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David Israel & Bart Adlam: “Don’t try to please everyone”

Don’t try to please everyone. You need to own your decisions in the end. There might be people in the organization that don’t like any given decision, but your team will ultimately prefer working for a brand that has a clear sense of direction. This is especially true when the business is experiencing growth and success. […]

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Don’t try to please everyone. You need to own your decisions in the end. There might be people in the organization that don’t like any given decision, but your team will ultimately prefer working for a brand that has a clear sense of direction. This is especially true when the business is experiencing growth and success.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Israel, Founder and Co-CEO and Bart Adlam, Co-CEO.

David Israel is an experienced entrepreneur with a demonstrated history of working in the food and beverages industry. In 2011, he founded and helped to grow the Pop! Gourmet Foods brand internationally, later co-founding AvoLov/BranchOut in 2017.

In 2018, David founded GOOD PLANeT, setting out to revolutionize the plant-based cheese category with clean ingredients, a sustainable and environmentally-friendly mission and a focus on the communities the brand serves. GOOD PLANeT is a product that delivers a true experience of cheese, offering plant-based consumers taste and texture that isn’t lacking in any way. Through his leadership and entrepreneurial efforts, David brings skillful negotiation, sales management and team building to the GOOD PLANeT brand today.

Currently Co-CEO of GOOD PLANeT Foods, Bart has over 30 years of experience successfully driving top and bottom-line growth on packaged food brands, both in the US and globally. Bart’s CPG experience includes both large corporations such as Danone, Ralcorp and Pfizer, as well as small food companies Chef’s Cut and siggi’s.

As President and CEO of siggi’s yogurt, Bart took a $10MM business that was losing money to a very profitable business of over $150MM, leading to a very successful exit to a global dairy giant. Over this time, Bart led the brand from a Natural Foods focus to success in Grocery, Mass and Club.

As President at Post’s $1.4 billion cereal business, Bart brought new direction to the business. He built a strong new leadership team, rallying the organization around clear priorities. Bart shifted A&P away from trade spend reliance to brand building, and co-led a major cost savings program that improved margins. These efforts helped pave the way for an IPO of Post.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

David: My story and my path to food is actually quite sorted, and probably too long to tell here. However, through a series of really bad circumstances and extremely unusual events, I landed in a place no one wants to be, and had a lot of time on my hands. That’s when I learned to channel my mind and my thoughts towards something that would bring good to the world.

With this time on my hands, I wrote a business plan for my first food venture. When that business grew into an international success, I had to consider, once again, what I could do to have a positive impact on our world. From that thought process, GOOD PLANeT was born, and it’s truly something I love doing. It’s something I feel like the industry and the world both need right now. I certainly wouldn’t be where I’m at if I didn’t go through what I went through early on. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.

Bart: What brought me to this career path was really just a lack of imagination. My dad was a CPG executive at Nabisco Foods, and I admired him and the strategic element of his work. Once I got started, I enjoyed it, had some talent for this work and continued to grow in it.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

David: Launching GOOD PLANeT Foods was my first foray into the frozen/refrigerated food space. Working in the snack food and dry goods category, you have the ability to ship all around the world without necessarily worrying about the challenges that might come with it. In the refrigerated category, however, processes are much different due to special shipping needs, taking into account your perishable items and sensitive expiration dates.

In addition to the challenges that came with launching into the refrigerated category, we also entered into the plant-based foods industry knowing we had to find a way to talk about how our cheese was different. Consumer’s expectations for plant-based cheese were low where taste, quality and texture were concerned, and at that time, innovation was lacking. There was a lack of awareness, overall — shoppers really didn’t know what plant-based cheese was, what to expect or where to find it at their grocery store.

We realized we would be able to have a conversation about what makes GOOD PLANeT superior only after consumers tried our product. Meanwhile, we also recognized that it’s difficult for consumers to try something new before they trust the brand or product.

Bart: I just started at GOOD PLANeT, but an early challenge for many operators is working alongside a founder. It’s natural that there’s tension between what has worked and what is needed to make the brand even bigger than it currently is. The key, however, is to make that tension work for you, all while not losing the sense of entrepreneurship. To grow, there will be higher expectations by customers, consumers, investors and even employees. For me, the challenge will be to find the upside in the tension.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

David: I got to the place I’m at now because I was innovative. Oftentimes, people try our product and they’re surprised at how delicious it is, so it’s easy for them to say it’s brilliant. But, for me, ignorance is bliss. Once you decide you want to go for it, you go for it. That’s how our entrance into the plant-based foods category was. It’s important to take the hard lessons in stride. You have to be willing to digest those challenges, process them, then move forward, and GOOD PLANeT is a testament to that attitude.

