New Seasons’ Wendy Collie Rocks ACG Portland

Wendy CollieAn evening of networking and education can be a tough thing for most of us to comfortably fit into our lives.  I can’t imagine that I am alone when at 5pm I invariably wonder if the meeting is what I should be doing.  The little voice says, “You are beat.  Why not go home early?  You know, you have a 7:00 tomorrow morning.”  Or maybe it’s the one that nags, “Don’t leave the office now, get a few more things off the desk.”

That was going on in my head.  February 24th was hump-day night and my energy seemed to be draining away as I scuttled among the blocks around the club dodging the legions of Timbers Army, looking for a parking spot.  Two and half hours later I was delighted not to have surrendered.  Wendy Collie, CEO of New Seasons Market, rocked the ACG Portland meeting awarding a memorable prize of insight and inspiration to the seventy middle market business leaders and their guests who prevailed in the parking war.

Most of us know New Seasons has been expanding with new stores steadily in Oregon and Washington.  Those of us who follow them in the news also know the company recently expanded into Northern California with its acquisition of New Leaf Community Market.  So to say the company is in growth mode is an understatement.  Wendy’s frank and thoughtful account of the company’s reckoning with the challenges and opportunities in that growth resonated passionately and intensely above the din of an over-sold MAC on Timbers night.

She stirred anecdotes of the big wins, little wins and “Get-Out-of-Jail-Free” stumbles into the mix, drawing metaphorically from the company stuff to call them  “Sweet, Savory and Sour Bites”, tantalizing tastes of the company and its successful culture.  We heard of many acts of courage, creativity, trust and human understanding at all levels of the company that helped turn a daring and expensive 20% wage increase into an employee engagement and productivity win practically overnight.

We learned what it means to be a “Triple Bottom Line” enterprise concerned with benefit to “People, Planet and Profits”.

And just in case anyone was wondering what those of us not in the grocery business were going to get out of all this, Collie surprised us all. Responding to a question suggesting profound differences between her experiences at Starbucks and New Seasons, she said, “you know, they really aren’t that different”, adding that at Starbucks, the secret sauce was a culture of people “who were all about the coffee”.  They made it happen.  She concluded that while New Seasons’ culture is more faceted, at its heart is a culture of people passionate about bringing great, healthy food ingredients to people.

Wendy returned repeatedly to this theme of unwavering concern for the preservation of successful core culture, she clarified her commitment to help iteratively refine and articulate rather than change valuable core culture, and through her energetic, enthusiastic tale of success we heard the humility and wisdom of a leader who knows she is on a journey.

For this blogger’s investment of an evening, takeaways abounded relevant to any leader looking to grow their business.

From the Chair of Communications Committee, ACG Portland