Navigating a business pivot requires strong leadership so that people stay aligned. Businesses often have to change strategies. The challenge that you must address when navigating a business pivot is how do you make sure the people believe it is possible. Today’s guest is Guy Ironi, CEO at NutriFresh Services. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1324 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. NutriFresh Services is a national all-in-one HPP, perishable E-Commerce fulfillment, cold & frozen storage, and 3PL under one roof. Guy discusses navigating a business pivot that allows you to align your people. We look at all parts of a new strategy pivot and help you ensure your people buy in to the new direction.
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Guy Ironi: The Transcript
About: Guy Ironi is a senior executive with over 20 years of strategic planning and operational implementation experience. Had been actively managing companies in multiple diverse industries and market positions from luxury high-end through Mass market products to direct response campaigns focusing on infomercials and call to action advertising. Over the course of his career, managed every aspect of the brand life-cycle from inception through building the brand and its distribution platform to finding strategic growth partners or successfully selling the company when the time is right.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Guy Ironi: [00:00:00] There are a lot of perceptions and concepts. Most of them driven by the sentence probably should hate the most. That’s how we always did it. And that I don’t really the single person in the company who the real costs of giving the services as they were given. And when we started, you know, peeling the onion and, and looking through it we have seen there are services that you shouldn’t, you might as well stay close, then perform. And the second part, we took two really good look at the market we saw. Okay. So let’s assume we want to stay. Where do we bring growth from? And at the time, the growth for fulfillment was much higher than the growth for green juice manufacturing. So we as scary as it was as counter-intuitive as it was. I don’t know any other big, super productive you can think of. You can probably be sure. We went through with our board. The decision was simple once you looked at this from an emotional.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank, this is the one and only place where you [00:01:00] will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: Every company has gone through. Some many more than just one. You want to make sure you’re prepared for those pivots by understanding what are the critical elements to navigating a business pivot. Today our special guest is the CEO of Nutrifresh Services. They were number 1361 on the Inc list in 2021 fast-growth company. But we talk with Guy Ironi too. What really does it take to lead a team through a difficult pivot. And those pivots are necessary as leaders. What you’ll learn inside this episode is what does it take to truly align the people to the change? You know, some companies are blessed with people that are adaptable. Some people are blessed with companies that are more fixed, but whatever it may be, you’ll learn from inside this episode, because he talks about what leadership [00:02:00] is required to get people aligned with this new strategy. Now he did go through this and admit that he was called crazy for what he was doing.
And so that’s how big this pivot was by his board by probably by certain customers and anyone in the business was calling him a little bit crazy because of this decision, but he knew in his heart, that was the right one and his inside people were aligned to that. Telling him that we have to make this change in order for the business to survive the way you want it to. So you’ll learn what transparency is inside this, but you’ll also learn a lot more about what does it take for you to be the leader that can navigate a pivot like this?
Now, when you think about your own leadership, are you really crystal clear about what does it take for you to be the leader through this next phase that you’re going through. Do you have the team around you that’s getting the development that they need. Leadership development is a core element to your company, succeeding or failing, and you want to make sure that people are aligned to the culture and you staying [00:03:00] no turnover, low turnover. You want to make sure you have the right leadership development at all levels of the company, not just the top tier. So all those things are things that I work with inside of my business. I love to help you figure out what’s most necessary for you to grow as a company, figure out what your blind spots are and help you do this.
I have a very specific pattern of conversations and questions that we go through to uncover what’s going on to help you identify what’s missing or what that blind spot. Inside that we’ll have that conversation. It’s absolutely high level service for you. And it all about your growth, nothing about me selling you services or coaching or anything like that. All that’s pushed to the side because I want to serve you. I want to connect with you and get to know you to see if you’re a fit for our company down the road. All you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call and just do that today. If you want to be a stronger leader and be the kind of leader that aligns people to big pivots, like today’s conversation.
Now here’s the interview with Guy.
Hi Guy, how are you?
Guy Ironi: Great, how are you?
Gene Hammett: [00:04:00] Fantastic. We’re gonna have a great conversation today about a major pivot and how do you align your people when you go through tough times? But before we jump into that, tell us about your company, Nutrifresh Services.
