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|The Long, Hard (Yet Rewarding) Road to Socially-Responsible Business Success
By Harvy Simkovits, CMC
During a 20-year journey, Gary Hirshberg, President and CEO of Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, traveled a winding, bumpy and sometime unnavigatable road to become the third largest yogurt brand (and top organic brand) in the USA. Demonstrating 10 year compound annual growth rate of 23% $145 Million in sales in 2003, Gary has arrived as an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with. In a recent speech for the Social Venture Institute, Gary presented his secret formula that propelled him from obscurity to prominence in a tough food-industry marketplace. Here are his secrets:
1. FAITH in the greatness of your product. Gary not only believed in the superiority of his yogurt, but also in the social benefit it provided (good health for the people who ate it, support for the family farms that produced the milk, and protection of the environment from toxins).
2. COURAGE to take on Kraft Foods and other giants in the food industry.
3. NAIVETÉ to start a company when he knew little about the basics of running a business manufacturing, due diligence, cash flow, etc.
4. DETERMINATION to continue on after the doors being locked by a bank, and a failed effort with another dairy to save the company from bankruptcy.
5. CLEVERNESS to give away product to subway riders with the message, "We Salute Your Commute," which raised their market share in one city by 150% in less than a week.
6. PERSPIRATION that had him and his other founding partner perform double shifts at their plant (and on the road) for months, if not years, at a time.
7. LUCK to have relatives and friends who believed in him and loaned him money without a clear exit plan. Also, to have one fruit supplier say "yes" to become Stonyfields sole fruit supplier when they were owed money and Stonyfield did not have the money to pay.
8. PRUDENCE to bring his company to profitability within 5 months of building a new plant that allowed them not to be dependent upon other milk processors. And, to diligently work to properly set and consistently beat your business projections every year.
9. CHUTZPAH to go to the SBA, his bank, and investors for a loan to build a new plant when the alternative was to walk away.
10. DARING TO DREAM about succeeding and inventing the future of organic food products that are not only health-conscious but also helping to save the planet at the same time.
Garys chutzpah also came through when he negotiated an unusual deal with Groupe Danone that gave his original investors a high return, as well as enabled him to retain much latitude in how he now runs the firm. Gary is a testament to whats possible when one dares to become the best, make a difference, and do good in the world.
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
-T. S Elliot