Brent Willis of NewAge: “Live your values.”

Live your values. Take the time to reflect and define them, then live them and make sure your behaviors are congruent with those values every day. I find that if you work to make others around you better and help them along the way — it will serve you in the long run. Lastly, always take on […]

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Live your values. Take the time to reflect and define them, then live them and make sure your behaviors are congruent with those values every day. I find that if you work to make others around you better and help them along the way — it will serve you in the long run. Lastly, always take on more responsibility and be 100% accountable for the outcomes good or bad.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brent Willis, NewAge CEO.

Mr. Willis has served as Chief Executive Officer since March 2016. Prior to serving as Chief Executive Officer for NewAge, he held senior leadership positions at Kraft Foods, ABInBev and served as a President in Latin America for the Coca-Cola Company. Mr.Willis has 20+ years of General Management, C-Level, Board, and Private Equity experience with global leaders in the CPG space. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1982 and an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1991.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My parents are originally from Egypt and Rhodesia, but we traveled a lot, and I spent my early childhood in Europe. We eventually came to the United States when I was 7 or 8 years old. I have always been a competitive athlete from swimming to tennis to baseball and football starting and the camaraderie and teamwork you learn from those activities in the US is unmatched by any country of the world. I was very focused as a kid though, and by the age of 16, I had my entire life plan written out — including predicting my exact job title 24 years later. Step one in that life plan was to go to West Point, and although it was brutal in just about every way, at the same time it was an excellent analytic, leadership, and service foundation.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I looked at some of the great leaders of our time, and tried to become a student of what made them different, better and special. At a very young age, I envisioned two career paths for myself — the first was to be POTUS and the other was to become a leader of companies. I learned very quickly that the political pathway required compromise, and that was not something I was willing to do, so I focused my efforts and learning on the business path, envisioning that our new long-term battles of the US would be economic ones.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Everyone along the way — in every interaction I ever have, I try to have a value-based relationship, both giving and receiving value — it’s very important to be an active listener, and also care enough to give back to that other person. As such, everyone along the way has given me the encouragement and learning to be who I am today.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I’d have to say ….

A bittersweet mistake was leaving AB InBev early, at a personal cost of tens of millions of dollars. Patience indeed sometimes can be a virtue.

The lesson I took away from this pricey mistake is to stay in the saddle. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and there’s tremendous value in loyalty even though it isn’t top of mind for most people today.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Live your values. Take the time to reflect and define them, then live them and make sure your behaviors are congruent with those values every day. I find that if you work to make others around you better and help them along the way — it will serve you in the long run. Lastly, always take on more responsibility and be 100% accountable for the outcomes good or bad.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

History of the Military Art — I use lessons from the battles every day, Clausewitz specifically from On War from the year 1812. Naturally, this resonates because of my West Point background, but really because I find so many similarities between the military strategy and business strategy. I love identifying the parallels (and where they’re different) and at the end of the day, it always forces me to think and reflect on where we are and where we’re going.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“The time is always right to do what is right” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote resonates with me as it links to a line in our Cadet Prayer at the Academy, to “Always choose the harder right, vs. the easier wrong.”

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

As a CEO, choosing to lead and choosing to be on the frontline during a global pandemic is exciting but also incredibly complex and nuanced. There is economic fear across all sectors of society, health concerns, in addition to civil and racial unrest virtually around the world. As I focus on bringing together two large, strong-willed companies through a corporate merger, these tumultuous times certainly impact these efforts, and bring forth many complexities and fantastic leadership challenges.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Discipline. Long-term success in any business comes from putting business and business results in statistical control — and that statistical control comes from measurement of what matters, and holding individuals accountable to both managing and hitting the metrics, and building a culture of performance.

Another way to look at it is by creating a habit, you are creating a consistent set of processes and routines for peak performance. The Coca-Cola Company is one of the best in the world at management routines, and I have claimed and re-named many of those best practices as my own.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

I like to work in 60 min increments of time — I find that being disciplined and focused on doing what matters, when it matters, is all about disciplined behavior that can be observed across one’s habits, thinking and ultimately, execution.

Try not to let a shock or environmental impact throw you off-course — these things are often out of your control, but the key is responding quickly. For example, when COVID-19 hit, we immediately shifted the company’s focus to our immunity products and adjusted our route to market to be primarily direct to consumer’s homes. Those quick adjustments positioned us well as the pandemic now enters its second year with us.