Guy Ironi: So hi Gene, very happy to be here, Nutrifresh Services is the country’s leading e-commerce fulfillment for perishable products. So to make it simple, any food manufacturer can have a national distribution by coming to us in one of our 12 locations, we’ll aggregate the fumes from multiple manufacturers allow you to work under the same conditions that the big boys do without having killed a first.
Gene Hammett: Well that’s a definitely needed today. I guess you’re working with a lot of small manufacturers that probably come big. Is there any brands that you could you work with?
Guy Ironi: So we work with multiple medium, medium guys all started very small regretfully. I haven’t, we have spirits for 10 days because all of them like say that they do their own and it’s freed. PL world is kind of the corner, [00:05:00] no one talks about, but it’s all names that are known by everybody who listens thing. Specialty items from fruit rose and specialty goods to the ready-made meals. Anything that needs to have special handling that will arrive within two days nationwide. In a curated experience.
Gene Hammett: Well, I won’t press for any of that NDA stuff. We’re going to get you in trouble. We want to dive into our topic today because I think everybody has gone through at least one pivot, if not five or six in their journey as leaders, what do you, where do you want to start with this? Because we didn’t really figure out a starting place. What is the pivot that you needed to make?
Guy Ironi: So we currently even today, pivot probably twice a year on a smaller scale by then Nutrifresh. We had one very major pivot, full 180. We, we started this company with a process called HPP, which was a don thermal shelf life extension [00:06:00] process that catered to the fresh raw foods at the time, the company was the largest Cooper’s juice manufacturer in the country with the HPP technology in one of its side project was the fact that they were shipping products to consumers homes. When we took it over during the turnaround, what we saw was when you manufacturing was pretty hard then that’s not something we want to deal with, but we identify what our strength was, which was in the pick and pack and deliver into people’s homes. So what we had to do then is prop manufacturing altogether, which was complicated on many, many, right?
You have customers that depend on you, then suddenly you stop delivering a very critical service. We had employees that we needed to make sure are okay. And most importantly, at that time it was 80% of our revenue. So we had to go and the board be comfortable. It’s 80% of our revenue, but we’re going to be okay. Trust us. So as we prepare it in through that, it caused us to think about strategy and how [00:07:00] actually, but yeah, the pivot I want to approach today is that. Absolutely stopping, doing everything to everybody and do only want you well for maybe a smaller set of customers, but do more.
Gene Hammett: Now we’ve all heard of the value of focus on your strengths. And it seems like that’s what you did. You did an analysis of what are we best at and where do we really want to scale at with this company? And that’s what ended up being you end up dropping 80%. You don’t normally hear that. I know. Did anyone say all right. This is crazy like Guy why, why?
Guy Ironi: Everybody did. But the one thing we’ve seen when we walked into this situation is that there are a lot of perceptions and concepts. Most of them driven by the sentence probably should hate the most. That’s how we always did it. And that I don’t really the single person in the company who the real costs of giving the services as they were given. And when we started, you know, peeling the onion and, and looking through it we have seen [00:08:00] there are services that you shouldn’t, you might as well stay close, then perform. And the second part, we took two really good look at the market we saw. Okay. So let’s assume we want to stay. Where do we bring growth from? And at the time, the growth for fulfillment was much higher than the growth for green juice manufacturing. So we as scary as it was as counter-intuitive as it was. I don’t know any other big, super productive you can think of. You can probably be sure. We went through with our board. The decision was simple once you looked at this from an emotional list from let’s not fall in love with the past. The fact that we did it doesn’t mean tomorrow and let’s go get cold heartburn. And yeah, it was very scary, but we chose to do so.
Gene Hammett: Guy, we have a frame for this big business pivot that you were talking about. How did you lead the team through this? We all know that we have to get alignment from others and buy into it and they have to overcome their fears and some people hate to change and they just really aren’t [00:09:00] ready for this kind of adaptation but how did you lead through this process?
