As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff “Cletus” Loeb founder of Redneck Roadkill.
Jeff was born in St. Louis, MO and he currently resides there and Bozeman Montana, each for half of the year. Loeb has a wife and two children. His business career was spent in selling and marketing of children’s marketing including the toy (Kenner, University Games, Haystack Toys) and shoe businesses (Brown Group). Along the way he worked for both established Fortune 500 conglomerates and start-ups. Loeb managed domestic businesses as well as international markets including a two-year stint in Hong Kong/China. Overall, he may not know a lot about anything specific, but along the way he has touched a lot of bases and has learned that he knows what he knows, and he knows what he doesn’t know”.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The idea and creation behind Redneck Roadkill® come from my experience in the toy/gift industry which I found emphasizes creativity and marketing as foundations of success. Also contributing to this was my interest to participate in the new e-commerce and social media driven economy allowing a company to go direct to the consumer with product and messaging versus having to navigate the endless layers of bureaucracy and logistics involved in getting a product to the retail shelf of a brick and mortar retailer.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
While my competencies flow from career experience in the sales and marketing of products, a challenge was identifying and enlisting enthusiastic human resources to support the company in key areas where I have minimal expertise (for example tech and social media).
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Certainly the 30+ years of experience of selling and marketing consumer products is a key component of our company’s success but equally as important are the following characteristics:
– Actually, doing it…ideas on paper don’t mean a thing unless someone pulls the trigger
-Persistence… in the sense of seeing through the early stage financial commitments to develop and bring a product to market
– Patience… in the sense of allowing the plan time to work out kinks to find its audience
– Enlisting an energized support team
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
– How much more competitive the e-commerce world had become upon launch of the company vs. 2–3 years prior
– How much more cluttered the social media world had become…again, upon launch vs. 2–3 years prior in the sense of grabbing a consumer’s attention and engagement
– Let me quote the famous philosopher and personal idol, Ferris Bueller… “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. I realize I had been told this already 42 times but a 43rd time would have been appreciated.
– Golf really isn’t worth the agony.
– When you reach a fork in the road, take it.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
– Sign on emotionally to the “plan” and prospects that it will succeed.
– Get a huge “charge” out of the impact one is making to the company’s success. I find often that the more difficult the challenge, the more of an emotional rush one gets from their work as the company progresses.
– Remember the 80/20 rule…the most impact is often focused on a handful of tasks. Don’t sweat the remaining 20%.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I was hired shortly after college as a Sales Intern for Kenner Products. At the time this was a loosely defined position dedicated to support sales and marketing efforts behind the company’s brands. Joe Mendelsohn was the President of Kenner at the time and from whom I learned an enormous amount during my 8 years there. While there are many examples of “lessons learned” the one below is one of my favorites:
In 1978 Kenner was riding high on the back of Star Wars (the #1 boys’ toy in the industry). Kenner had the Star Wars toy license rights and couldn’t meet the consumer demand. About 2–3 weeks after starting my new job, Joe informed me that he and the Sr. Sales VP were going on a sales call to Toys R Us (at that time the most important retailer in the industry) and they wanted me to accompany them so they could demonstrate to their most important customer the human resource commitment being made (i.e. me) to support Kenner’s relationship with Toys R Us. I was stunned and frankly scared to think that I’d be participating in such an important meeting only 2 weeks into my new career and with minimal training at that time.
We met with the President and Sr. VP of Toys R Us in the President’s office and after pleasantries Joe delivered the news… Kenner was restricting the amount of Star Wars action figures it would ship to Toys R Us the balance of the year. In hindsight this was the only purpose of the meeting and I concluded I was there only to help deflect the anticipated “incoming flak” that was about to occur. Well, sure enough the reaction to this was beyond emotional and beyond any Urban Dictionary I had ever read. For 45 minutes we were skewered, abused and cussed with words I had never heard in a rage that was more deafening than a 747…for how dare we limit supply to THEM…Toys R Us?
While I was sweating and emotionally hiding under my chair, I noticed that both Joe (and Bill-Sr. VP Sales) were quiet and calm as cucumbers with what I perceived as slight grins on their faces. The meeting ended and I was expecting the three of us to have an emotional “download” of the meeting. However, the first words from Joe’s mouth were, “well, where should we go for lunch?”
So, what’s the lesson learned? It’s that Product is King. Joe knew we had the leverage by virtue of Star Wars’ strength and that in the end you have hot product…you have everything. I can say without hesitation that this experience has guided me in all my sales and product marketing endeavors including Redneck Roadkill.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
– Be able to enjoy my passions in life (family and outdoor recreation) carefree and without major distraction.
– Give my wife the space she needs.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I don’t just talk-the-talk…I do it. This applies equally to career, family and recreation. Yes, do your homework, be organized and disciplined and manage the risk…but at least get in the game. It’s a lot more fun than being a spectator.
After telling my daughter, Leslie, about my plans and risks involved in the launch of Redneck Roadkill…her first comment which I will forever remember was, “well at least you did it”.
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!
Declare the annual Holiday — National Blackout Day. A 24-hour period when electricity is cut, and we need to survive without reliance on the electronic crutches of today. Why, we might even end up talking with each other for a few minutes.
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