Julie Krivanek, Krivanek Consulting
Julie Krivanek, Krivanek Consulting

The produce industry is one of the few points of light in the global economy.

Our products are antidotes to disease, improve the quality of life and restore people’s health.

Despite lofty ideals, there have been times this year when the industry news has read more like a page from the tabloids: abrupt Chapter 11 filings, messy merger discussions, ill-fated executives and business partners at war.

While we do succeed more often than not, current events present an opportunity to look beneath the surface at something rarely discussed in business: how the forces of ego, power and control can often act to the detriment of individual leaders, organizations and the industry.

The most effective businesses minimize “me-driven” behaviors with “we-driven” practices and systems.

These structures help people find true North when balancing the tensions created by speed, complexity, personal desire and divergent views:


  • Build a board of directors.


According to Korn/Ferry research, several forces are redefining roles at the top:

1. Increased merger-and-acquisition activity, including complicated due diligence.

2. Greater involvement from outside investors who grow impatient with under-performing companies.

3. Accelerated pace, reach and uncertainty of competition.

4. Higher turnover of chief executive officers and the need to be more proactive in succession planning.

Very few produce businesses will be unaffected by these trends.

Even the most determined and skilled CEO can no longer handle all the moving parts alone, even when supported by a crackerjack senior team.

A board of directors is essential, even for small private companies. A good one holds the CEO accountable, balances the tremendous power inherent in the job, broadens business perspectives, acts as truth serum and helps to shape the future.


  • Be transparent and inclusive.


Unless someone is expected to yell “We have a Pope!” from a balcony in Rome, a conclave has no place in a contemporary produce industry.

Extreme secrecy damages trust and sets up underground networks to ferret out the truth.

Why does it continue? Because to do otherwise is risky, messy and may mean the possibility of not getting what we want.


  • Look outside the industry for inspiration.


You’ll find smart companies that are using unconventional methods to tap into people’s minds, hearts and imaginations to co-create products, experiences and solutions to problems.

These true innovators are challenging “old school” with focus groups, open brainstorming sessions, online surveys, opinion polls, informal conversations, cross-functional teams, unexpected partnerships and no-holds-barred blogs that help harness the involvement, voice and creativity of others.


  • Steal a page from the Fortune 500 playbook.


The term Fortune 500 refers to an annual listing by Fortune magazine of the top 500 publically traded companies in the U.S.

While this list is important to a number of financial groups and investors, academic and business researchers study these companies to discover the secrets to their business and financial success.

What would companies like Apple, Harley Davidson, Johnson & Johnson, Oracle, General Electric, Kroger, Wells Fargo, Walgreens, Walt Disney, UPS, Kraft Foods, DuPont, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks and Google be able to teach us?

These companies have institutionalized standard operating procedures and financial controls that hold up to public scrutiny.

They act like someone is looking over their shoulder — because they are.

If you are a business owner, make sure all your decisions, actions, practices, measures of accountability and financial dealings would hold up to open inspection.


  • Align with purpose.


Self-reflection is a daily practice of an evolved leader.

When we become honest about our motivations, decisions, behaviors and treatment of others we become able to move to the “we” of leadership and the real work at hand: aligning others toward the shared purpose of an organization.

In simple terms, purpose can be divided into three pillars: the brains, bones and nerves of the organization.

The brain is the vision and strategy. The bones are the organizational architecture, which means having the right people, processes and structure.

Finally, the nerves represent values and culture.

Although ego affirms a leader’s ability to take charge, checking the ego demonstrates a leader’s ability to take charge of him or herself first.

Only when that happens can we all return to the ideals, purpose and importance of our individual and collective work.

Julie Krivanek, owner of Denver-based Krivanek Consulting, specializes in strategic planning, management consulting and leadership development for the global produce supply chain.

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