; Oreos and candy bars and like all these brands that pretty much had pretty slow growth. People are really going crazy with what we would maybe call comfort food or food that we grew up with. And so the thing I’m really intrigued about is how a pandemic like this is going to change our eating habits, if it will at all. Right now it’s changing our shopping habits like in big ways, and in some ways changing how we’re eating too and sort of how we’re thinking about the food that we’re buying. But to me, that’s going to be the most interesting thing coming out of this is do we feel, having been exposed to a virus, that we want to be healthier, that we’re more concerned about the things that we put into our bodies? Or are we going to be like, “Oh my God, the world’s coming to an end so I’m going to eat whatever the heck I want to eat.” So I think I’m really intrigued with that right now.
Diana Fryc: I think even in the natural space, we’re so polarized to begin with when it comes to food in general. We’ve got the natural consumer who wants absolute efficacy in production and ingredients supply chain etcetera but doesn’t have a problem driving a Land Rover and buying $500 pair of Manolo Blahniks right. It’s like that there’s a huge dichotomy there and I think there’s more of that. On one side we’re seeing people eating really healthy on the other side people are mainlining Cheetos. It’s really interesting time, right? In fact, Frito Lay published something earlier today about some information that they’ve been collecting around snacking. If you haven’t seen that, I can send that over to you just a really quick article, but along the same line and what snacking actually means to people now, not just what are they eating, but what does snacking mean, from a eating perspective and emotional perspective? Super interesting.
Jane Miller: I would love to see that. The other thing that I’m really intrigued with its related to this is just how natural organic becomes even more mainstream. That to your point about the Land Rover and the Manolo Blahniks, like how do we make these kinds of products accessible? Growing up in Peoria, Illinois on food stamps, we no more would have bought organic products.
Or again back then it was a long time ago, but you just wouldn’t have bought things at a premium. Because I had such limited resources and I just think to me, this is still one of the most intriguing things about our industry is that we’re creating amazing products that are so good but are we still limited to the number of people that can actually afford some of the products and I think that if we can, like break that paradigm, I think it changes the whole scope of what natural organic look likein the face of the food industry.
Diana Fryc: Oh good! Well, I have a guest on next week, who’s going to talk about innovation and making how people in R&D can help C suite kind of bridge the gap between making the margin that they want and delivering product to people at a more affordable price point, like starting to bridge that gap. So that’ll be a fun topic for you to see hear about.
Jane Miller: Oh, that sounds great. I can’t wait.
Diana Fryc: Tell us an interesting fact maybe about chocolate that maybe a chocolate or making chocolate that maybe people don’t know about that would be fun like water cooler. Share over a beverage factoid.
Jane Miller: Oh, wow. Gosh, fun fact about chocolate.
Diana Fryc: Well, it could be about anything in your past. It could be any even about Twinkies.
Jane Miller: Oh my Gosh! Let me think about chocolate a little bit. I think once again, I’m in the low sugar chocolate arena. I think kind of a fun fact for me is that, if you eat like a whole candy bar, you have like a regular chocolate bar; you’re like eating all of the sugar that you should eat for one day. So it’s one of these things where you sort of just think about what you put into your body. Actually my most fun fact is, if you like to make chocolate chip cookies, you make a batch of chocolate chip cookies and you use Nestlé’s Toll House. We all grew up with them, and you make exactly the same recipe and you only take the Nestlé’s Toll House, you still use cane sugar, you still use brown sugar, every other ingredient that’s in there, and you only change out for Lily’s, you’re going to save over 100 grams of sugar in that batch of cookies. So that is like a really fun fact, to think about that. Again, if you’re thinking about how you start to like maybe even incrementally change some of your diet stuff. Like you don’t have to give up on sugar, you just have to cut back in some ways that you won’t even notice and now that’s one thing that I would say is probably my most fun fact.
