The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted by phone May 28 with Julie Krivanek, founder and president of Krivanek Consulting Inc., Denver. You can read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

2:15 p.m. Tom Karst: When you started your consulting business after your career at Amoco, when did your first produce client show up? What were first impressions of the industry?

Q&A | Julie Krivanek, Krivanek Consulting Inc.


2:16 p.m. Julie Krivanek: I started my business like most startups. I hacked around a little bit. I started with a collection of services and industries. My beginning was focused functionally on leadership, strategy, executive coaching. The businesses I worked with focused on high tech and communications. Then, in 1994, I was hired by United Fresh to be their first speaker to Class 1 of their United Dupont leadership program.

And so if you wind back time, that was day one of exposure in the produce industry. At that time it was just another client and just another engagement. But people in that class were some of my very first clients and United was one of my very first clients, not just for that program, but for their strategic planning process. I can just tell you, for a person that does business planning, I didn’t plan the best thing that ever happened to my business. I think it is sort of ironic and hysterical, but that’s what ended up happening. So this summer I will be in Seattle speaking to Class 16 of the United leadership program. That was the seed of my love affair with the produce industry.

2:22 p.m. Karst: Are there common issues in the management of family produce businesses?

2:23 p.m. Krivanek: In the dynamics of family business, the one thing that makes it crazier than other businesses is that you have more intimate knowledge of the players, so you know the “whatever” about each other and each other’s respective clan and the sensitivity level is ratcheted much higher. Work can often be the place where family differences and issues are mediated. Sometimes the true purpose of business becomes veiled and the business is really the sustenance of the family versus something outside the four walls, or competing with others in the market place for higher efficiencies, profitability and a grander space. Is doing a strategic plan good for family business? The only thing that trumps personalities and agendas is a shared direction.

That’s what comes first, not just for your family, but for the hundreds of families that will come after. So finding direction, becoming expert and informed enough to make good decisions about direction and then the process of getting behind it and making it happen — once that occurs, and people in the organization share it and they start working on it, and they start making it happen and see successes ... then people become less about “my disagreement with Jimmy” and they become more about where we are headed and how do we get there.

2:24 p.m. Karst: If there is one thing produce managers could do, what would be the first thing you would suggest?

2:25 p.m. Krivanek: First of all, tell them to create a strategic planning direction. Many managers are struggling with many agendas — they need to stop wasting time with a lot of that and just go boom, “This is where we are headed and let’s go win at this.”

They ought to build a human machine that is capable of giving their company direction. You need to spend time developing leaders, developing teams and including a training and development budget so people get new skill sets.

The third thing is to look deeply at your philosophy of operating your business and update it. Today’s business environment is transparent, it is inclusive, it is open. Don’t create a strategy and not tell anybody.