In a small company every person REALLY counts. You want to make sure that your team is as strong as possible. We have a great team, and everyone has a few areas of expertise so we can work as a group to get things done.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emma Fuerst Frelinghuysen.
CEO of plant-based protein bar brand, R.E.D.D., is an expert in the CPG industry, with 20 years of experience leading a variety of food and beverage brands to national-level recognition. She has taken her passion for food and entrepreneurship and built a thriving career in a highly competitive field. Previously, Emma was the VP of Hain Growth Ventures, notably leading the BluePrint Organic and GG Fiber brands on e-commerce and marketing strategies.
Prior to Hain Celestial, Emma spent 7 years at FreshDirect building the company’s product assortment and managing profitability. She initiated the concept and launched the company’s private label program, which now consists of over 200 products across several brands. Emma also spent time at Johnnie Walker, Guinness, and Williams-Sonoma before earning her MBA at Stanford University.
Emma is a member of the Board of Directors of the French-American Foundation and a former member of the Advisory Board of The James Beard Foundation. Emma currently lives in New York with her husband and two children and enjoys trying new recipes and kayaking.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Thanks for having me! I’ve spent my entire career in the food and beverage industry. After college, I started at Williams Sonoma doing PR for four years, then transitioned into spirits at Diageo, Guinness, and Johnnie Walker. I was with Fresh Direct for 7 years where I worked on several projects including developing their private label brand. I was really excited to get back into CPG when I joined Hain Celestial, and to focus on organic and all-natural brands. After 5 years, I was looking for an opportunity to take on a larger role at a smaller company in the plant-based food space and fell in love with the R.E.D.D. Bar brand and team.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the very first lessons I learned when starting out as CEO of R.E.D.D. was during a Whole Foods store visit in Los Angeles. It was one of our biggest stores in the region and we went to talk to the grocery team lead to introduce ourselves, thank him for his support, and offer him some R.E.D.D. bars. He told us kindly that he couldn’t accept them because he was vegan. That was a real eye-opener for us that we need to do a better job communicating that R.E.D.D. is plant-based and vegan if the grocery team lead in our best-selling location didn’t 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?
My funniest first day on the job happened at FreshDirect. I was told that I would be managing the Pricing Analyst — who is now my good friend. We went to Fairway together and he was wearing a FreshDirect T-Shirt. I had no idea that stores actually kicked you out for price checking, but looking back it was pretty blatant that my colleague was wearing a competitive T-Shirt and writing down prices in the store! Low and behold, we were asked to leave. I never made that mistake again…it was humiliating to be kicked out of a store.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I loved the R.E.D.D Bar product, and I truly believe the brand is what consumers are looking for these days. It’s authentically plant-based and has all the right attributes. I was really excited about the opportunity because of the product and the brand, but also the people surrounding the brand.
Off the bat, I knew that the brand’s next steps were to codify and formalize core values: health, progress, expression, and empowerment. These are things that have always been a part of the brand, just never formalized.
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?
The main job is building and managing teams and getting people excited about the work. Specifically, as the CEO of a small company, I am responsible for multiple leadership roles — ones that are typically owned by several people.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
Working with great people when efforts are behind a product you truly believe in.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
The responsibility can be a downside — or an upside! Knowing that you are responsible for employees and delivering results can keep you up at night.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
You always have a boss, whether that’s stakeholders, board members, investors. My job is to make sure all parties are aligned.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Talking about yourself and your success. It’s very challenging for women to talk about their highest qualities and take credit for their accomplishments.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
By working at a small company, there is no element I don’t touch. With a team of fewer than 10 people, I wear several hats daily. From working with investors to managing and growing distribution to new product development, every day is a new and exciting challenge.
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?
You have to like people. As an extrovert, I derive energy from interacting with other people. If you are most comfortable in front of people, that is where you go first.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Don’t be afraid to bring your personality into your business. There is so much pressure to take emotion out of the workplace, but exposing weakness brings you to a personal level.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you to get where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are several! David McInerney, CEO of FreshDirect, was my boss for several years. I remember I sat down with him for my first review and he asked me what I accomplished. I told him about how I had worked my bump off! His response was “but what did you accomplish?” He really pushed me to focus on getting things done and avoid busy work which made work more satisfying for me and is more beneficial for the organization. David also showed me how important it is to connect with and respect the people within your organization.
I learned so much at Hain Celestial, too. Beena Goldenberg, then CEO of Cultivate Ventures, was the best manager that I have ever had. She let me figure things out on my own but was ready to step in when I needed help. She truly gave me the freedom to succeed and inspired me to manage others in the same way.
Irwin Simon gave me so much opportunity when he tapped me to run the Cultivate Ventures group. He always says that choosing people is the most important decision and the hardest decision, and he is RIGHT.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Bringing more plant-based, healthy foods to people. The benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle are unbelievable, and I’m so excited to be a part of the movement.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Support from your board of directors is critical. Since I had worked at larger companies, I never worked closely with a board (of directors). I rely on each board member to give advice, weigh in on key decisions, and make introductions when needed. The R.E.D.D. board has been incredibly supportive, and I am proud to report it is made up mostly of women.
- Maine is a great place to have a company. Before I started I was worried about a Maine-based team while I was located in NYC. Portland is very easy to get to, and I have loved discovering the city. I never appreciated the outdoor activities Maine has to offer — you can hike and go to the beach on the same day. All of this is very aligned with R.E.D.D.’s mission and the lifestyle of our consumers.
- When they say you will have to wear many hats in a small company, that includes remembering all of the passwords! During my first week, I signed on to so many systems and ended up forgetting most of the passwords. Now I have that under control.
- People love the R.E.D.D. brand so much, that they literally want to wear the T-Shirt. I cannot tell you how many requests I get for R.E.D.D. branded swag. Our team puts in a ton of time and effort finding great and locally-produced hoodies, hats, T-shirts, fanny packs, and now MASKS. As a result, our loyal consumers can wear R.E.D.D. head to toe.
- This one person did tell me — in a small company every person REALLY counts. You want to make sure that your team is as strong as possible. We have a great team, and everyone has a few areas of expertise so we can work as a group to get things 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 have been passionate about bringing plant-based eating to more people for several years now. I have adopted an almost 100% plant-based diet with my family. We’re benefiting from higher energy levels, overall healthier habits, and the selection of vegetarian recipes available to try out have been fun to experiment with.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? My favorite life lesson quote is by Chuck Williams, founder of Williams Sonoma and a huge inspiration to me, “If you love what you do, the whole world will fall in love with you.” I have taken these words with me throughout my career and personal life. I believe in the power of healthy eating and have dedicated many years to doing what I love. It has allowed me to create an amazing network of people, work on teams that are changing the industry, and grow into a well-rounded, thoughtful leader.
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. Serena Williams, no question! She is an incredible force for female entrepreneurs around the world and a true inspiration. Plus, Serena also shares a passion for plant-based eating, so I would love to swap our favorite recipes.
Thank you for sharing your insights with us.
About The Author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 1,500 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His first book is a visceral, no-holds-barred look at worker safety, I Know My Shoes Are Untied! Mind Your Own Business. An Iconoclast’s View of Workers’ Safety. His second book Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. His third book,Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands was recently released and will be followed by Loving An Addict: Collateral Damage Of the Opioid Epidemic due to be released in December. La Duke also contributed a chapter of 1% Safer, a not-for-profit book written by the “top game-changers and global thought leaders.” Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Phil-La-Duke-320996002174991/ or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com