Jan Hall of M2 Ingredients: “Anything is possible”

I don’t remember if these words are based on advice that I’ve been given, but they are the words I passionately believe in. Those words are “anything is possible.” I’ve applied them to work and to life beyond work. They speak to hope, resilience and empowerment. When my eldest son was going through a particularly […]

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I don’t remember if these words are based on advice that I’ve been given, but they are the words I passionately believe in. Those words are “anything is possible.” I’ve applied them to work and to life beyond work. They speak to hope, resilience and empowerment. When my eldest son was going through a particularly difficult time at school, I gave him a little stone that he could carry in the pocket of his jeans. The stone had the words “anything is possible” etched on it.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan Hall, CEO of M2 Ingredients, Inc.

Jan Hall brings an impressive background spanning the food, beverage, dietary supplements, consumer health and skin care categories to her role as CEO of M2 Ingredients, Inc., parent company of the Om Mushroom Superfood brand. A seasoned hands-on leader with more than 30 years of experience, Hall is responsible for managing all operations and strategic growth, including leading business expansion, brand-building initiatives and spearheading innovation.

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?

I was born and grew up in Yorkshire, England. My father was a high school teacher, and my mother was a secretary. Almost 22 years ago when I was working for The Coca-Cola Company in London, my husband and I emigrated to Atlanta with our two young children who were 3 and 5 at the time. The move to the States eventually led to a move to California where we live today.

From a very early age, my mum told me and my sister that teaching would be a great career because the hours would fit in around having a family and, of course, you get those long summer holidays. As the daughter of a teacher, I watched my dad ultimately become frustrated with continuous admin and curriculum changes that he felt worked against the principals of good teaching to the point where I remember him saying, “I would rather go and work on a market stall in York, a nearby town, because I think it would be more helpful.” At that point, I decided I was not going to follow my dad into teaching, plus the fact that I honestly would only have the patience to teach the kids who genuinely wanted to learn. When I was 18, my dad, completely unexpectedly dropped dead of a heart attack in the middle of the night. He was only 49. I was about to go to university but couldn’t leave my mum to look after my teenage brother and sister on her own, so I delayed leaving and got a job in a department store selling clothes. From that point onwards, I realized I loved selling, and after studying for a degree in history and politics at university, I moved to the Eastend of London to work as the first female sales rep for United Biscuits. That started my career in sales, marketing and general management.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Three years ago, I joined M2 Ingredients. We grow 11 species of certified organic functional mushrooms, sometimes called medicinal mushrooms, in Carlsbad, California. We’re one of only a handful of companies in the world that grow functional mushrooms through every stage of their life cycle to capture the full spectrum of their medicinal and nutritional compounds. Our vision is to make a positive difference to people’s everyday health through the power of mushrooms. So, we’re on a mission to help change the health and wellness of the world.

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?

I have a couple of examples. The first one is not necessarily a funny mistake, but one that might be viewed as one of those teachable moments. When I was offered the job as a sales rep, I had only recently passed my driving test and actually hadn’t driven a car since then because, as a student, I couldn’t afford to buy one. So, on the first day of the job, I met my new area sales manager in West London who handed me the keys to a new car and said, “Follow me.” We drove through the middle of London in rush hour traffic. I was a jelly by the time we stopped, and he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I got back into the car and within 10 minutes, had a fender bender on a traffic circle because I didn’t know which was my exit. I called my boyfriend who lived a couple of hundred miles away and said I’ll never be able to do this job, the traffic is crazy. His reply was, “You have no choice. I’ll help you navigate but you have to get back into the car and drive.” I only knew one person in London, so there was no one else who could help. I got back into the car and drove. It was one of the moments when it would have been easy to give up, but you just can’t.

