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Produce Leadership
For All Ages

We just returned from PMA’s Leadership Symposium in Dallas, Texas, which is produced in partnership with Cornell University and Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS.

It is a fabulous event, unique in the industry in that it encourages out-of-the-box thinking by bringing in speakers who have no particular expertise in produce or perishables and thus can only speak of business organization, strategy and similar topics.

Jodean Robins wrote a cover story for PRODUCE BUSINESS on leadership, which you can read here — she also sent along an interview that she did with the authors of a book Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, which posits that the key to leadership is making good judgment calls:

According to a recently released book based on a 5-year leadership study, good judgment is perhaps the most critical characteristic of a good leader. The book, “Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls,” was co-authored by professors Noel Tichy of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

“The single most important thing leaders do is to make good judgment calls,” Tichy and Bennis note. “In the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, conflicting demands and under great-time pressure, leaders must make decisions and take effective actions to assure the survival and success of their organizations.”

Tichy and Bennis add, “Judgment is a process beginning with getting the right information all the way through execution. Good judgment doesn’t show itself until it is well executed, and any mistakes must be recognized and corrective action taken.”

They show a distinction, noting, “When Cicero spoke, people marveled. When Caesar spoke, people marched. Leadership is not simply speech. It is speech that makes people march. Good judgment without action is worthless.”

The book outlines judgment as a process as opposed to a single event. “We have seen how effective leaders prepare for decisions by understanding the situation, knowing who will be affected by the decision, and allowing time to refine the decision,” explain Tichy and Bennis.

Three areas are identified where judgment must be exercised: selection of people, choice of strategy and handling crises. “These judgments come in three parts: preparation, call and execution,” they report. “Good leaders not only make better calls, but they are also able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”

In the book, the authors report one example of good judgment in leadership by Richfield, Minnesota-based Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson. When faced with formidable competition from Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Round Rock, Texas-based Dell and Seattle, Washington-based, Anderson made a strategic judgment in 2003 to transform Best Buy from product-centric into “a customer-centric retail company with deep consumer insight.”

As the book states, “What makes this strategic judgment so interesting is the process Anderson used to engage hundreds of Best Buy leaders in the process of preparing him to make the big shift.”

Tichy and Bennis had the opportunity to help design the process and work with Anderson and his team. According to the book, the process “took about six months of work engaging over 100 of Best Buy’s senior leaders to discover the segments they would go after, figuring out the value propositions for these segments and then developing plans for executing on those segments.”

“The process was highly engaged, chaotic at times, but highly energized; all the participants knew they were going to come up with judgments that would reinvent the company. This was a look over the horizon at what was emerging in the industry,” they state.

Starting in 2005, elements of customer-centricity were in all stores, and by early 2007 most Best Buy stores were operating in the new customer-centric model. “These changes represent a profound divergence from Best Buy’s practices in the past. In an effort to create more nimbleness and innovation, Best Buy is ‘unleasing the power of its people’ to think like business owners. This will require store leaders to create a culture of ‘owner operators’ [and] …translates into associates in the store making judgments that are in support of the overall customer-centric storyline.”

But Best Buy’s leadership does not stop there. Tichy and Bennis report, “A new set of strategic judgments were made at Best Buy in 2007, namely how to be truly customer-centric in a consumer electronics world where 65 percent of purchases are controlled by women.”

Driven by Julie Gilbert, a senior executive at Best Buy who, according to Tichy and Bennis, “headed up the high-end male segment when Best Buy launched customer centricity,” this “redo loop is coming up with new ways of capturing female purchasing power while simultaneously developing women leaders using an innovative action-learning approach.”

The book also relates an example of failed leadership due to problems communicating execution. “David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands [KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut], was struggling with how to get more unit volume.” Novak identified multibranding in the same restaurant as a possible solution to the problem. “We started with combinations of KFC-Taco Bell and Taco Bell-Pizza Hut,” he told authors Tichy and Bennis.

“We learned that we were able to add $100,000 to $400,000 per unit in average sales.” The book further reports, “Novak made the strategy judgment for multibranding then hit a brick wall in the execution phase,” principally due to the complexity of the individuality of the brands.

Novak told the authors his expectation got bogged down because, “People thought I loved it too much and that I wasn’t seeing the issues and complexity associated with it.” He reports, “I didn’t do a good enough job as a leader in stepping back and saying ‘Hey look, I know we’ve got a lot of challenges here.’”

We can’t stand a butchered quote, and we think the authors are alluding to a quote by Adlai Stevenson, who was comparing his own oratorical skills to those of John F. Kennedy.

Stevenson put it this way: ‘Do you remember that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ’How well he spoke,’ but when Demostheenes had finished speaking, the people said, ’Let us march.’

This in turn was based on a much older quote. As early as 1906 William Jennings Bryan wrote an introduction to the ancient Greek section of a book entitled The World’s Famous Orations and he wrote, “The object of public speaking usually is to persuade. Some one, in describing the difference between Cicero and Demosthenes, remarked: “When Cicero spoke people said: ‘How well Cicero speaks!’ but when Demosthenes spoke they said, ‘Let us go against Philip.’” — the difference being that Cicero impressed himself upon the audience, while Demosthenes impressed his subject upon them.”

