This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question “What is it like to be a leader?”
Doug Radi is the president and CEO of Good Karma Foods. Based in Boulder, Colo,, Good Karma produces flax based nondairy milk and dairy-free yogurt. Doug comes from a Big Food consumer packaged goods (CPG) environment, but is a self-described “hippie in a suit.” He made the turn at the fork in the road and has been traveling as an entrepreneur in the natural foods space ever since.
In my conversation with him, I kept thinking about the old Steve Martin movie, “The Man with Two Brains.” As we talked, I could clearly hear the logical and linear brain responding, so well-honed from years of business school and CPG experience. Yet, at the same time, I’d clearly pick up on the passion and idealism of his inner hippie. As you will read, Doug is a big movie buff, so I think he’ll embrace the above analogy. He is an inspirational guy, and I think you will enjoy what he shares in this interview.
What keeps you up at night?
“I’m not a huge fan of incrementalism. When we’re feeling stagnant as a team, or I’m feeling stagnant as an individual, not achieving our full potential, that’s typically what will keep me up at night. There’s a great quote, it was in the movie “Moneyball,” but I think I’ve heard Chris Paul say it. I think it came from Jimmy Connors years ago. The quote was, ‘I hate losing a lot more than I like winning.’ I think that speaks to my passion for moving forward and improving as a team, as a company, as an individual. It’s not necessarily about winning, it’s about the journey and not losing along the way.”
I asked Doug how he discerns true growth from incrementalism.
“I don’t have a definitive set of rules or definitions for it, but I love using the rearview mirror in the car analogy. When I’m in a car driving down the road and I see our starting point in the rear-view mirror, that’s incrementalism to me.”
Who do you think with?
“I try to surround myself with amazing people and think with them. I am not a leader who feels I have all the answers. In fact, I don’t like being in the room if I’m the only one with the answers. It’s just not something I enjoy or prefer. I’d rather have my team have the answers. My goal and role are to put the most amazing talent in the right seats and work with them.”
How do you deal with doubt and fear?
“I grew up in big CPG, I got an MBA, and you learn a lot of interesting skills and a lot of great business skills. What you don’t learn there is how to trust your gut.”
“What I found over the years is I’ve landed somewhere in between. I have that CPG skill set, but I also love relying on my gut and thinking as an entrepreneur.”
What happens when you’re wrong?
“I think the most important thing that I like to do, and I think our team likes to do, is to take a pause, breathe, and just let that moment sink in. Then say okay, we were wrong. Let’s not get emotional. Let’s be introspective, let’s understand why we were wrong. No sacred cows, no barriers, let’s just take a very appropriate, rational view of it in a relaxed, non-emotional state. Then you turn the page and get focused on fixing it. I think it’s that simple.”
How do you challenge yourself to get better?
“I have three rules or three questions for my kids. They’re questions I ask myself: Did you learn something today, did you give it your best; and did you treat everyone fairly and with respect, the way you want to be treated? I really believe that you should be constantly pressing yourself and learning.”
What have you learned about connecting with and motivating your team?
“I think for me, the golden rule or the main thing is I try to be a servant. If you’re more about others than yourself and you’re a giver, not a taker, running a company called Good Karma now, is ironic in a really good way.”
“I love the emotional bank account concept from Steven Covey. I’ve been around leaders who spent most of their time making withdrawals from your emotional bank account, and I’ve been around leaders who have been great depositors into your emotional bank account, and I know the difference. I’ve worked in plenty of places, we all have, where you just felt drained all the time. That’s not what I want to be. That’s not who I want to be around, that’s not what I want a company like ours to stand for. I think being a giver not a taker, is a great rule when it comes to leading and engaging teams.”
What have been some of the surprising burdens of leadership?
“I never feel like it’s a burden, but I do take one role very seriously. I feel like I should be a shepherd of journeys. I shouldn’t be walking the journey for people, but I should help shepherd people, whether that’s my family, me, people I worked with, people I’ve mentored, boards of other companies, or our organization. I feel like that’s my role more than anything. I take it as a burden but not in a negative way. It’s just the most important thing I can do. I pay extra attention to it, for sure, whether that means that as a shepherd I’m a cheerleader, a visioning person, a mentor, or occasionally crack the whip a little bit and say, guys, let’s go, let’s go.”
What do you wish your current self could tell your former self?
“I’m a big movie-line guy. I have this weird wiring in my brain that everything in life, and business, which is the fun part of it, can relate to a movie line or a movie situation. I love the feather analogy in ‘Forrest Gump.’ It’s only in the opening and closing credits.”
“It’s completely random. It can go anywhere, it’s light and it blows and it floats. No one can tell where it’s going to go. It leads to this extraordinary story in ‘Forrest Gump.’”
“When I talk to people I say, follow the feather. You don’t know where the journey’s going to lead you but embrace it. Don’t fear it. Don’t be so rigid in your thinking that if you don’t get this promotion by this time, your journey is going to be over. That’s furthest from the truth.”
“I really just believe that we’re here to get better every day, to inspire goodness, and provide good karma to people and organizations. If you just keep following that rule, you’re going to be fine. No doubt about it.”
What do you want people to know about you?
“I had a great friend tell me, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago. I had gone to a smaller company and come back, we got bought and we were in a bigger company. That friend said, ‘Doug, you know what you haven’t realized yet? You’re a hippie stuck in a suit.’ I was like, oh man, that’s a great analogy for my career. I think over the years, I’ve just found myself more drawn to entrepreneurial experiences. I’m definitely the shortest haired hippie in Boulder though, I’ll tell you that right now.”
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Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group. He serves as a consultant and thinking partner helping emerging food and beverage brands gain the distribution and win the share of stomach they need to grow. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Business2Community.
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