David Radlo: “Belief in God or a higher Power”

Belief in God or a higher Power: walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil as God is with you. Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does […]

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Belief in God or a higher Power: walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil as God is with you.

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing David Radlo.

David Radlo is an internationally-recognized leader in growth leadership and sustainable innovation, a disruptive entrepreneur, operating partner and CEO. He has a track record for explosive acceleration, which led to blockbuster category creation, triple-digit growth and envisioning synergistic partnerships, alliances, and M&A targets. He has served on nine boards and has been a trusted board advisor to venture and private equity firms, Fortune 500 executives, family offices, and nonprofits. He is also a best-selling author of The Principles of Cartel Disruption, ForbesBooks podcaster of Sustainable Leadership and Disruptive Growth and an International Fortune 500 speaker.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory” and how you got started?

After a rewarding educational experience at Tufts University, where I had an equally rewarding experience as a football player, I had a five-year career in public service and political advocacy and worked with the US Congress and Massachusetts General Court. I subsequently ran a strong race for state representative, receiving 39 percent of the vote and an endorsement from Vice President George H.W. Bush. I worked for Bush in his 1988 presidential campaign, turning down potential opportunities at the

White House and State Department, and finally turned to the traditional business sector.

I accepted a management position with Citibank to spearhead the marketing and sales for their equivalent of Western Union. Then came a management role in a consumer-agriculture and ag-biotech company. I founded Radlo Foods, a company entrenched in brown, specialty, domestic, and international commodity eggs, wholesale food distribution, specialty foods, and a partnership in biotech with Vicam. At Vicam, they advanced food safety and partnered with MIT, Harvard, Boston University, and Johns Hopkins.

Fast-forward a decade: the biotech company was sold to a strategic partner at a high enterprise value. At Radlo Foods, I expanded operations to 30 states and reached out to EMEA, Canada, the Caribbean, and the Asia Pacific. As a result, the company footprinted and replicated specialty designer eggs and products that exploded the category through segmentation, creating two national brands and several private label brands that led to YOY double-digit growth. In addition, I was adept at fostering appropriate add-on acquisitions. I sold my Eggland’s Best ownership and franchise to Land O’Lakes for substantial enterprise value.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The transition from a 3X successful entrepreneur to give-back with board, advisory, growth and exit coaching was natural. It was about leveraging: what I can bring to a board/board advisory, growth and exit coaching is: An uncanny ability to find a path to profitable, sea-change in the compound annual growth rate (CAGR). I grew my companies by 30X increase in enterprise value and currently advise private-equity portfolio management and companies that have grown by 9.3X, 5X, and 3X. And an ability to envision synergistic partnerships, alliances, and M&A targets.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

You don’t just come into this world as a natural-born entrepreneur. It requires an ability to learn the leadership, growth, and innovation skills necessary to incubate and accelerate and yes, at times, some luck as well. These are found in my book, The Principles of Cartel Disruption, where I outline 11 principles and four important areas, as well as in my Sustainable Leadership and Disruptive Growth podcast, which showcases blockbuster success and those who choose to give back.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

There were lots of people. It starts with customers, potential customers, colleagues and teammates, and exceedingly capable board members whose talents, intelligence, and success have always exceeded mine.

The journey in business started with one of my early customers when I was 11 years old. My father, Jack, a decorated WWII veteran and shrewd businessman, hired me to cut the grass. It was 85 to 90 degrees and I wanted to go swimming. So, I cut half of the lawn and told my dad that I was done. He was furious. I had never seen him so mad. He told me that I had made an oral agreement with him, had defaulted on the agreement, and that I must honor the agreement. I was to finish the job and come back and see him.

So, I went back and finished cutting the lawn. I came back to him, and he commenced a quality assurance inspection around the yard, the bushes, the mailbox, and other areas. I was to go back and take care of all of those areas and come see him again. I finished and came back again. He then commenced a second quality assurance inspection and followed up again. Finally, after seeing him after finishing the follow-up work from the second inspection, I was paid the 6.00 dollars that he agreed to pay.

