Kindness is Tougher Than You Think!

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It’s World Kindness Day today and that got me thinking about how kindness relates to business and leadership. People often equate kindness to weakness, especially when it comes to leadership. I’ve struggled with that myself over the years, especially as a woman entrepreneur, you think you have to be tough to get ahead… the bitches get to the C Suite mentality. But, the more accomplished women I’ve met, and the more I’ve been the recipient of their kindness and goodwill the more I’ve come to believe that being a kind leader is essential to success.

Being kind is critical to our mission, I named my company EarthKind® for a reason, the products we make are kind to the earth and as a corporation; we foster an environment that values everyone and everything. From sourcing our sustainable ingredients, to the way we make our products, package them and distribute them. The whole process is mindful of everyone and everything we touch, contact and impact.

I could not operate at all good conscious if my leadership style was at odds with my company mission. That does not mean I can’t be tough when I have to be, that I don’t make the difficult decisions, or work with the bottom line in mind. What it means is that there’s a higher purpose in addition to making the profits and that as a company we are responsible to everyone – employees, customers, suppliers, funders, supportive communities and stakeholders alike.

It means that we operate in a cycle of kindness and there’s no better example of that than the story of Jack. Jack has become a bit of a “superstar’ since our company’s 10th Anniversary earlier this year. Jack took to the stage and melted hearts. The subsequent video (link) that was produced by one of our great retail partners—Lowes—for their diversity program, has changed Jack’s life and in turn, he has changed ours.  Before Jack began working at EarthKind®, he was labeled “handicapped” and had limited opportunities and low confidence, but he has blossomed in our culture where we nurture dedication and commitment.  Now Jack can only see opportunities where before there were only obstacles. Here is how the “Cycle of Kindness” worked for us all.

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As leaders, we have the responsibility to transform—ourselves, our businesses, the category we operate in, and the world around us.  That kind of transformation can’t take place in a hostile environment. It takes the commitment of a team of like-minded individuals working towards the same goal with kindness as the core.

 The definition of kindness is  the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. I would add compassionate, thoughtful and open-minded.

When all these qualities are combined with the resolve it takes to build a business, we can lead our companies to be the change agents the world needs.

 

Conscious Capitalism

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Earlier this month I was invited to attend Conscious Capitalism’s 2017 CEO Summit in Austin, TX. I was excited and honored to be rubbing shoulders with the great minds behind this growing movement, a movement that will be the business model of the future. Whether we like to believe it or not, our current system is broken and it takes exceptional individuals working with a common purpose to make the kind of changes necessary to create a whole new way of doing business.

When you work flat out at building your business it can be very isolating. Being with like-minded CEOs was a bit like coming out of a coma—I’m seeing things in a whole new way, with a sense of direction that before had eluded me. I learned that you cannot do it alone and being immersed in their thinking was exhilarating on a whole new level. In my own way I had been working towards the same goal, but collectively I now realize we can move mountains and improve lives.

Conscious Capitalism is not new, it’s just not been in the forefront of media attention, because the people practicing it and living and breathing it are not seeking the limelight—they are agents of change. Not until the more high profile CEOs like Ron Shaich, CEO and founder of St. Louis-based Panera Bread Co., started challenging the status quo, has it began to make news and create waves—positive waves of change.

The Conscious Capitalism conference was co-founded by Austin-based Whole Foods Market Inc. Co-Founder and CEO John Mackey, and serves as a forum on the tenets of conscious capitalism — and a source of inspiration for business leaders to apply those tenets for the betterment of all.

Four principles compose conscious capitalism:

i.          A higher purpose in addition to making the profits that enable business to survive. Companies that infuse what they do with meaning engage stakeholders, employees and customers.

ii.         A rejection that a company’s only responsibility is to its shareholders.

Instead, a company is responsible to all players that exist within its ecosystem – employees, customers, suppliers, funders, supportive communities – as well as shareholders.

iii.        Leadership that seeks to serve all those within the company’s ecosystem.

iv.        A culture comprising values that foster love, care and trust among those

within the company’s ecosystem.

Now this was a big a-ha moment – I could have been saying that about EarthKind®. These are certainly the principles I based my company on and strive to practice.  You know, this gave me goosebumps… when you see everything you were visioning up there in front of you as large as life, being articulated by business titans, it moves you to tears… and not just me!

I have so much to share with you and will be writing several blogs on the subject, but here are my first top take-aways:

1.         What makes a company last?

-           Talented leaders, with huge hearts for others.

-            Being able to adapt and learn. Leaders have to regularly transform

themselves—in order to lead we must first transform ourselves before we

can transform our organizations—leading by example.

-           Having a function in society (this is why business exists, right?)