Diana Fryc: I think that’s great. We’ve worked with a lot of brands where sugar reduction has been a really big initiative for them in product reformulation and even how to talk about that in their products. And it’s so great to see somebody like Lily’s just really moving forward with it and being a leader in there and to have that kind of information that’s really easy for people to remember, like house cookie, and I just swap this and then this, that’s my net benefit. Awesome! Really easy, instead of going into the science of it, which sometimes we can get really excited about, but doesn’t really resonate with the consumer.
Jane Miller: Yeah, and there’s also I think, the other part of it, there’s like no shaming of this, which is like, everybody loves sugar and you know what, you’re going to eat sugar. But, you know, if you just sort of like think about different ways to cut back and ways that you don’t even notice, then I think it’s kind of a powerful way to sort of be in control of your diet, and sort of how you kind of look at food.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. Okay. Well, I have one last question if you’re willing to share because this was really fun for me to hear is that how does somebody – with this I said I have here in my notes, Russian major with an MBA, get a job at Frito -Lay like just that mash up of how it happened was so fun, and I’d love to just share that last bit. Can you do that?
Jane Miller: Yeah, absolutely. So for anybody that has got a really strange background and you’re like, will you ever get a job? Actually, my Russian degree probably helped me land my job at Frito-Lay for one reason, which is after I got my MBA at SMU I interviewed at Frito Lay, and I got rejected. And seven people interviewed me in the course of a day and as I found out later, six of the seven really liked me and the most senior guy didn’t like me at all and so as things happen in the corporate world. This is not a democracy, the most senior guy didn’t like Jane and so Jane didn’t get a job. So I went on to another company and went into banking.
Which I never would have been very good at; so thank goodness because of my Russian degree a year later. Turns out that most senior guy left Frito-Lay I like to think he was fired, but who knows, like why he left. But the other people remembered not my name. But they remembered a girl that had graduated from SMU with a Russian degree was a great candidate. So they literally called SMU and said, we’re looking for someone that graduated with the Russian degree. Well, as it turned out, I was the only person in the history of SMU that had had an Russian undergraduates so they were able to track me down. But actually, the real moral of the story is that when you’re interviewing, don’t just focus on the most senior person, focus on everybody. Because again, I was rejected to begin with, but then I had the most amazing career because six other people remembered me and tried to track me down.
Diana Fryc: That’s fun. My learning from that story was follow your passion and your passion will take you to wherever. It’s not the degree that’s going to get you to the heights, it’s like if it’s meant to be that job, or that degree in whatever is going to make you and so that’s what I took from it. Like, don’t be afraid to chase whatever it is that you want to do in school or professionally because somewhere it’s going to stick and people will remember you for that combination.
Jane Miller: I think you actually are hitting on the bigger point that I was hitting on for sure. I do think that’s right. I think when I meet people now and interview them, I’m less concerned about the company that they worked for or what their degree was, but how they talk about it. And if you do something that you love, you’re going to talk about it in a way that is going to be so engaging and that’s really what you’re hitting on and I agree 100% with that.
Diana Fryc: Thank you so much for your time today. First of all, I want to recommend Jane’s book if I didn’t say it. So throughout our conversation, I really feel like while it’s targeted for women, and it’s supposed to be kind of this entry into the workforce, I will say that it’s good for anybody at any point, especially for men who want to understand how women think, I think this is a really powerful book as well. And so and I think Amazon is a great place for them to get it and the book is called, Sleep your way to the top and other myths about business success. So that’s a great book. How do you want people to connect with you if they want to learn more about you? Do you want them to go to your Janeknows website? What’s the best way for people to interact with you?
Jane Miller: I think if you want to learn more about me and just sort of the things we’ve had, janeknows.com is really a great place, a great resource I want to say. If you want to reach out to me personally though, I’m just email@example.com I’m super accessible in running a company. So I’m a little busy, but I’m generally pretty good to get back at emails and being able to respond. And again, if you think about sort of the one question that you might have, that’s really great because I can be super accessible to answer one question. So yeah, that’dbe the best way to get in touch with me Diana.
Diana Fryc: Thank you, Jane. So there you go. I hope you all enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. Please feel free to share this podcast episode. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to the podcast to hear from more amazing women leaders in our industry. So until next time, be well and do gooder.