Guy Ironi: So I was, I was very, very lucky to have a team that was much more experienced than I am, who basically told me you need to get this stuff. It came from, it came from the right my, my, to my, my, my CFO and my head of production. Both told me flat out, listen, it can be a nice small business. It can support us, but importantly, it will always have fun. And you take the risk of one point having to have fire that’s too big. It will eat up a year. So once I knew I had the two main leads side off. It was how do we find room for the skills of the people that were with us that we don’t want to lose under the assignment? And under the assumption that we don’t want to lose anyone, how do we transition the workforce? How do we train the workforce from doing this, to doing that?
Which again, we speak about this now. It is a process that took about 120 days, 180 days before we could even [00:10:00] do the first transition step not to mention, we had to find a home for every customer, because the last thing we wanted to do was to be the ones that destroyed the customer’s business, because you no longer now have the ability to make a bottle.
Gene Hammett: It adds some complexity that when you have to find a home for current customers, because it’s no longer offering that service to 80%, what did you learn about your people and people in general about going through something like this?
Guy Ironi: So I learned that there is usually fear of change, but that fear of change is easily diffused and that resistance can turn into them being actually champions of the process. If you show them the path, if you actually come in and ensure them that personally, they’re not going to get. And not only that, the future would be much better because of factor one, two and three, which for us was a better growing That will lead us to a much better daily experience, meaning less fire drills, more routine work, and [00:11:00] allow us to grow better and almost cleaner in a way the ops became much less noise.
Commentary: Now Guy, just talked about, show them the path. Now, another way to say this is you’ve got to lead by example, you’ve got to be able to communicate. Where you’re going, what the vision of this is, and you want to show up fully aligned to this. You want to be high energy. You want to be really confident and you can do it. If you’re full of fear, they will feel that fear. Even if you’re trying to mask it. I want to just share this with you, because I’ve seen this so many times before. If you think you can fake it till you make it, I don’t think that works. I think people see through it. You want to make sure that you’re deeply aligned to what you’re doing and how you’re going. Now. I’m not saying you have to have it all figure out. But you need to be confident that you will figure it out as a team and as a leader, and that you will overcome the challenges because there will be many that are unforeseen. Nope. Show them the path really is about how you show up for the team. Back to Guy.
Gene Hammett: And this was four or five years ago. So this isn’t fresh, this isn’t something you kind of just went through looking back at it now, would you have done anything [00:12:00] differently as it related to the culture of the people?
Guy Ironi: I would probably do things faster. That’s afraid I was, listen as the owner as the guy who walked on foot pays the bills. I knew if this feels were bank build price. So I always kept an out, let’s do this, but coupon customer let’s do this, but keep one service. And my guys told me if you’re right, let’s go. So if I had to do it again and again, I don’t know if it turned okay, because I always had that out and people work confidently. But if anything, I would do different. I would probably commit to it more.
Gene Hammett: Yeah, it sounds like to me, you had a little bit of that anxiety of one foot in one foot out.
Guy Ironi: Yes. That definitely was the start. Then first customer that comes in and proves you, right. Everything becomes much.
Gene Hammett: When you were leading through this, what did you learn about yourself?
Guy Ironi: That I, that I am an adaptive person and that the tumor ended, the theme around me is even more adaptive than dependent. You know what, at the end of the day, good process run as a good process run, [00:13:00] whether it is making or shipping boxes, if you run, and if you’re fair for your team, and if you give them transparent and if you bust them, so, you know, you’ve come into you, come into a turnaround situation. The one thing you don’t want to do is delegate, right? You want to hold it close and you want to be the one making all the decisions. It only works that you have to fast. And even though it’s a pivot, and even though they didn’t do it in the past, well guess what, so didn’t you and we all learned it together.
Gene Hammett: You mentioned the word transparency and it comes up quite a lot on this podcast. And I always like to put a spotlight on it. When you say transparency, what do you mean as it relates to? Is it financials? Is it it’s a kind of conversations you’re having with your team? What does that exactly mean for you?
Guy Ironi: It’s all of the above. So we love show them. These are the customers that we plan on bringing in for the next year so that they can actually see that there is a future to there. It’s very easy for a workforce to get very scared and runaway. And if you actually treat all of [00:14:00] them like minority owners and tell them this is where we’re going. Even when the times are hard, they’ll stick by. If they go into a dark place of not knowing that there’s a way out, some may left if you show them the path through and you show that you’re committed and they’re committed and to share the successes and the challenges they’ll stick with you.