One wonders who was a greater leader of men, one who inspired action or one who impressed on his audience the facts they needed to know to make wise decisions.

We are not certain that we buy this focus on judgment calls; it strikes us as more a characteristic of a management than leadership. Indeed the Pundit wrote a column questioning whether we buy a focus on leadership at all. In fact, in the piece we quote Peter Drucker:

You know, I was the first one to talk about leadership 50 years ago, but there is too much talk, too much emphasis on it today and not enough on effectiveness. The only thing you can say about a leader is that a leader is somebody who has followers.

The most charismatic leaders of the last century were called Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Mussolini. They were mis-leaders! Charismatic leadership by itself certainly is greatly overstated.

Look, one of the most effective American presidents of the last 100 years was Harry Truman. He didn’t have an ounce of charisma. Truman was as bland as a dead mackerel. Everybody who worked for him worshiped him because he was absolutely trustworthy. If Truman said no, it was no, and if he said yes, it was yes. And he didn’t say no to one person and yes to the next one on the same issue.

The other effective president of the last 100 years was Ronald Reagan. His great strength was not charisma, as is commonly thought, but that he knew exactly what he could do and what he could not do.

Drucker was skeptical about efforts to develop leaders in business:

We have talked a lot about executive development. We have been mostly talking about developing people’s strength and giving them experiences. Character is not developed that way. That is developed inside and not outside. I think churches and synagogues and the 12-step recovery programs are the main development agents of character today.

So we look for character as the most important element in leadership. One reason we enjoy the Leadership Symposium is that it uses a series of small group break-out sessions to ensure lots of networking opportunity that translates into a good opportunity to size up the participants… and their leadership potential.

While in Dallas, we had a chance to chat with Matthew Enny, a category management analyst out of the Salinas, California, office of Duda Farm Fresh Foods. He was the recipient of the first Produce Marketing Association Education Foundation (PMAEF) young professionals’ scholarship to attend the Leadership Symposium. Enny has traveled the dream road that the PMA Education Foundation hopes to see replicated:

Enny’s experience with PMAEF began as a Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways scholarship recipient in 2006, while he was a student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He shared his experiences as a scholarship recipient with general session attendees at the 2007 Fresh Summit last October.

We were impressed as Matthew praised his Pack mentors Chris Ciruli, COO of Ciruli Brothers LLC, Nogales, Arizona, and Hurley Neer, Vice President of Grower Relations for Rosemont Farms, Boca Raton, Florida, and he couldn’t have been more effusive in gratitude for the opportunity to work under Bob Gray, CEO of Duda Farm Fresh Foods.

As we listened, we thought that his willingness to credit others with his success was a sign of strong character.

He kept some notes on a blog about the Leadership Symposium, and we thought he had some interesting thoughts that reveal how a young industry executive experiences these events:

Discussing the topics of company alignment, pricing, and growth through innovation is when I think the people at my table began to look at me differently. Not because I had some great input and ideas to bounce off the upcoming speakers, but because I pointed out that one of the books was written in 1994 … which just so happened to be when I was in the 4th grade. Smirks appeared, eyes squinted, and heads titled as even those who thought they were young amongst others at the table suddenly felt just a tad older, while the rest pointed out that they have grandchildren older than me. I sort of get that reaction a lot when I attend industry functions back home in Salinas and I just point out that, “Hey, we both have actors’ signatures on our college diplomas. Mine is Governor Schwarzenegger and yours is Governor Reagan.”

… Given my age and experience level compared with all the wisdom that was in the room, I heard some terrific answers. Shelly Carlson, retail business development manager for C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., gave me great input by saying that I have to personally set a benchmark based on my quality of work and continue to raise the bar and in time I will be recognized for my accomplishments and rewarded.

A good advantage about being young here at the symposium is that everyone is willing to “show me the ropes” and “tell me how it is” and to me that’s the best kind of education I can receive. My question from the innovation breakout session leaked outside our group and before you know it people were giving me all sorts of advice. For instance, Gene Harris, senior purchasing manager for Denny’s Corporation, pulled me aside and said, “I have some ideas on how to address your question. Let’s talk later tonight.” Now I don’t know if it’s because I talk a lot and like to tell stories, but Gene and I ended up talking for 45 minutes about everything from how I can establish myself within the produce industry to the level of respect both of us share for the PMA Education Foundation and their successful progress. To me, this guy is a rock star in our industry, and I don’t mean like Meatloaf rock star — but Eric Clapton rock star, and that’s how I view many of the members of our industry.

At one point tonight I was sitting at the bar with Lorri Koster, vice president of marketing for Mann Packing Company, Inc., Lisa McNeece, vice president of foodservice and industrial sales for Grimmway Farms, and Ken Silveira, president and chief operating officer of Tanimura & Antle and in my eyes it was like I sitting next to Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra.

Here is a secret about leadership. The Pundit has known all these people a lot longer than Matthew Enny; in some cases he knew them before Matthew Enny was born. We speak or e-mail with some of the people he mentions every week.

Yet admiration of true leaders and respect for true leadership does not dissipate with time. It is enhanced with time, so when we chat with industry luminaries we still think we are talking to rock stars and we feel mighty lucky they want to talk to us.

You can read Matthew’s Blog on the Leadership Symposium in full here.

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