Your attitude will color everything you do and everyone with whom you come in contact. If you are seen as a positive force, you will attract positive people who want to engage with whatever you are doing and help you succeed.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Debbie Meyer.
Debbie Meyer is an inventor and entrepreneur found in kitchens across the world. With millions of products sold, Debbie’s patented inventions and innovative products are tangible solutions to help make everyday life easier, reduce food waste, and save money. Debbie got her start in 1999 when she launched her first invention, the DEBBIE MEYER CakeCutters, which currently sits as part of a permanent collection in the Design Museum of London. She went on to become a staple on national television for many unique problem-solving products over the last 20 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My professional life changed greatly when I made the decision to leave the corporate life and pursue an entrepreneurial path. My experiences expanded and I participated in a wide variety of projects. After the birth of our son, I was spending more time at home, and began recognizing, and solving some of the household issues I was experiencing. This led to my first invention, and patent.
I solved the very universal issue of cutting and serving cake without touching the cake with your fingers when serving with the Debbie Meyer CakeCutters®. My husband and I then co-founded the company, Housewares America, Inc. This first product of mine has been successfully marketed and sold on home shopping networks around the world and in retail for over 20 years.
I went on to create many other successful products that solved common problems. Solving the issue of food waste through the premature rotting of fruits and vegetables and baked goods became my mission.
I created my Debbie Meyer® GreenBags® and Debbie Meyer GreenBoxes™, which are independent lab tested and proven to extend the life of fruits, vegetable, baked goods and snacks, and made in the USA, have succeeded in reducing food waste and saving money for millions of people around the world for over a decade and a half.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It really struck me that I was having a real impact on people’s lives when I began receiving messages from people about how their budgets were helped by not throwing away so much anymore; that they don’t have to go shopping as often (and this was pre-COVID), and that they were actually eating more healthfully because they were not afraid to buy the produce that went off so quickly.
Perhaps the most impactful to me were those on fixed incomes who told me they had stopped buying any fresh produce because of the waste, but now were enjoying it again because of my work and products. People continue to write and even call in when I am on-air to tell their stories, sometimes they are funny, sometimes they are very animated, and sometimes they are actually in tears; but they are all thankful and affected positively and want me to know.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The event that stands out to me is from when I first started appearing on TV on a home shopping channel. For the on-air presentations, we wear an in-ear hearing device so that we can hear instructions or comments from the director or producer and hear any other audio that is not piped into the studio. I wasn’t used to it, so I didn’t notice when it came out of my ear. I could not hear the director telling me that my presentation time was coming to an end, and the music that signals the end of the presentation, so I just kept talking. The Host realized that I could not hear, so he came over to me and began dancing with me, waltzing me off set as he closed the presentation and said goodbye. When he told me what happened, we both couldn’t stop laughing and it became a running joke between us and for years, he danced me off set at the end of every presentation we did together.
I learned very quickly that live TV can be challenging, but if you are calm, and flexible enough to “go with the flow,” you can still be successful and people will enjoy you being human!
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 about that?
I can say, without reservation, it is my husband, and business partner, Neville Meyer. He recognized and nurtured my entrepreneurial spirit to the point where I left the corporate world and began my journey into full-time entrepreneurship. Several years later, and after many projects together, we founded Housewares America, Inc. following my first invention, and patent: Debbie Meyer CakeCutters®
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I change gears so many times a day, that it can become a bit stressful; if I am alone, I will sing at the top of my lungs and dance around the room — and I reiterate: ALONE! I find it a release, and very calming. When I return to my task, it’s usually with a smile on my face: happy body, happy mind!
Preparing for a high-level event is different; I don’t usually get very stressed before those situations because I try to be as prepared as possible. I am a great list-maker! If at all possible, I try to eliminate all other distractions while preparing so that I can focus on all aspects of the upcoming event, or meeting. When I feel properly prepared, I am very calm!
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I am an inventor and problem solver and that moved me into my executive functions automatically. My company is a family operation, run by 4 family members, with numerous relationships and out-sourced functions. The companies and people that I work with to produce my products, and distribute my products come from all backgrounds. Although they are not direct employees of Housewares America, Inc. since we are a family business of 4, they have become part of my business and have become like part of my extended family. The opportunity to work and have input from people of diverse backgrounds, I believe, makes me a stronger person in my personal life as well as how I approach my work with the importance of inclusivity in business.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I have been in the entrepreneurial world for a very long time, but prior to that, I was in the corporate world for a long time. In either case, the role of the “executive” serves similar primary functions, however, in the entrepreneurial world, the executive must be much more of a general factotum; the goals, plans, mission and execution of the company’s work are intricately interwoven. The other leaders will have primary focus on the productivity and other functions of a specific area; the CEO must be able to bring it all together and keep the big picture of the company’s goals in focus.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I believe that the biggest challenge is being called “women executives.” I have never heard of a man referred to as a “male executives” when describing them as a group. If you lose the adjective in your own mind, it will make a huge difference. Replacing with: experienced, highly capable, committed, effective, should be the goal of all executives.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I don’t see myself as having a job now; what I did in the corporate world verses how I function in my own business is striking. Now, absolutely everything I do, or don’t do, every decision made, every plan, is very personal because if effects the success of my company.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
This is not an area where I am comfortable, or qualified to make such an assessment; I would not like my opinion to color anyone’s aspirations toward achieving an executive position.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Again, I would hope that the description as “women leaders” would change to just “leaders”. What I would recommend to any leader is to be human, but not weak. Inspire, motivate and acknowledge, but mean business. You don’t have to be “hard”, but you do have to recognize your responsibility to your company, and that when your team thrives, the company benefits.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am very gratified that my products have and continue to help millions of people by extending the life of foods and reduced food waste. More than ever, the benefits of preventing premature rotting and reducing wasted expenditures related to the loss of food, around the world, are immeasurable.
The commercial aspects of my proprietary technology extend the benefits to the growers, the transporters and the retailers; resulting in great contributions to the economy and employment.
We continue to innovate and create more ways to expand the benefits of reducing food waste to increasing numbers of people around the world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
”Before I started” happened so long ago that I think I can add more value by referencing what I have learned from experience, and perhaps give a heads-up to those just starting, or maybe a boost to those who need a reminder about why they do what they do.
- An engraved invitation is not in the mail; no one is waiting for you to get started or take the next step; just get going!
- Your attitude will color everything you do and everyone with whom you come in contact. If you are seen as a positive force, you will attract positive people who want to engage with whatever you are doing and help you succeed.
- It’s not over till it’s over; you never give up. There is always a solution, if you work the problem, not the situation.
- Take time for yourself, your family and cultivate outside interests that allow you to renew, refresh and come back to your work with fresh sensibilities and new enthusiasm.
- It will be the hardest work and the most fun you’ll ever have — the rewards of doing what you love are incalculable.
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 would hope that I could inspire and motivate people to be their best-selves, to take responsibility for themselves and what they do, and most importantly, respect themselves, and others.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Walk Like You’ve Got Somewhere to Go”
This is something my mother began saying to me when I was a very young girl. I was very shy, so her intention, originally, was to inspire me to present myself as a confident person. As I got older, I realized how often that phrase would repeat in my head; when I was a little uneasy, or nervous it gave me the strength to put my shoulders back, hold my head up, and charge ahead!
More recently, it has become less literal advice, and more like a reminder that it is important to remember where I’m going and stay focused on my goals.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I’d really enjoy spending some time with Warren Buffett. He is an inspiration to so many, not only for his great success, but also for his insights, his longevity, and his personality!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.