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By: Darnell E. Ross, Leahy-IFP President and CEO


In this article, you will find:

  • How we define failure as an opportunity to learn and grow

  • Why we strive to have balance as an organization, both collectively and individually

  • Why we encourage our team members to take calculated risks

I was asked a very interesting but simple question recently. “What about the business at Leahy (meaning Leahy-IFP, CPS, and NLX as one) keeps you up at night?”

Surprisingly, my answer to that question has evolved over the years. Many years ago, I was only driven by results. I used a simple metric to delineate between what I considered success or failure: Have we successfully added new profitable customers to our current portfolio to positively impact top-line revenue and EBITDA1? For me, that was considered a success. Failure was not succeeding at that one particular measurable. Today my answer to that question is much more complex.

First and foremost, my definition of failure has changed drastically. Before, it was the opposite of being successful at what I strove to accomplish. Today, I define it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and be better prepared for the greater opportunities ahead. I don’t fail anymore. Now, I only have lessons along the way that allow me to better prepare for the next opportunity. Second, the first three things that come to mind when I think of Leahy, and what keeps me up at night are our people, our process, and our ability to completely maximize potential in every aspect.

For me, it all starts with our people. Every day, we touch many consumers with our products through large, branded customers and many segments of business. Our directive to be consistent and efficient with how we deliver to support our customers’ needs is paramount. However, our ability to do so lies with our team, and our team’s mindset, which leadership aids by ensuring that they have work/life balance and providing them with the tools to better reach their full potential. My personal mission is to continue growing in this area daily. I don’t believe there is ever an end goal, but a continuous pursuit of doing so day after day.

Supporting our people extends beyond the individuals who are compensated by the Leahy company. It extends into the homes of their families as well. We recognize that many of our team members depend on a collective company effort to support their personal financial goals. Whether it be the life they enjoy today or the future they are planning for, I embrace the responsibility of helping each team member fulfill their potential and support their personal goals. Any obstacle that does not allow me to continuously grow in that area truly keeps me up at night!

Making sure we have balance as an organization, both collectively, in how we leverage our combined strengths, and, individually, as team members, is one part of the recipe that enables me to rest well at night. The other component involves creating an environment of innovation to improve processes throughout the entire organization. This is not limited to the process of how we present to a customer or our specific innovation process of product development. I’m speaking of being vulnerable enough to openly question the status quo, being willing to think outside the box, and being open to collaborative discussions of unconventional ways to support our customer’s needs. I’m not talking about a chaotic environment where everyone is working with different agendas to only accomplish whatever suits them and feeds their own creative appetite.

The process that I envision is one where each team member truly recognizes and understands the role they play in successfully fulfilling the company’s strategic plan, yet, within that role, each member pushes themselves creatively and efficiently to succeed. However, when success is not the outcome, I hope to see team members display the courage to speak about what they can do differently next time. Simply understanding that for oneself is impactful but the willingness to share that with the team is exponentially more powerful. The environment I foresee provides our team members with an understanding of the pitfalls they should avoid and also instills the confidence to take educated risks for success, which encourages a willingness to go a step further in maximizing their talents. Now, I’m not saying we should all be comfortable with catastrophic mistakes. I’m suggesting that we become comfortable in making the occasional educated mistake but more importantly, that we endeavor to learn from the lesson. Don’t look at it as a failure but as an opportunity to be better prepared next time. I want to adopt a mindset within Leahy where we don’t lose, we learn!!

I had a team member recently tell me about a time in the past when I simply supported him in a decision and the confidence he gained from that. From my perspective, it was a very simple thing. We were making a business decision where this individual’s expertise was directly tied to this decision. He needed to evaluate two business partners that we might align with. Both could have been good for our business but there was one that my team member felt in his gut would be best for Leahy. I could have gone either way in picking from the two potential partners, however, I simply told him, “Take some time and go with your gut.” Most importantly, I said to him, “No matter what, I’ll support your decision,” and that I would be by his side whether we succeed or if it’s just a lesson learned. I understood something very valuable from his recounting of that situation. To me, that discussion was just me supporting the team, but to that team member, the boost of confidence from that support was tremendous. That same individual today has a much higher level of confidence to maximize his talents. What this person learned was not to be perfect, but to be perfectly OK with his imperfections and to understand that when unsuccessful decisions are made, they will be looked at as lessons for what to do better next time. When I lose the opportunity to support the team in this manner for any reason, it keeps me up at night!

People + Process = An Opportunity to Maximize Potential in Every Aspect.

Whether serving our customers, delivering what they need when they need it and where they want it, or improving how we function internally, having highly motivated team members with a great process is a necessity. There is an old saying in the beverage industry: “let’s make sure you squeeze every drop of juice from that orange.” For me, that applies to everything we do. There is no place for complacency at Leahy!!!! Are we maximizing our opportunities to provide solutions for our customers? Are we looking at ideation, product development, commercialization of safe and great-tasting products, supply chain, or procurement to offer possible solutions?!!!! The list of areas to affect positive change goes on and on. How does the philosophy above make its way into our operations? One of the most exciting things we have done at Leahy is commence the building of our new manufacturing facility, NLX, in Illinois. We have significant opportunities to maximize every square inch of a 200,000-square-foot facility. We will do so!! Are we getting every possible drop of liquid in the most efficient manner from our liquid manufacturing equipment? We will continually ask that question and I am positive that we will. Lastly, when I truly look at our people, our process, and our ability to maximize potential, I see a culture that is fulfilling, contagious, and dynamic.

I’m amazed how the answer to the simple question of “What about Leahy keeps me up at night?” has changed. And now that I’ve had some time to truly reflect on it, I’m not sure if my answer today will be the same in the next five years. These days I’m up at night constantly wondering if I have enough to give that day and if I can give more tomorrow. I enjoy the challenge of asking myself that question and I relish constantly striving to surpass my contributions to the team daily. I don’t want to simply make a decision; I want to inspire our team to aspire for greatness. I may stay up a little later these days thinking of what I can do better but when I do rest, I’m at peace with what we have built at Leahy and what we continue to build upon. I am impressed with the passion that exudes from each person who works for a Leahy company, and quite frankly, I’m extremely proud of our entire team. And as always, as I see each team member aspiring to be the best version of themselves, I’m humbled and forever grateful to serve in this capacity.

1. EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization. EBITDA measures the company’s overall financial performance.

At Leahy-IFP, we are committed to making a more fruitful life for everyone. Thank you Crain’s! We are honored to be ranked on such a prestigious list and wish to thank all of our team members, our customers and our extended network of partner suppliers, distributors, and vendors. Together, we can.

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