This post is sponsored by Ready Pac Foods, Inc.
With more than 25 years of leadership experience, Tony Sarsam, chief executive officer of Ready Pac Foods, has built a career on turning around several brands, bringing them to profitability. Since taking the helm at Ready Pac Foods and using lessons learned, he’s built a turnaround team to bring the fresh foods company to new heights.
Here, Sarsam discusses the importance of identifying a vision, transparency and acting quickly.
Question: What do you consider to be the most critical component of building a successful company?
Tony Sarsam: There are many critical elements to building a successful company, but the one I’d like to focus on is the importance of having the right team in place. One of my first missions as CEO of Ready Pac Foods was selecting strong leaders who embodied the company vision. Once the right leadership was in place, I was able to devote my attention to the Frontline employees, who are the heart and soul of our company. I believe that a CEO’s true value lies in his or her ability to create an environment that motivates employees to perform at peak levels, and here at Ready Pac Foods, our people drive our success.
The other factor to keep in mind is that these steps need to happen quickly to ensure success. The sooner you put the right team in place and prove to your employees that you’re there to help them, the faster you will see positive results.
Q: How would you say you are engaging workers across the organization?
TS: During the early stages of my role as CEO, I spent the majority of my time in our manufacturing plants. By being on the ground with our associates, it goes back to my point about showing employees that we are there to help no matter where they are in the organization.
I also looked for ways to supplement the face time. We developed a monthly newsletter, a quarterly “Town Hall” circuit, a quarterly CEO video message for Supervisors to use with their meetings and many other tools. We also created a program called the “Circle of Excellence” that highlights the incredible performance of the top 1% of our Frontline associates. Each year, we bring these Frontline associates to an offsite event to provide recognition for their achievements, further engage them in the business and to brainstorm ways in which they can continue to grow within the company.
Ultimately, our goal for all of these platforms is to create transparency, goal alignment and an environment of respect that engages our associates.
Q: What tips would you share with other executives facing a turnaround situation?
TS: There are a few things that come to mind.
- You must move fast! Start by doing your research and dig deep to understand the business. Figure out what is working and what isn’t.
- Be at the frontline with your associates and listen to what people are saying at every level. This will help your due diligence and inform the direction you want to take.
- Develop your vision from the onset. Build a leadership team that aligns with your business goals. It’s okay to make changes to critical positions, but it must be done quickly.
- Once a vision is created, you should then refine it by defining the mission, core values and capabilities of the organization.
Using these elements as a guide, you will be ready to map out the changes that are right for your business.
Q: What would you do differently looking back at the early stages of this or other turnarounds?
TS: I’ve learned that speed is key, and have occasionally waited too long to make a leadership or process change. I also learned that early successes can work against an organization’s long term focus.
When the changes we put into place work well, we start to think we are geniuses and stop looking for what may still be flawed with that change. I’ve learned that sitting on my laurels for too long after a big win can dull my awareness to other lurking risks.
For example, we made some process changes at three of our plants a couple of years ago and saw quick, better-than-projected improvements at each of them. One of the plants had a leadership void, but that didn’t appear to hinder progress early on, so we waived the victory flag. A few months after, two plants continued to improve while the one with the void headed the other way. The third plant’s leadership void and the poorly formed performance culture took over, putting us into a crisis that almost obscured the good work we achieved at the other plants. We should have stayed focus on shoring up the leadership void at that plant. We now take immediate and necessary steps to continuously look for improvements and identify weak links even when things seem to be going well at first glance.
Q: Where do you see Ready Pac in the next five years?
TS: Great companies in the food industry are not just watching the fresh revolution…they’re…leading it! They are nailing each of the four macro trends (health, convenience, value and indulgence) to ensure success for the future. Our five year goal is to continue moving down this path. We want people to say that Ready Pac gives them the freedom to eat healthier.
Our progress has been great so far – we’ve introduced new products such as, Elevate (a non-GMO, organic and gluten-free line of superfood single serve salads), Bistro Bowl® (the original, first-to-market single serve salad and wrap kits) and Ready Pac Ready Snax™ (our line of fresh and simple snack options). We will continue to look for new opportunities to expand our offerings.
In doing so, I see Ready Pac continuing to grow in the next five years, and beyond. We have succeeded in innovating through both supply chain and product offerings to achieve our vision, and our goal is to continue refining our mission, core values and capabilities to stay current and relevant with the industry and end consumers.
Read the first part of Sarsam’s interview here.