Platinum Group’s Dale Kurschner produces a weekly CEO interview program called “One Take” – a continuous, unscripted dialogue with no edits, usually recorded from each CEO’s home via Zoom. In each 10- to 20-minute interview, Dale asks one CEO to provide his or her take on how best to deal with the most pressing business and economic issues of the day.
Jill Blashak Strahan
During this week’s One Take CEO Interview, Tastefully Simple Founder and CEO Jill Blashak Strahan discusses what it was like to grow her 1995 startup into a $143 million-a-year business, and then lead through seven consecutive years of losses before Covid-19 hit. Ironically those recent tough times forced her organization to return to being scrappy like it was as a startup: lean, creative and agile – must-have traits for most businesses looking to grow this year.
“We ran though about $32 million in reserves... My turnaround advisors said, ‘too bad you had reserves because you know, you might have done something sooner [to turn things around]’,” she says. At the time, Blashak Strahan was doing everything possible to improve the business – including investing another $5 million into it with a line of credit. But in hindsight, matters she wishes she would have addressed sooner include recognizing the company had become too top-heavy (of 350 employees, about 50 were in leadership), and that she as a leader had stopped focusing on what she’s best at – building and creating. Also, headcount reductions – as painful as they are – needed to happen faster, as did initiation of a new discipline of always asking why a new hire is really needed.
Based in Alexandria, Minn., Tastefully Simple taps thousands of independent consultants across the United States to sell its made-in-the-USA seasonings, sauces, baking mixes, meal and entertainment kits and gifts through home tastings, online parties, catalog sales and website.
Founder and CEO Bob Schafer created a highly successful bakery supply business from scratch all from operating cash flow; no debt. Mixing and/or distributing 150 million pounds a year of ingredients to food manufacturers, this Minnesota Family Business Award-winning company has weathered three recessions since its founding in 1991. Thus far it is handling the Covid-19 recession well by adapting to the times, while also protecting its values. This includes how it pivoted to handle new business without hiring more people.
Northern Ingredients has picked up additional business from commercial bakeries that used to be able to buy direct from producers. Knowing this influx of orders will likely fade when Covid-19 does, Schafer asked his employees to work extra hours rather than hire more people. And he refused to add a third shift, placing workplace culture and personal life priorities before revenue growth. “We put out a schedule of voluntary 60 hours a week. We just said, ‘We’re going to 11 hours a day Monday through Friday, and five hours on Saturday. If it works for you, sign up. If we don’t get enough people to sign up then and only then will we add to our staff.’ Of our 16 production workers on any given day we have 14 there. The first two weeks it was 100 percent. We’re still operating only 50 hours but we’re doing the same production.”
Schafer discusses this and more in this interview, shot on location at Northern Ingredients in Arden Hills, MN. He talks about how to attract and retain talent beyond wage increases (which the competition can simply match) and provides tips for struggling business on how to survive this recession. These include working out creative terms with vendors and taking an honest look at parts of your business that could be eliminated, allowing you to focus on those most valuable.
This week’s One Take CEO Interview is with Aleesha Webb, vice chair and president of Blaine, MN-based Village Bank. Her second-generation family owned community bank has 69 employees, about $390 million in assets under management and offices in Blaine, East Bethel, Ramsey and St. Francis, MN.
Webb advises business owners to take advantage of low interest rates if they haven’t done so already, and to be strategic while thinking outside the box. Amongst her clients, “there’s this 70-plus year old man that's been in investment real estate forever and this budding entrepreneur a woman that decided to be an entrepreneur in her 50s, and... [with Covid-19’s impact on the economy], “they flipped the situation and said, ‘how am I going to take on this opportunity.’ These two are really nice examples of what people are doing and to what I mean when I say there’s a silver lining to everything.” [She explains more about each during the interview.]
Among other topics, Webb also discusses the importance of allowing oneself to feel stressed when something adversely affects employees and there’s no readily apparent solution. “The things that stress me out are never the things that most people think would stress me out. I actually have appreciated the time where I can’t go anywhere because I get to be with my children and my husband,” she says. “When I see our retail team struggling with having to be at the bank after one of our employees had Covid-19, and how worried they are about their families, that was the part that was hard for me. It’s the soft side of business, the soft side of culture, that if you lose, if it doesn’t shake you a little, you’re not a good president. You need to be shaken, and sometimes you need to not be able to fix things and really care.”
In this episode, learn how a business prepared for and then adjusted to a drop in business due to Covid-19 shutdowns. Mendota Heights, MN-based company is the nation's most efficient fry-oil business, providing everything from fresh oil appropriate for what's being fried, to equipment in the kitchen that dispenses new oil and then collects used oil. Watch or Listen to Restaurant Technologies Chief Jeff Kiesel.
In this week’s unedited One Take interview, Christine Lantinen talks about leading through the Covid-19 economy, how she and her team have changed marketing tactics, production processes and more, plus their need to hire more than 100 hourly employees and her thoughts on how business leaders can best deal with the stress created by these unsettling times. Watch or Listen to Maud Borup's Christine Lantinen.
Chuck Runyon discusses what his team has done to help 5,000 franchise owners deal with everything from negotiating rent deferrals and abatements to reopening safely. He talks about the value of culture and decentralized decision making. And he talks about the future for the world’s all time fastest growing franchise company, as ranked by Inc. magazine. Watch or Listen to Chuck Runyon, co-founder and CEO of Self Esteem Brands.
During this week’s One Take CEO Interview, Allina Health President and CEO discusses how she’s leading the $4.4 billion health care provider during Covid-19 as well as how it survived fires and looting that damaged or destroyed most neighboring properties. Watch or Listen to Allina Health's Penny Wheeler.
Despite losing a significant amount of revenue from Covid-19 related restaurant closures, Mainstreet Bakery is doing relatively well financially. A key reason for this is its COO’s perspective on how to lead during these incredibly uncertain and surprising times. Watch or Listen to Mainstreet Bakery’s Stacy Demskie.
Manny VillafanaIn this week’s episode, medtech serial entrepreneur Manny Villafana discusses the challenges of fundraising and leading during the Coronavirus recession, and shares how he’s moving ahead with his latest venture, Medical 21. Watch or Listen to Villafana’s interview. Also, see this “after the interview” two-minute demonstration of how he and his colleagues created the modern pacemaker.
Eric GibsonIn this week’s episode, Indigo Signworks CEO shares how his company plans not just to survive, but grow in coming months by targeting a different type of client.He also discusses how he’s keeping 145 employees at seven locations in two states motivated despite the pressures and uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and recession. Watch or Listen to Eric Gibson’s interview.
Covid-19 has created what can seem like two worlds; those who are extremely concerned about catching Covid-19 and those who don't understand why businesses and other aspects of "normal life" aren't more open. In this week’s segment of One Take CEO Interviews, Chad Nesbit of the business insurance firm Nesbit Agencies shares how his firm and some of his clients are dealing with this dilemma. Tune in to this discussion by watching here or by listening via Spotify or Apple Podcast.
Covid-19 related restrictions are forcing many businesses owners to contemplate raising prices, yet doing so can hurt business. Better options, says Bobby Tarnowski, are to create new types of product or service offerings, provide financing to those who cannot afford to pay for things outright, and try new and unique ways of marketing. Such constructive problem solving makes sense given he's a math enthusiast who owns a 10-location, 65-employee Mathnasium franchise in the Twin Cities. Watch or Listen as Tarnowski shares these ideas and more during this week's One Take CEO Interviews.