Gene Hammett: Now, you said treat them like owners. Does that mean they actually have stock or financial buy-in? Or is this something that they feel because they’re a part of something.
Guy Ironi: So technicalities is during the turnaround itself, didn’t allow for them to own, but there was always participation. There was always sharing and there was always paying a little bit more than market. Cause you know what, we’re both in frozen and they can work in a ambient warehouse making out the same money. So why would they freeze himself? Right. So we, we always did that. We’re always trying and, and I must say it’s much easier now than it was at the beginning to show and town [00:15:00] halls and show up and open door and talk to us at any time during the turnaround. It was just crazy. Right? I cannot tell you how many days I finished packing boxes on the line and with them.
Gene Hammett: Guy, What are we see inside your organization from a, from a cultural standpoint that shows that you really want people to be like owners.
Guy Ironi: Regretfully. It’s not enough. And we always have to continue working towards, right. so from a company that was losing money for it, first six years, we actually started giving bonuses. We’re giving them plans for them to see how can they be successful with us. We’re allowing them to pay for school. We’re encouraging them to go study all I want. So we have a deal with, with multiple employees that we vet anyone who is willing to sign that they’ll stay for two and a half years after we pay for education. Right. They can go get the acute education better themselves. All. I want to stick with me after we graduated, you benefit from a better educated typically, right? We probably know all their families. We have, I think [00:16:00] in the two or three families that are close with us, then one person, but a family member, but a family member.
Working together. We’re probably launching in ESOP program this year that will allow them to own again, beyond the technicalities of actually owning. I want them to feel when we make money, we share and we do.
Gene Hammett: You’ve been talking a lot about the team and this pivot. I want to put the spotlight on you for a second. You’ve had to evolve as a leader, right? There’ve been things that you had to let go of and change through this process of navigating a big pivot or a business pivot. What would you say are those things that changed the most?
Guy Ironi: It’s delegation. When you start off your super centralized, super, super centralized, you’re always doing everything. You always want your ears in every discussion. And then in your decision and every paper that goes out of anywhere, we had it. I, we had a good effort of recruiting a great team. But it was on me to allow them to make decisions and accept when they make [00:17:00] their mistakes. So when we started off, our CFO told me the best sentence ever. That’s walking with me since that you need to go sell, leave the building. We got wood. We do everything like you do probably not. What would make mistakes probably yes as we’ll have best intentions and will succeed. It will not look the same as if you did it, but eventually put so go. And from that to get into the production and the finance and the sales and the analytics, which were all my babies. And now I’m here more of a supervision rather than doing that’s where you’ll get the best ideas for the next. Now when you’re reacting every hour on the different emergency.
Gene Hammett: Well, well said, I really appreciate you being here. Guy, share your perspective of what you’ve been through and, and telling us about Nutrifresh, and, and all of the things that you’ve done a really great conversation.
Guy Ironi: Thank you. And the one thing, if I may add, as long as you enjoy it, it’s going to be good.
Gene Hammett: Well, this is a chance for me to reflect back on what you just heard. I love to be able to do [00:18:00] this while Guy is listening in here, but I, you know, every company goes through changes. And if you have people that are willing to go with that, it’s going to be a lot easier and cheaper for you. Replacing our people. It’s just really, usually impossible to do at this, this time anyway. But you want to make sure that you’re leading effectively. You make people feel like owners, and that that’s more than just about the financial tools. It really is about how they feel about their job and about their coworkers and about the mission that the company’s on. And are they completely aligned? Does it feel fulfilling to them? There’s so much to it. I unpack this inside of a lot of the conversations I have.
But let me ask you this question. If you are listening in to this. You’re going to be. I wish I was a stronger leader. I know there’s some things that we are aren’t doing as well as what Guy mentioned here. I’d love to talk to you about what that means. I’ve been doing this for a decade and I love to be able to work with founders and CEOs to help them identify what’s getting in their way so that they can move forward. And it’s absolutely no cost to you.
All you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com schedule your call and we’ll talk about what’s really going [00:19:00] on inside your business. And what it takes for you to continue the growth, no matter what it is. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call today.
When you think about growth and you think about leadership, think about Growth Think Tank. As always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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