A funny example happened when I worked for Coke in Atlanta. At that time, I was part of the marketing team. We had worked with an agency to develop a big summer promotion for the full line of Coke products. One of the ways that consumers could win a prize was to call a number that we printed on millions of labels and cans. The problem was that one of the numbers was wrong and it actually led to a porn site. Within minutes of the promotion going live, we started to receive complaints, and everything went downhill from there. 20 years later, I can laugh about it — but at the time, it wasn’t funny. It taught me to always check the details and to have a plan B ready for when things don’t go the way you expect them to.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

The first CEO role I had was with a small Mediterranean specialty food company. One of the members of the board of directors became my mentor and is still a close friend today. I was the only female on the board. We were having dinner after a board meeting. The conversation turned to a highly charged political and anti-female subject. Based on the comments, I realized that I was the only democrat at the table and had very different views. Halfway through the conversation, I left to go to the rest room and think things through. I decided to be authentic and not to be silent or to agree with others around the table. The next day, I asked my mentor for his perspective on the conversation. He said no one can tell you how you feel — you feel what you feel — as long as you’re open and respectful of other points of view, you don’t have to change your position for the sake of appearing to fit in.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I can think of a couple of examples, and they share a common thread. In the first example, I was a marketing director at Smithkline Beecham (now Glaxo Smithkline). I was interviewed about the expansion of one of the company’s ready-to-drink juice drink products that had won an award for innovation. I was asked how I could tell when a new product had become successful and I commented that among other data points, I could tell by the number of times I saw an empty juice drink carton in the streets. If I could take back that comment, I would because it showed no respect for the environment. The second example is the launch of Dasani bottled water when I was working for the North America division of The Coca-Cola Company. In both of these examples, the innovation was disruptive because the products offered greater consumer convenience, however, neither has been a positive move forward for the environment. From the planet’s perspective, you could say that the “old” way was more sustainable.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I don’t remember if these words are based on advice that I’ve been given, but they are the words I passionately believe in. Those words are “anything is possible.” I’ve applied them to work and to life beyond work. They speak to hope, resilience and empowerment. When my eldest son was going through a particularly difficult time at school, I gave him a little stone that he could carry in the pocket of his jeans. The stone had the words “anything is possible” etched on it.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Well, the job is not yet done at M2 Ingredients. Countries in the west are centuries behind Asia, where mushrooms have always been part of traditional medicine. We still have a lot to do to bring the health and wellness benefits of functional mushrooms to the point where they are routinely part of consumers’ everyday lives. We are working on a number of new product and packaging innovations that will continue to make our retail brand Om Mushroom Superfood a relevant choice for daily consumption.

The other area I’d like to continue to be part of is the movement to have greater presence of women at the board director level. When did it ever make sense to have such a dominant male representation when women are typically the primary shopper for the family, especially in consumer products and services?

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I have to start by saying I think the situation is continuing to improve over time. I see many more women now in senior positions where their voices can be heard. When I started my career in the UK, I sold products to licensed premises and I was literally not allowed to cross the threshold at the entrance of the building because it was a “men only” establishment. Later in my career, in America, I lost career opportunities because I was pregnant at the time of interviews, and like my female co-workers, there was a concern that I might not return to work after the baby was born. Thankfully, at least from a legal perspective, it is harder now to discriminate against minorities, including women. Being a disruptor, however, definitely raises the stakes. By their very definition, “female disruptors” are breaking from convention and this is often perceived as a threat to the status quo.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

The Four Agreements — Toltec Wisdom — by Don Miguel Ruiz. It made me more aware of the implications of self-limiting by trying to see myself through the eyes of others and then taking actions based on my perceptions of their beliefs about me. A big weight rolled off my shoulders when I first read the book because I realized I was living in a story that more often than not wasn’t true, it was a figment of my own imagination. I’ve re-read the book countless times since then, and it always pulls me up.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Over 20 years ago, I stopped eating meat after our youngest son switched to a diet of solid foods. Today, I’m a vegan. If I could inspire a movement of good to the most amount of people, I would love to see a reduction in the amount of animal products consumed around the world. It would help feed more people as the global population increases, it would reduce the impact on animals, and it would help protect the health of the planet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take — Wayne Gretzky. If you had asked me when I was little if I could envision a life on another continent, I probably would have looked at you as if you were crazy. The vast majority of kids at my junior and high school still live in the small town in Yorkshire where I was born and grew up. Today, two of my best friends are from the first days of school at the age of five. I guess I could have stayed there too, but I would have missed all the magic of choosing a different path.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow me on LinkedIn and keep up with the latest news for Om Mushroom Superfood on the brand’s website as well as on our Facebook and Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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