It was then that I got my first lesson in the importance of honoring agreements, over- delivering results, and managing people, processes, and strategy to drive customer excellence. The next time that I agreed to cut the lawn, I completed it with excellence, did not have any quality assurance inspections, and took about half the time.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We over-deliver on value proposition and excellent results. I have been told time and time again by clients that we don’t waste money or time and clearly articulate methods to solve pain points directly, quickly and effectively. We have a free assessment located on my website, davidradlo.com, and the principles that we teach are clearly outlined in the book and discussed on my podcast.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1) Perseverance

2) Positive growth mindset

3) Integrity and belief in a higher power

In all situations, you must deal with your urgent and important and non-urgent opportunities with perseverance, positive growth mindset, integrity and a belief in a higher power. You must be able to have 1) and 2) to be able to successfully lead. I have found that 3) is an option but not for me.

You will find people that you deal with that fit into the categories of honest and generous, honest and cheap, generous but dishonest, and dishonest and cheap. The dishonest and cheap folks will screw you sooner rather than later, so run like hell. You can usually work-out arrangements with the dishonest and generous people, but as soon as they have leverage against you, they will screw you. The honest folks, both generous and cheap, you can work with and have strong, long-lasting successful business relationships. This is where giving examples may not make it past legal scrutiny but it is an important story to discuss nevertheless.

Often, leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

We vet all decisions — good and bad — through advisors. I have made some dumbass decisions in my life. Going to war with larger capitalized parties is at the top of the list in the shipping and agriculture business. Lost millions doing stupid stuff. However, learned some valuable lessons from all of these decisions. As I learned more stuff, I had commandments set up on the wall so that I could spot major issues before they happen. They are related to Stephen Covey’s key habits, deadly management traps, deadly strategic planning traps, and deadly sins of private equity investors.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Make it fun for goodness sakes. Life is short and business is tough. I take a look at Inc. 5000 Bob Goehrke’s quote (Bob served on my board on how we chose to operate):

“I served on Dave’s board of directors for over a decade and was amazed at the consistent and sustainable double-digit growth he drove. A strong value proposition and vision…intense strategic planning…constant innovation…personal hands-on communication in an entrepreneurial culture. Dave’s no-nonsense, run-through-the-brick wall, do-what-it-takes toughness while having fun approach served as a blueprint for me when I co-founded and built a leading natural beauty company.”

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and authority in their industry?

Perform, be humble, honor your commitments, make it a fun, hard-working environment, and give back.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

Because it’s a great formula for success and giving back with your time, talents, money, and contacts is exceedingly important.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs and founders make when they start a business?

Having zeal that is not always based upon objective criteria, and under-projecting the time and finance that it will take to get things going.

What can be done to avoid those errors?

Tie your value proposition to a continuous review of the competitive analysis and strategic plan, and test out with metricly-based early-stage test market milestones. Have at least 3X cash on hand than you will think you will need and monitor your cash-flow statement, not just your P&L. Don’t run out of runway and keep your investors and debt providers apprised along the way, so there is no shock when you must call them. Don’t bother them during holiday time, as they have better things to do than deal with your unpreparedness!

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

It is very similar to assembling a sports team as a coach — utilizing the best players on the field at that time in the most efficient manner possible, employing the correct overall strategy, and adjusting tactics in order to win and satisfy customers. Just realize that the competition will score points as well, and that sometimes life deals you a set of cards in which, despite your hard work, things don’t turn out well. But remember, it’s not about the cards you are dealt, but how you choose to play them with a positive growth mindset and how you choose to improve your reality with realistic goals and objectives.

Regular jobs don’t give you this type of freedom to succeed. There is no clock to punch in at 8 a.m. and punch out at 4:30 p.m. Especially in the beginning, your hours will be long, but you will achieve fruits from your labor. There will be setbacks and failures as well as some great triumphs!

Here is a story about a major high for me. Doing business with Castro and Cuba when we were breaking in was a big break for us. It raised our company’s stature, brands, and industry. It was significant in executing our multi-tiered double and triple-digit growth strategy while expanding our international markets to Cuba. Fidel Castro and the Cubans were now buying Born Free Organic Eggs from Pete and Jerry’s of New Hampshire, Brown Eggs Fresh from New England, and White Eggs from America’s Heartland. Low-cost sustainable food shared with our new friends, the Cuban people. This deal was a win-win situation for the US industry and Cuba. If you genuinely want to be a sustainable leader, ensure that you bring along your industry friends. It can have so much more of an impact on repairing the world.