-            Having a strong purpose that is used to connect all the dots from supply

             chain through  the customer experience. Say goodbye to silos and

bureaucracy. This is how I lead EarthKind®—you see this in my ‘We Are One Family’ Guiding Principles, everyone has the same purpose.

-           Create value for all stakeholders. This is really challenging, and that’s why I’ve never succumbed to the lure of fast growth via investors who use that as an illusion. It’s really a disillusion! Don’t take capital until you decide on how value is created, and for whom.

-           Corporations must have ethical standards. These guide everything from decisions to actions to results. There must be a lens or filter through which everything is run. Leaders can’t forget about the health of our political and socio economics and environments. I think about it all the time, as evidenced by my activities to improve it. That’s what visionary transformational leaders do.  

-           Companies must have a governance approach that evolves. All terms must be short and evaluated. Imagine if federal government did this? We wouldn’t have the corruption and special interests that we currently have. (You know I have more to say on this topic!)

2)         How do you know if you are a Conscious Business?

-           First and foremost, does your purpose fulfill a deep-seated need for customers? Not just their wants or desires, but something they really need? Take our FreshCab product for example. We get over 100 calls a day, customers are distraught because the product is out of stock. You know you have true purpose when your customers are genuinely distraught if you cease to exist.

-           Does your investment in R&D reflect the higher purpose? We invest in the current biggest public health issues—rodents, mosquitos and cockroaches.  We don’t just do it to compete, we do it because no one has addressed it safely, effectively and affordably.

-           Do your employees find their work intrinsically satisfying that goes beyond their salary? The best ones would leave if our purpose was not being addressed.

-           Do you have a clear vision of how the world would will look if you fulfill your purpose? I do. I see heaven on earth, all life living in harmony—that’s my long-term vision.

For corporate America, this may sound a bit touchy-feely and not grounded in profit, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a misconception. Everyone I met in Austin was making money. What’s different about conscious capitalism, though, is that it’s not a zero-sum game. When interviewed by the Austin Business Journal,

Brian Schult,z the owner, CEO and founder of Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill Concepts I Ltd., had this to say: “We’re creating sustainable practices where everyone benefits — the consumers, the employees, the investors, the vendors and myself.”

And no one can argue with the success of Panera Bread. Prior to Panera’s $7.2 billion acquisition earlier this year by Luxembourg-based JAB Holding Co., “Panera was the best-performing restaurant stock of the past 20 years, delivering a total shareholder return up 86-fold from July 18, 1997 to July 18, 2017, compared to a less than two-fold increase for the S&P 500 during the same period,” said Ron Shaich, CEO and founder of St. Louis-based Panera Bread Co. “What’s more, our stock generated annualized returns of 25 percent in the same time frame, which I’m proud to say is better than the returns of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway during the same period.”

I’m ready, ready to do my part in changing the way America does business…are you with me?

 

 

 

 

 

FORCE FOR GOOD

"Lift your spirit to a higher place, open your heart to a kinder earth, and destiny will knock." 

 

These words became my driving force after an accident that left me on my back for a year, and wondering why I'd survived when the doctor clearly had no explanation, other than saying, "you are one lucky lady." While I had no pulse, I didn't have a near death experience but I did wonder why I was spared. 

 

After asking deeper questions of myself, this sentence came to me, and led me to name my company EarthKind®. They are the words I live by every day, after I discovered for myself what all entrepreneurs say is the key to success: "find your passion." I go one step further and call it: "find your purpose." Ultimately, we all have to unearth our unique purpose to begin to discover our true potential.

 

Now, I’m not a “straight line” kind of person. My inspiration can appear erratic, but there is a pattern and there is a final outcome, and having built a $10 million company I would say, trust the coincidences, or series of events happening around you. If you start asking, "why not me?” instead of, “why me?” you'll discover the unique way in which only you can serve humanity. Never in a million years would I have planned to do what I'm doing, it's just that no one else stepped up to do it. Destiny did knock after I'd opened my heart to thinking that there must be a kinder way to control pests. 

 

So let me try to connect some dots here, to illustrate how the 'epiphany' turned into a revenue generating, job creating, industry changing business. I believe every business needs its own DNA, and purpose, because that’s what keeps it going and growing. They work together. Here's how I created EarthKind’s: 

•          My farming background had me connected to the earth, so I drew a lot of parallels from her – creating, growing and maintaining a healthy environment is as important in business as it is in farming. 

•          Healthy organic soil is where the best things grow. It keeps plants healthy and ironically pests don't attack the healthiest plants. 