Aside from that, my success is due, in part, to my drive to innovate and create a product that remains the best, not resting on our laurels. Altogether, the branding, packaging and mission are all critical. Our mission, especially, has helped to move us forward. We’ve really taken it on the chin a couple times — on behalf of our customers — for things that were out of our control, simply because we knew it would impact them. Building that confidence and trust pays in dividends.

Bart: I really enjoy what I do. I love building teams, developing people, experiencing a sense of shared accomplishment. If I can make work a better experience for our team, that’s a big deal for them and for me. That keeps me going through bumps or challenges along the way.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

David:

In part, I’d like to say “nothing”. Of course, there are so many things I would have liked to learn ahead of time that I wouldn’t have known what to do with in my early years. I’m not an educated, gone-through-the-ranks CEO. My experience as CEO has come from me starting each of my brands from scratch, and I’m proud of that. I didn’t ask for help because learning from my own mistakes and working through the challenges along the way is invaluable to me.

Bart:

The business is never better than you’re told before you take the role. In fact, it’s usually more challenging than you’re told. Sometimes, the board or the team may be unaware of all the challenges or sometimes there may be wishful thinking you’re that taints their reality.

As a CEO, personal accomplishments don’t mean anything. If you’re growing up through a specific function, you’re likely doing well if you’ve been given the opportunity to take on the role of CEO. You’ve likely received accolades for personal accomplishments many times. As the CEO, however, it is all about the company results, especially financial.

Don’t try to please everyone. You need to own your decisions in the end. There might be people in the organization that don’t like any given decision, but your team will ultimately prefer working for a brand that has a clear sense of direction. This is especially true when the business is experiencing growth and success.

Let people be themselves. This is a personal philosophy of mine. In large organizations, there’s so much energy spent on conforming to a culture. While you need your team to be professional and work together, they should be able to do so while being themselves. They’ll be grateful and more loyal, and meanwhile, the business gets to benefit from diverse thinking.

If a new hire is a bad fit, don’t let it fester. It’s tough to admit a mistake and even tougher when you have to hurt someone, but the company culture will be challenged if you let it play out. There’s always a reason not to take action but the longer you wait the more it hurts.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Bart: Specifically, for a new CEO, don’t lose control of your calendar. There are lots of things you could be doing every day. There are reasons you could go to every meeting. But you have to give yourself permission to say ‘no’ as you actually build an organization.

David: First of all, don’t let the hiccups derail you. Make time to take care of yourself, exercise and eat right to ensure you can be healthy and in a good mindset. The more you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of what challenges come your way. At the end of the day, it’s about managing the health of your mind, body and soul.

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?

Bart: My wife has been a great partner for a quarter of a century, and I’ve had many great bosses, but my parents played a big role to help me get where I am. They were supportive and proud all along the way. If you’ve got a strong foundation like that, that’s something to build off of.

David: I’ve been fortunate to have high-level mentors helping to guide my trajectory. While they’ve all played a role in helping me learn and grow, my wife has really been the one who’s allowed me to take some large swings. She’s a VP for a large, pharmaceutical bio-tech company, and having the support from her that she believes in what I’m doing has given me the ability to do what I want, how I want to do it — whether that has meant not taking salaries or putting everything we have into a company.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Bart: I’m really just getting started at GOOD PLANeT, but I’m eager to really build the brand, the plant-based cheese segment, and, I hope, the cheese category overall. I believe GOOD PLANeT will be able to make real contributions towards the category, overall.

David: Personally, I’m always trying to be a better person. Professionally, I’d like to build GOOD PLANeT into a brand that consumers recognize on shelf. I know the next generation of plant-based cheese is out there. I just want to get it produced and to consumers as quickly as possible. Working with Bart will also free me up to think about the parts of the business I’m most passionate about.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

David: My mission has changed through the year. It used to be about notoriety, cars, houses, toys, etc. As I’ve learned some tough lessons, though, I want to help people, either through what I do for the community or how I’m able to offer opportunities to those that might not have an opportunity to thrive otherwise. I’d like my lasting legacy to be to help others be successful and be happy with what they’ve achieved. I’d like to leave a positive and lasting impression on the lives of others.

Bart: I think I’m still working on my legacy.

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!

Bart: I’d like to start a movement that ultimately allows people to be comfortable in being themselves while getting done what needs to get done at work. That’s a movement I’d love to be a part of. Moving people more towards that, as opposed to moving into a corporate culture.

David: Wouldn’t it just be great if the world were happy? I’d like to be a part of a movement that encouraged others to simply care about each other, be kind to one another and treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Especially now, I think that would make our world a better, safer and happier place.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

David Israel on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-israel-61090610/

Bart Adlam on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bartadlam/

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