NBC Miami interviewed me with questions regarding US citizens’ feelings in Miami who found my dealings with Cuba offensive. I responded, “I have the utmost respect for the exile community in the Miami area, I am just over here trying to sell some US farm goods, pay my mortgage, and pay some taxes.” She pressed hard and asked if it was true that I was concerned with payment, so that’s why I had President Castro sign? I responded, “I am very comfortable with the US law and getting paid upfront before we release any goods to the Cubans. We are not concerned at all. It brought a sense of goodwill that President Castro stood behind the purchases and payments.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

In 1994, I experienced the most significant learning lesson of my life, and it was the cornerstone of my future success. At our company, we had a business that leased refrigerated containers. We leased to an affiliate of a Puerto Rican carrier of my Industry colleague, Mike Shea, president of Sea-Barge. The sister affiliate company was called SeaXpress, and they shipped to the Bahamas. It was for sale and seemed like an easy fix. We would get the correct equipment to sail out of Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami. This change would cut costs by covering Nassau and Freeport.

Right before the deal closed, a new competitor, Crowley Maritime, shot in and started shipping to the Bahamas. We should have walked and taken the losses in container revenue that we would have sustained if we pulled away from the deal. However, we didn’t. I had not learned the first strategic planning trap from Principles of Cartel Disruption. In chapter four, I talked about the trap of failing to recognize and understand events and changing conditions in the competitive marketplace, but that’s what I did.

I took a loan, purchased the business, executed the plan, and leased a new equipment fleet. Operationally it was a success. However, we went after Tropical Shipping’s largest customer while Crowley, the new entrant, kept eroding our business. It was deadly. The boys who were in a shipping conference, which is a legal entity that allows price and related discussions, had enough of SeaXpress.

After we successfully attained Tropical Shipping’s largest customer, they retaliated and lowered their rates to 20 dollars per shipment in some cases, plus landing and other fees. We did not have the capital to fight them. We had leases that would sink our entire business interests. We were able to sell it under duress to Harry Bresky, of seaboard Marine, through their marine affiliate. We got out of the lease liabilities but lost about 1.3M dollars and had allocated 900,000 dollars in cash. The situation created a threat of bankruptcy. It was an absolute disaster, and everyone sued us. I got a harsh lesson in the basic legal game and learned the hard way about law and business.

We tried to sue the company that sold us the business, but their attorney, Tim Armstrong, gave me a lesson on the law. He fought everything along the way. He fought service, forum non-conveniens, every answer, and every discovery. When I was through with SeaXpress and Tim Armstrong’s litigation, I had filled legal education gaps from my one semester of business law in graduate school.

I received a real-life education on quashing service, fraud in the inducement, breach of fiduciary duties, unfair business practices, negligent misrepresentations, breach of contract, tortious interference, employment contract issues, letter of intent contract issues, antitrust violations. It was a million-dollar pragmatic legal education. After it was over, I received a call from an intermediary letting me know the shipping cartel “hit” allegedly may have been coordinated. They wanted to let me know how much they appreciated my shipping business over the years as a poultry and egg exporter and to ensure that they will treat us right as a customer, but not as a competitor.

In the end, we lost a lot of money and averted total failure to fight another day. My related container business was gone. I had a big loan to pay back, and the debtors deservedly were angry at me for being a dumbass and coldcocking a shipping cartel.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

This situation made me a seasoned and tough business executive. I developed steadfast principles in business. I developed eyes in the back of my head, which came in handy in dealing with food and agriculture industry “bad boy” Jack Decoster and his sidekick “Duke” Goranites, venture capitalists, investment bankers, and the review of deals and acquisitions. My skills also helped me grow organically and non-organically through acquisition in agriculture, consumer products, biotech, entertainment, tech, real estate, and more, but I was done with shipping! This horrifically bad deal led me to learn an uncanny ability to find a path to a profitable sea-change of growth and the ability to envision synergistic partnerships, alliances, and M&A targets while navigating the minefields.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need to Successfully Ride the Emotional Highs & Lows of Being an Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

1) Persevere: keep going and keep leading incrementally to accelerate growth.

2) Strong family and friends’ backing: essential to have a support network.

3) Belief in God or a higher Power: walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil as God is with you.

4) Keep your body healthy with proper rest, exercise and nutrition, and go to the doctors.

5) Keep your mind refreshed with appropriate sleep and meditation.

