As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bentley Hall.
Bentley is a driven entrepreneur who loves helping emerging, mission-driven brands scale. In late 2015, he joined the Good Eggs team as CEO to push the brand forward on its mission and make an enduring mark on the rapidly transforming food industry. Good Eggs is an online grocery delivery service pioneering a new way for customers to feed their families without settling.
Prior to joining Good Eggs, and after spending time with Johnson & Johnson and Clif Bar, Bentley joined the executive team at Plum Organics, which grew to become the largest organic baby & kids food co. in the US. He is also an investor and board member of three high-growth early-stage consumer companies.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always chased opportunities and roles in consumer products and food that increased my breadth of knowledge, speed of learning and potential for impact. The more traditional rewards like titles, promotions or job security never mattered much to me. This approach to curiosity has served me well and it also encouraged me to take a few bolder bets early in my career. I quickly began moving from well-established companies to those at much earlier stages — From 130k people at Johnson & Johnson to less than 100 when I joined Clif Bar to less than 4 people when I joined Plum Organics. At the same time, I was asking for executive roles of increasing diversity, breadth and influence. Within a decade of starting my career, I was fortunate to have run multiple business functions at scale — from finance, supply chain operations and people to innovation and international expansion. Throughout these experiences, I also learned how to accelerate a winning concept and turn around struggling businesses.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
All turnarounds take time and cash. When I joined Good Eggs, they had just retrenched from four markets across the country to one — in the San Francisco Bay Area. The team and I were told that we had sufficient capital to last at least two years. In the first month on the job, I discovered that we only had a few weeks of cash available. That was not a good day. Moments like this have a way of clarifying what truly matters, what is worth fighting for, and what hard decisions need to be made. It revealed that I cared far too much about the team, purpose, and potential of Good Eggs to walk away because it was going to be harder than I initially thought.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I have repeatedly seen how good people with optimism, a growth mindset, creative problem solving and a bias towards action can achieve big things. When that cultural attitude is coupled with a few key operating basics like laser focus, extreme persistence, a tireless work ethic and putting other people before yourself, anything is possible.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
Commit to board members and treat them like lifetime partners (not bosses or friends). Each board member has a unique and deep area of expertise that corresponds to an important company strategy or goal. With that core area of focus, they are assigned to work side by side with us, push us hard and improve the quality of our thinking.
Bill is the expert on marketplaces & financials, Chuck is my guru on growth & OKRs, Vishal lives and breathes merchandising, assortment and competitive strategy, Danny is the maestro of brand, retail, and fundraising.
Top executives need to be both coached and challenged. I originally believed that you “hire exceptional people then move out of their way and provide support”. That is not enough. No matter what level, most people need to be both seen and challenged to achieve great things.
Repetition and focus are critical. Never underestimate the importance of doing fewer things better, and then articulating over and over, why you are doing certain things. This is easy in concept and very hard in practice.
Early days, when it was a small team, I could just pick the top 1–2 priorities for the year and everyone would sprint side by side to make them happen. As the company has grown, we have hired more capable leaders, and each of them has good ideas they want to implement. We want those ideas, but for a brief glimmer of time, our company performance suffered because we actually had too many of these competing ideas and initiatives. Today, everything is filtered through a framework of strategy, and prioritized goals and objectives. The projects that get resources and company-wide attention deliver the clearest returns against those priorities. It is our responsibility to say no to everything else.
It’s much more important to get to the right answer than to be right. Exceptional decisions come from low egos, aligned objectives, and rigorous debate. Great leaders use curious inquiry over self-advocacy.
If people agreeing with you provides you with a feeling of self-worth, or you have an overwhelming desire to be heard, I would encourage push further beyond your comfort zone and ask more questions. I constantly ask people I trust, experts in a field, and a skeptic to challenge my recommendations, tell me where I am wrong, what I am missing. New truths push the quality of our thinking. Leaders who get ahead at Good Eggs value this process. They have a responsibility to both have an opinion and shift previously held conceptions when the logic no longer supports it.
Agile mindsets are required. Be prepared to constantly shift gears, while maintaining a full presence, with nothing more than a deep breath and a few seconds. It takes a lot of practice to seamlessly jump between long term strategy discussions, complicated human relationships, and super tactical execution multiple times each day.
Today was a pretty standard day. In the last five hours, I met with a potential investor to share our long-term vision, dove into a tactical execution meeting about our financial plan, spoke on a panel at an e-commerce event nearby, had a phone call about our Oakland facility that launches in 60 days, coached a key executive and discussed the potential future of their career, wrapped up a project brief and fired off a few urgent emails. The diversity of tasks and speed of pace would be shell-shocking to most people, but the right mindset makes it both fun & completely manageable.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
A few role models in life taught me about the importance of finding joy in the journey and maintaining a balanced foundation. Trial-and-error has revealed a series of healthy habits that build endurance and ensure I am energized and grounded vs. depleted at the end of a non-stop, action-packed week. Personally, I make time to exercise, be outdoors, eat tasty food and laugh with the people I love. These are all essential for me to stay sane, be an effective leader, and be a good dad/husband/friend.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
That could be a whole different article! It definitely takes a village. There are so many people I have learned from — parents, grandparents, mentors, coaches, friends, and our executive team and board members. The common denominator of the people who have left a lasting impact on me is that they all took the time to know, connect with, and care about who I was. They all trusted me, and they all stretched me to do more than I thought was possible.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I define success in my own way but have always liked portions of Bessie Stanley’s poem on the subject. Paraphrased… He who has achieved success has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust and respect of intelligent men and women, who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it; Who has left the world better than he found it. Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Two things. Permanently change the way that peak quality and high integrity food is bought, sold and eaten, at real scale. Ensuring my two boys grow up to become happy, healthy people with high character.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
That is easy. I believe good food is fundamental to a full existence. It is a force for change — the most powerful way for people and the planet to prosper. Good Eggs is the method and the movement that accelerates this change.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Good Eggs Blog — https://blog.goodeggs.com/
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/goodeggs/