Just like in the military, as soon as the bullets start to fly, you have to maneuver to gain the strategic advantage. Shoot, move, and communicate that you learn as a basic ground pounder is not a bad philosophy, in business contexts that are particularly fluid.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

I think it comes down to focus and one’s intuition. You ultimately know what is supportive and positive in your life and what isn’t. You know inherently what is good and what is bad for you — it’s all about making the choice and focusing on taking the right next step. Like Anna said in Frozen II (that I have now seen like 100 times), “in your most difficult moments, just close your eyes, put one foot in front of the other, and do the next right thing.”

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Have a routine that makes you feel good — I wake up at 5 ish every day and do some type of workout (i.e., cardio or functional fitness) to get my body moving and start my day right.

Fuel your body with the right foods and nutrients — when I rise, I take a shot of Tahitian Noni and Cell Defense from NewAge, and usually fast in the morning and eat a low glycemic meal for lunch for energy maintenance. In the evening, I make sure I have dinner with my family and take Zennoa Beauty Rest and a CBD tincture to ease into sleep.

Stay focused but make time to connect — I like to work in 60-minute intervals and take short mental breaks, since I find I am more productive working this way. It’s important to me to make time to connect with my teammates and my family which is why before COVID — you’d find me in the office no later than 6:00 am with an open-door policy and home by 6:00 pm (technically only a half day’s work) so that I can be with my family for dinner and stories at bedtime.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

My most important practice ultimately comes down to making the choice, focus, and gaining success, which fuels the continuing the routines. If you waffle back and forth, then you can’t really get anything done. Follow your intuition and make the decision, then assess (shoot, move, and communicate) along the way.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Intermittent Fasting — — I think clearer and my body and mind are optimized when I incorporate this into my lifestyle.

Relentless Focus — — working in 60 min intervals, much like in running or cycling, pushes me to deliver my best.

Consistency — it is the backbone of any habit; to be consistent is to wake up day in and day out and keep at it.

Grind — to be good in tennis for example, I practiced 3–4 hours a day. You have to “embrace the grind” if you want to win and be best at what you do.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

See above.

Look for inspiration in other aspects of your life, like sports here. Intervals with short breaks are common in exercise too. Draw connections and you’ll end up with a more holistic, fulfilling life.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

A Healthy Diet — — what we fuel our bodies with is so important. It impacts our brain and what we are capable of accomplishing. I spent my early business career selling alcohol, sugar, and tobacco and did not feel good about what I was doing because of the detrimental consequences these products had on consumers.

Building Resilience — — in life,you will have to make sacrifices. You will be rejected, and at times you will think of giving up — it’s in those moments where you need to reach deep from within and take stock of what is impeding you from reaching your optimal focus.

Respect for the Process — — developing focus takes time and diligence. Ultimately you have to identify what works best for you — perhaps working in 60 min intervals doesn’t work for you and that’s fine. Over time, you will unlock the magic formula.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

See above.

Checking in with yourself. How are you feeling? What is impeding you? Taking time to ask these questions and find the answers will ultimately help you produce better results.

Being willing to adjust. I know what works best for me, but that involves trial and error. Rigidly sticking to something because it was recommended to you may end up hindering more than it helps.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

It comes down to checking in with yourself along the journey — are you enjoying what you’re doing? Are you stretching yourself in the right ways? Is this feeding you as a human? Are you being a good person and are your actual behaviors a reflection of the values you have chosen to model your life around.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d love to do three things actually with my time left on the planet. 1) I want to inspire the world to “live healthy,” which is way more than just what we put inside our bodies. 2) I want to have everyone that touches our company, to gain tremendous wealth through stock ownership, and within this, work on income inequalities across a range of cultures and demographics and 3) I actually want to change how brands are built — through evolving social selling and human connection and community building.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

LeBron James and Mike Kryzewski.

In LeBron’s case, he’s really gone from being the best basketball player on the planet to being bigger than basketball, and is using his personal awareness to make a difference.

As for Coach Mike Kryzewski, he went to my school (or I went to his) and I believe he was influenced by Knight and Parcells when they were his basketball coaches at West Point, and Coach K “stands for something.” In addition, he has kept his focus on Duke and Olympic coaching, creating a record of excellence for both and recognizing the unique opportunities through consistency and focus, rather than going to coach in the NBA. In addition, he has always had a strong focus on leaving a positive impact on society through his charitable efforts.

How can our readers further follow your work online?


Twitter: @brentwillisCEO

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