February 27, 2021

The Boss: From Cola to Carrots

My father worked for Coca-Cola, so I grew up with a very famous brand. He was vice president for prestige accounts, with clients like the United States Olympic Committee and Disney.

I put myself through the University of Georgia by working in two bars. First, I was a barback, stocking liquor and doing anything else required, and was later promoted to bartender. Then I managed a bar called Crazy Zack’s in Athens, Ga., my last two years of college. I often say I learned more about people while standing behind a bar than perhaps in any other job I’ve had. It taught me to read people and to size them up.

After graduating in 1980, I got a job with E. J. Gallo Winery as a salesman in Mississippi. After a couple of years, I left and worked for Coke in its wine division, the Wine Spectrum, in California. I hadn’t intended to work for the same company as my father. I was due to be promoted at Gallo when my boss called and said Wine Spectrum was a competitor and since my father worked for its parent company, they were firing me. It was daunting to be fired right out of school for something I had no control over, but it was a good lesson in corporate politics.

I ended up working for Wine Spectrum for two years while attending Pepperdine University at night for an M.B.A. In the 1980’s, Wine Spectrum was sold to Seagram and I transferred to Seagram as part of the sale.

After 18 months at Seagram, I returned to Coke in the fountain department, which sold syrup to institutions and other places having soda fountains. Like Gallo, Seagram was a fine company, but I wanted to move on.

Doug Ivester, then the president of Coca-Cola North America, suggested that I replace my father when he retired. In 1990, I spent a year apprenticing under my dad, then took over prestige accounts for four years. Working for your father in a big corporation isn’t that common, and it’s not always easy. It deepened my relationship with him because I got to see him in a different light.

From the mid-1990s to 2004, I was promoted to president of the Coca-Cola fountain unit and then to president of Coca-Cola North America and Latin America. After leaving Coke in 2004 by mutual agreement, I became interested in private-equity-backed companies and spent a year consulting for them.

One of these companies, Willis Stein Partners, had an interest in Ubiquity Brands, the parent company of several snack food businesses, and appointed me in 2005 as Ubiquity’s president and C.E.O. In 2007, I led the sale of Lincoln Snacks to ConAgra and of Jay’s Foods to Snyder’s of Hanover. The process required some tough decisions that affected a lot of people. I learned that it’s crucial to address the difficult issues up front and to be open and honest. People can deal with almost anything as long as you treat them with respect and give them timely information.

When the opportunity came to lead Bolthouse Farms, which grows and processes more than a billion pounds of carrots a year and produces juices and salad dressings, I felt that I could bridge the skills I had developed and work on healthy products. I joined as president and C.E.O. in 2009.

Everything comes together for me in this position. I love sales and marketing, but walking in the carrot fields brings me back to the people who farm the land. It feels right.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=34e352486a2ce6e6052c381e5e2d9343

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