•          Nothing grows without work, nurturing and some TLC. There is constant weeding (not using artificial fixes like anhydrous ammonia, which create short term growth but age the soil). The soil needs to be treated as a living, breathing organism, and the same with a business. If you treat either with “poison” the outcome will be disastrous. By being a good steward and watering, nurturing, tending and recognizing her changing needs, I found that my business lifted my own spirit to help me make it a force for good in the world. 

Here are three key ways in which I continue to use Nature as my guide:

i)          I honor Mother Nature by employing her plants to share their life force for healing and harmony in the home. Pests cause disharmony and the traditional methods to deal with them cause even more disharmony. The fear that the pest control industry creates is a negative force that I am working to change. Our marketing messages empower, rather than create fear. We are heart-centered and our mission is to illuminate the path to a naturally pest-free home.

 

ii)        I think of my products as a 'plant force', my people as a 'human force' and our mission as our 'life force.' All combined are a powerful DNA for using business as a force for good. I create and lead change by reinventing policy, industry, business, and anything that stands in the way of a kinder earth for all families. 

 

iii)       I'm a scientific creative, viewing everything through the eyes of biology, ecology, psychology, physics, and all the natural laws. Science is all intuitive and the research to prove my theory is all math and logic, so by using Nature as my lab, I constantly challenge the status quo of everything not in harmony with what I can see is possible.

 

A “force for good” is action inspired by a genuine concern for humanity. When we act with compassion, the seeds we plant today can change the course of our shared tomorrow. We really can transform the world in practical and positive ways – each and every one of us. If you believe you were born to make a difference, then use what you have, wherever you are at, however you can, to become the change agent you desire to be.

 

 

What Business With Purpose Means to Me

I have always felt that the business community has a responsibility to lead with purpose. Purpose-led companies are focused on doing work that makes a real difference, so they are committed to becoming the best, rather than the biggest. When ‘purpose’ becomes a company’s compass, it spurs creativity, which in turn drives innovation and growth. I’m a prime example of how operating a purpose-driven business can help scale you from one person with an idea, to the owner of a multi-million dollar company.

 

Following our purpose of ‘preserving the good and preventing the rest,’ as we scaled the company, we now support American farmers by buying our ingredients from them. We’ve hired a handicapped workforce and built our equipment around their needs. We’ve also been able to stand up to pressure from manufacturers overseas and avoid plastic packaging, while continuing to grow our retail presence in major retail chains across the country.

 

I began this journey long before I started my company and it has served me well both personally and professionally. I always loved to re-purpose discarded items from the farm and reuse them as decorative containers in our home. And now I am able to parlay that into an environmentally sustainable business. My goal is to become a carbon neutral business and we are well on our way at 2%.

 

It’s no longer enough for an enterprise to earn a good profit; companies must also be a force for good. It will take committed entrepreneurs, retailers and investors to help drive the new wave of social change and environmental conservation. Being on the front line and riding that new wave has given me a unique perspective and deep appreciation on how to get workers, communities and customers working together to do good business that generates profits and protects the planet. And my new mission is to mount a global initiative with a robust philanthropic component—but that’s a whole other story.

The Woman Behind the Brand

As the wife of a farmer and daughter of an entomologist, I was always surrounded by bugs and pests. Growing up I had an aversion to killing a living thing—I still do.

 

My life was full of twists and turns and I tried my hand at many things including body building, make up artist, aromatherapy and master gardener to name a few. But nothing stuck. I always say my brand – EarthKind® ­– was born out of necessity.

On our farm, we were constantly battling rodent infestations, especially in the barn where we kept our equipment. One day, I was on the tractor and a mouse ran up my leg and into my shorts. You can only imagine the panic and screaming that ensued!

 

 At that time, 98% of pest control solutions sold were kill methods and poisons. I certainly didn’t want to risk the safety of my kids, pets and the wildlife by using rodent poison. So I decided to try to make something different. I was growing lots of botanicals and herbs on the farm that I sold at farmers markets. It was fun and hard work, but it didn’t exactly make much money. However, it did get me thinking. I decided to do some research and discovered that bugs and pests were repelled by many things I was already growing, and so with only 99 cents in my pocket I decided that this was my destiny. I began with very little confidence, but a passionate belief that I could be a disruptor.

 

Fast forward a few years, and I invented a safe, natural pest control alternative called Fresh Cab® which has become a best seller in the farming and agricultural sector. Because of the success of that invention, I started my company, EarthKind®, in Bismarck, ND ten years ago. EarthKind® all-natural pest prevention products and rodent repellents provide effective, safe and natural ways to get rid of pests and bring inviting smells into your home. A win-win all around!

 

My business started out like many others in America, I had a dream, and very little else, except I was one of the lucky ones, and above all else…

                                       …  One of A Kind.