There is no way that you can survive the challenges and opportunities and keep a positive attitude without the above five characteristics in order to provide calm, cool, and steady leadership to drive double-digit CAGR and 10-fold increase in revenue, six-fold increase in EBITDA, and 30X increase in enterprise value. It was not easy!

Here are some of the opportunities that I dealt with and you can see why:

1) Several disease crises, roof collapse, and facilities burned to the ground that caused production to drastically drop;

2) Drop in prices by large capital competitors aimed directly at forcing us out of business;

3) Bank line of credit pulled for absolutely no reason other than change of banking policy and someone going on vacation with no notice on both. Late payments and defaults of customers. Going out-of-pocket to finance and not take pay as you are the last person always to draw a paycheck as a leader. This includes when you are a large company and performance needs improvement!

4) Product being held up at foreign ports due to changes of foreign policy and stuck in the middle with goods while working diplomatic and legal angles to release the cargo.

5) Lawsuits of all sorts. Understanding the legal game. Larger companies reverse engineering your intellectual property to steal the benefits of it and copy your work as quickly as possible.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is classically defined as: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. Sure, recovering quickly, toughness, and being agile to pivot quickly and be a bit elastic.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

I had the great honor to play for and coach with football legend Bill Tighe at Lexington High School, in Lexington, Mass., in the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s. He recently passed away from complications of COVID-19 at the age of 95. Coach Tighe was an Iwo Jima World War II hero who played football and baseball after the war for Boston University. He went on to become a dedicated family man and head high school football coach as well as baseball and track at times for 52 years.

Coach Tighe’s vision was to mold young athletes into strong, confident leaders and equip them with the necessary skills and tools to achieve greatness. His mission was simple: win at football, family, and life. His values were based on toughness, integrity, preparation, hard work, love of family, love of teammates, and respect for coaches, teachers, parents, and opponents while doing so with a smile and at times, laughter.

Coach Tighe over-delivered on his value proposition. He found a college or a military placement for his players where they could continue their pursuit of excellence en route to lifelong leadership. Coach Tighe taught us all how to win and succeed. He used to say, “If you can take me, you can take anyone!” It was a great mix of fear and love.

The last game of my senior year I tore my medial meniscus in my knee during the third play. Coach schooled us that we played until the bone was showing. I came out of the game for one play and then went back for the rest of the game. About a week later, I was on crutches. Coach Tighe said, “When are you going to quit faking and throw those crutches away?” I told him that I was going into surgery the next day. In a moment he got real serious, sat me down and got the particulars. He was in his wartime take-care-of-the-injured mode. He called my family and followed up on a regular basis until I was safely out of the hospital. He was a mentor and a surrogate father to many throughout the years.

Coach had the ability to deal with tragedy and move forward with a smile. He had the misfortune of losing two of his children, Billy and Steve, and his devoted wife of many years, Mary. He was deeply religious and went to church almost every day. He had a strong sense of humility and was revered by many. My dad fought in World War II under Patton, and my mom was from that generation as well. Both of my parents had the utmost admiration and respect for Coach Tighe.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

It’s the sports training as a player and football coach in high school and college. Sports generally is a very strong challenge and usually you are in pain most of the time. My specialty was taking on double and triple teams, which is usually the way competition comes after you in business. You learned to enjoy it, get through it, and do it with a smile.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

I am a big believer in understanding blind spots of people in an organization. An organization can function better by everyone on the management team knowing each other’s blind spots and increasing people’s self-awareness level. My blind spot is in the area of empathy under stress. When I am stressed, I lack empathy, and I may get loud to cut to the chase. Without understanding a blind spot, you won’t be able to reframe or transform your behavior. I also find this quite helpful in leading, advising, and coaching to help people meet their goals, aspirations, and right action.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” — MLK.

My chapter in the book about the progressive model in accelerating all things people, process, and strategy with sustainable ends explains how I was able to make a major breakthrough in Cuba, along with success in the United States with low-cost food and cage-free, free-range, and other humane-certified agriculture products. It also ties into transformation for a safer, new, better world. And all that ties back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s progressive social action. It takes time, but change does occur. That philosophy has inspired me to give back with time, talents, contacts, and finance.

How can our readers further follow you online?

They should go to www.davidradlo.com to take a free assessment, view a podcast, or obtain additional information to accelerate results!

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.

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