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Solving the Fresh Produce Rubik's Cube: Part 2

Solving the Fresh Produce Rubik's Cube: Part 2

I’m celebrating Krivanek Consulting’s 30th anniversary as a strategic planning consultancy hired to help invent the future of companies in the fresh food and produce industry. In Part 1 of this story in May’s issue of The Snack, I explained how, after all these years, I’ve discovered that success or failure pivots around only three things: the right strategy, the right CEO, and the right Board.

Previously, I zeroed in on creating the right strategy and vision while avoiding the five most common pitfalls. But, since a strategy is only as good as the people behind it, this article explores the human rocket fuel behind unbeatable companies: the right CEO and the right Board.


The Right CEO

The pinnacle of career accomplishment is to become the Chief Executive Officer. It’s more powerful, exciting, and rewarding than any other position—but, as one who has peeked into many corner offices, I will also say the job is positively brutal, and is especially tough in the produce industry where so many executives are drawn to work in the business rather than on it.

According to research in Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit’s Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick, the CEO controls all the business’ “biggest moves,” which account for 45 percent of a company’s performance. So, the impact of this position and the pressure to get it right is intense.

But, what’s enough to guarantee success? How many CEOs derail simply because they lack a future vision and strategic plan to get there? In truth, if he or she does not also produce financial growth year over year, the future never comes. The rare CEO has what it takes to juggle today and tomorrow at the same time—and just like Goldilocks, succeeds in finding a balance that’s “just right.”


The Right Board

Industry trade associations and other nonprofits have unique Board structures designed to foster engagement and support. Boards of publicly traded companies have elected Directors who govern over the company’s affairs, ensure corporate prosperity, represent the interest of stakeholders, and maximize shareholder value.

An Advisory Board is an entirely different animal and the secret weapon of privately held businesses who consistently beat the odds. These Boards are typically five to seven individuals with knowledge and experience that give a business confidence in their proven value. Board members are guided by a common vision, clear destination, and the ideal path designed to reach it.

"...the job [of a CEO] is positively brutal, and is especially tough in the produce industry where so many executives are drawn to work in the business rather than on it."

Julie Krivanek, President, Krivanek Consulting Inc.

I honestly don’t understand why more produce companies don’t see the value that a competent, engaged Advisory Board can bring. It’s like having a business “dream team” and one of the best investments you’ll ever make. Some success stories from my 30 years of working with the right combination of Advisors, CEOs, Owners, and Investors have:

• Doubled the business in five years

• Consolidated a fragmented market through acquisition

• Expanded into national and global markets

• Sold the business

• Tackled the turnaround, restructure, and renewal of a family business

• Found investors and raised capital for growth

• Boosted competitive advantage through technology and digital transformation

If you are an Owner or CEO of a private business, these examples should convince you not to go it alone. Worse yet, don’t bring in your certified public accountant (CPA) and attorney and call it an Advisory Board. And, if you run a family-owned business, don’t trot in every son, daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, sibling, and in-law and call them the Advisory Board. Just don’t.


Stumbling Blocks and Final Thoughts

While I’ve worked with so many accomplished businesses, there are all too many who struggle. I’ve seen two crucial reasons why:

Lack of trust: The produce industry culture is entrepreneurial and proud. We are very smart, but also a bit clannish. These tendencies can lead to a reluctance to bring in outside experts for help. Different ideas and fresh thinking aren’t a threat, but a path to discovering new ways to crack the code to the future.

All talk, no action: If the Board has to get overly involved with day-to-day decisions, yearly financial goals, and metrics, you have the wrong CEO. If the Advisors can’t solve the toughest issues, achieve the future vision, or hold the CEO accountable, you have the wrong Board. If talking about “people problems” drains your emotional energy and consumes your attention then muster up your courage, stop talking, and take action.


I promise that if you obsess about being “fit for the future” with the right plan, the right CEO, and the right Board, your company will grow, prosper, and achieve its wildest dreams. I’ve seen it time and time again. 

Solving the Fresh Produce Rubik's Cube: Part 2

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.