What’s the secret to turning a struggling business into a soaring success?
Mindset is everything, especially when it comes to niche and craft products. Consumers begin to expect authenticity and innovation, and when companies suddenly start to make it “big”, they can often let their unique approach fall by the wayside. Such was the case for Jones Soda a few years ago, and it took a CEO from its roots to re-establish its former glory.
Jennifer Cue is the CEO of Jones Soda. She started with Jones in 1995, eventually climbing up and becoming the CFO and COO, overseeing initial growth and profitability. She eventually stepped away for six years and moved to Europe. Meanwhile Jones Soda began to struggle. They went through a bunch of CEO's from the big soda companies in a very short period of time. So Jennifer returned in 2012, took over as CEO, and returned Jones Soda to its roots as an entrepreneurial company that loves its customers.
Kruse: You returned to Jones Soda in 2012 and managed to turn it around. What's been the secret of your success over the last few years?
Cue: I’d say I had a really strong knowledge about the business because of my prior involvement as CFO and COO, so I really knew the operations inside and out. I knew the financials inside and out. That really helped a lot. I still had a lot of work to do because the company was losing a significant amount of money when I came back, so I had to take some quick action.
At the end of the day, I believe everything falls from the top. I took a very, very low salary compared to the previous CEOs in the company. I asked the Board of Directors to take a reduction in fees because at the end of the day, if you're going to be asking that of all of the group, you have to do it from the top. Then just over time, bringing in people that really were more entrepreneurial in mind or spirit, so bringing back that entrepreneurial culture again and that small business approach.
Kevin Kruse: They say part of why Jones Soda struggled years ago was because they kept bringing in big brand soda CEOs, and they lost that small business approach.
Jennifer Cue: I think where there’s a small business and/or brand, there's a different skillset. You need to be very nimble and a street fighter. You don't have a lot of resources, so you got to figure things out on the fly and do things that make your brand stand out and really connect with consumers in a real authentic way. That's a different skillset than what you have at a major CPG company. Yeah, the company was still a small company at the time. We had big plans to be very large, but we still needed that mindset where you could think on your feet and really make an impact on either of our brands.
Kruse: What's your approach to leadership? How do you keep your team members engaged and fighting the good fight?
Cue: I’m a big believer, as I said, in top-down and leading by example. That's number one. We're a small company, again, as I said, so I believe in also providing equity to those that have persevered along with me. I also think that the type of individual that is interested in working at a more independent company really enjoys positions where they can make an impact. We have an environment where we really listen to ideas and take feedback. It really allows the people that really want to have a bit of an autonomy and make a name for themselves and be able to do some things and create some things on their own, too.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.