ED: Today we’re catching up with our friend Molly McAdams, Ph.D. to talk about working with large companies. So, Molly, much of what you and I have done since leaving the big company we were working for has been to partner with or help out smaller companies who make less than $1 billion dollar like small upstarts, or startups who are creating new categories. What are two or three things that—as you’re visiting with an entrepreneur with less resources or doesn’t have a track record of success—you really try to impart on them that are takeaways from the land of H-E-B?
MOLLY: I think that H-E-B, and I’m sure other corporations as well, are always a really good proving ground. You’re raised up in the environment and you’re learning. I feel both of us learned from the best working at H-E-B for sure. But what I’ve been able to take away from that is, getting smaller companies to focus on what they really do. Sometimes it’s a real challenge between what they would like to do or how they’d like to be viewed versus what they actually do and how they execute. So, you really have to get to the nuts and bolts of their business model.
What do you currently do? And what do you do really well? Where can you get your repeatable excellence? Ultimately, with a product or a brand, you’ve got to be able to drive repeatable excellence. That’s what a consumer is going to react to. More than repeatability you also have to ensure there is excellence because that can be measured on a lot of different scales. If you have a value product, the quality may be slightly lower, but it is an appropriate quality for the cost. But it’s got to be repeatable. It’s got to be consistent. So, I think that’s where you really have to challenge them to think about what do they do? Well, you can think about where they want to go. That’s always an interesting conversation. And then the other thing that is the most important is do you have the commitment, especially in small companies from the very, very top because if they don’t Then it tends to be a lark, and that will, that can jettison products projects pretty quickly if you know top leadership’s like Yeah, I was never behind that to begin with. So, but sometimes you have to tease that out. People don’t like to quash someone else’s dreams automatically, especially in a small company, sometimes they’re family-owned or family-held. So sometimes you have to really pull that out of them that they are not supportive of the idea, and then find something that they do want to support and invest in, because there’s bumps along the way. And you got to be able to make it to the bumps if you’re gonna get your product to succeed.
ED: That’s interesting. You hear about the necessity for having that endorsement from the top. Sometimes what I see is just the opposite. You have the endorsement from the top, but you don’t necessarily have the capacity or the capability in the organization. One of the things that was interesting is that oftentimes I describe myself as a businessperson that happens to be a marketer. But I’m also kind of the closet operator. Whether you’re in marketing or not, I believe you’re always ultimately in operations. What do you look for when you encourage people you help to continue?
MOLLY: I look for a lot of the same things that I look for when I was a buyer. I look at everything from the consistency of their operational practices and procedures. How good is their quality assurance? You want to look at things like turnover because if you have really high turnover in organizations there’s a reason why. Sometimes you have to get to the bottom of that before you can get people to commit to doing things a different way. I look at their equipment. I have a bit of a weird, engineering mind. My brother would laugh at that because he’s an engineer, but I’ll lock in on their operational capabilities. If you have a steam oven to cook a product, how is it ever going to taste like it was grilled? So sometimes it’s that simple.
So sometimes it’s really just assessing their fit for a project. Interestingly, if they do have top management commitment, then usually they’ll figure out a way to get it done. If they hire the resources in, maybe they partner with someone else, and they really want to go down that direction. I think it’s a matter of always having fiercely honest conversations with your clients. I’m a pretty candid person. And I appreciate candor. It’s important. You do have to be very candid about what you see. And then, but if it’s something they’re committed to, and they really want to do it, then it’s a matter of partnering with them to figure things out.
ED: I think that’s one of the moments when you ask, “What do you need to make it happen? How do we get you from idea to execution?” They’re not two separate conversations. You can’t just have one or the other. We have a three step process where we consider how to orchestrate things. How do you put all the pieces together? How do you operationalize it? In other words, how do you actually have the ability to do it more than once? Then if you can do those two, optimizing your process for maximum efficiency. Sometimes we can get enchanted by the idea, but if you can’t figure out how to make it work and you’re not willing to invest the resources, then that kind of gives you the answer.
I like what you said about be willing to look outside the organization for resources, they also need to take a very hard look at their organization to really measure the probability of operationalizing it.
Awesome. Thanks, Molly.