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Solving the Fresh Produce Rubik’s Cube | Part 1

Solving the Fresh Produce Rubik’s Cube | Part 1

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Krivanek Consulting. Known for our strategic thinking and planning niche, I’m obsessed with helping clients solve the Rubik’s Cube of business: how to achieve long-term value and profitable growth.

Sizing Up the Industry

We’ve all seen the industry become more and more complicated. At the same time, the sheer level of talent and brainpower needed to meet the challenges has also grown. People and teams are developing strategies, investors are attracted to the promise of fresh, and there are examples galore proving that organizations are breaking out of commodity mindsets and the conventional thinking of the past.

So, what have I learned in my last 30 years about the winners and losers? How do the winners achieve long-term value and profitable growth, and where do the losers fall short? The answer is surprisingly simple: The best of the best get the same three things right, and the companies that struggle or fail get one or more of the same three things wrong.

That’s right—success or failure pivots around only three things:

The right strategy.

The right CEO.

The right Board.

The Right Strategy

This is the first part of a two-part series starting with strategy and the planning process used to create it. Next issue, I’ll focus on the people that make all the difference in success or failure: the CEO and the Board.

As I’ve said, leaders and companies have a wide range of expertise in strategy development. So, instead of hitting the basics, I’m going to share the most common pitfalls I’ve seen in my consulting practice that derail even the smartest and best in the business.

Pitfall #1: A deer in headlights

Business owners and executives often debate where to start. You may have a strategy that needs to be fueled by the right people or you may need the right people to create the strategy and plan. Just accept that work is complicated and messy. Don’t overthink it—or you’ll freeze. The most important thing is to just start.

Pitfall #2: Strategy for dummies

In the past few decades, “strategy” has been dumbed down to a list of activities that basically detail how to get from point A to point B. This is not a strategy, this is a to-do list. A business can check off all the tasks on its list and still fail to create long-term value and profitable growth. This tactical approach is called “operational excellence,” and may create efficiency but not advantage in a marketplace that has become a battleground for price and value.

“I’m obsessed with helping clients solve the Rubik’s Cube of business: how to achieve long-term value and profitable growth.”

Julie Krivanek, President, Krivanek Consulting Inc.

Pitfall #3: ‘Ready, aim, fire?’ or ‘Ready, fire, aim?’

Fresh produce is definitely a “ready, fire, aim” industry. It may be due to our personal DNA, the nature of a perishable product, or a little of both. The key point here is the need to get ready—or “think strategically”—before jumping right into tactics and goals. Gathering information about trends that help or disrupt customer feedback, company culture, competitive intel, industry shifts, and consumer dynamics is fairly simple. But what separates the winners from the losers is being able to swim in data and trends while asking the question, “What does this mean?” Think Sears, think Kodak…what might they look like today if they thought strategically about their future?

Pitfall #4: Vision or hallucination?

This is so easy to get wrong—the worst businesses have no sense of the future, the best businesses are hardwired for it. Taken a step further, a vision is not some perfectly wordsmithed sentence floating in the ether of a hopeful tomorrow. A company vision is inspirational and aspirational. It is meant to be a future the business works to achieve. When a company believes in its future, it resources it, speaks of it constantly, and uses it as a selection tool for everything.

Pitfall #5: The elephants in the room

Every process must identify strategic issues critical enough to derail the company from achieving its vision. Issues can be inside the business or outside in the marketplace. The point remains that not having the courage and fortitude to endure uncomfortable conversations and solve difficult problems will stop a business dead in its tracks.


I’ve worked in and consulted for public and private corporations in industries that include energy, mining, fresh food and produce, transportation, technology, and media. I can unequivocally state that no industry is as unique and has as many moving parts as fresh produce—and solving the Rubik’s Cube for a produce business can feel like trying to get to shore while swimming in a tsunami. Yet these guidelines hold true, so stay tuned for Part 2 next month on the importance of the right CEO and the right Board. 

Solving the Fresh Produce Rubik’s Cube | Part 1

Contributing Author

Julie Krivanek is a strategic plan and process advisor to Boards, CEOs, and Executives in the fresh food and produce industries. She also serves on advisory boards and is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors.