Kat Eckles of Clean Juice: “People want to be valued and seen and understood”

People want to be valued and seen and understood. I also think people are inherently good, and they want to do an excellent job while being a part of something that has meaning or a bigger purpose. I would tell all leaders, not just female leaders, to focus on giving their team something to work […]

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People want to be valued and seen and understood. I also think people are inherently good, and they want to do an excellent job while being a part of something that has meaning or a bigger purpose. I would tell all leaders, not just female leaders, to focus on giving their team something to work on that is bigger than any one person and acknowledging their role in others’ collaborative effort. Give your staff something bigger than themselves to do toward when possible.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Eckles.

Kat Eckles is a woman of faith, dedication, commitment, and true vision. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Wilmington University, where she met the love of her life and future business partner, her now-husband, Landon Eckles. Kat became an avid health advocate and changed the diet for herself and her family. Through this process, she and Landon conceived the idea of Clean Juice, built on the biblical verse 3 John 1:2 “Healthy in Body, Strong in Spirit.” Today, Kat is the Chief Visionary and Branding Officer for Clean Juice, the nation’s first USDA-certified organic juice bar and franchise QSR eatery.

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?

I haven’t always been the healthy eater I am today. I like to say I am a recovering Taco Bell addict because of my love for Mexican food. As I started to have a family, I became more aware and involved in the nutritional value of the foods we were consuming. Like many others, I started buying and eating organic foods when possible, and the more I traveled down that path, the better I began to feel mentally and physically. Next thing I knew, I suggested to my husband (and business partner) that we should relocate our family and open an organic juice bar. The rest is Clean Juice history.

Can you share the most exciting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting is how we started Clean Juice. My husband Landon had been thinking about leaving his job at a boutique investment bank headquartered in Hong Kong to spend more time with the family. While spending the day on the family boat, I floated the idea of moving to North Carolina and open an organic juice bar. We had never discussed this before, and Landon looked over at me, said let’s do it, and in less than 24 hours, we had the family packed up our three kids (and I was pregnant with number 4) and were on our way.

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 way we set up our first store served as an interesting and funny lesson. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, and we built a tiny little kitchen with one small narrow doorway and skimped on the drain system out of not knowing what was actually needed. We were on vacation in Florida when we received a panic call from the staff telling us all the drains had overflowed during peak service hours. The freezer had broken and was stuck in the tiny doorway trying to remove it to put in the new one. Suffice to say, there was water everywhere, product thawing on the counters that we ended up having to discard. So, when we designed the second and all other future stores, we now know what we know about tiny doors, tiny kitchens, and proper drains, and we’ve never had that problem again.

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 am a very autonomous person because I don’t like having other people telling me what to do. My journey to the C-suite is a bit different than others. I created my own path by being a small business owner first. Once our concept took off and started to gain traction, we decided to open more stores, then eventually franchise. This is where I officially took on the executive role. Though I am a mom of five first, then part of the creative executive team at Clean Juice.

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 think that executive leadership deals with every aspect of the business, and they assume full accountability for all the good, the bad, and the ugly. In my opinion, business channels flow from the top-down and the bottom up, and all gets filtered through the executive office. Also, there are many different types of leaders. Executive leadership must know their strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with complementary leadership qualities in others.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I like the autonomy of being an executive. I like being able to create and make decisions based on that creativity. Though I solicit advice and want to brainstorm with others, I like being in a role that gives me the freedom and flexibility to be who I am as a mother, a woman, and a creative.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

Even though I have the flexibility of making my schedule and meeting my deadlines, the downside is that it is hard, if not impossible, to separate work from the rest of my life. My mind is always thinking about work at all hours of the day and night. For example, my father is a pilot. When he is flying, his mind is plane and his surroundings. When he leaves the airport, he can shut off that part of his life and focus on family, hobbies, or whatever he wants. There is a full separation. Being in an executive leadership position, you can never entirely separate from that mindset and that, to me, is a downside.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Sometimes CEOs get a bad rap that they are always out at the golf course or not involved in the day-to-day operations. I can’t speak for others, but at Clean Juice, our executive team is fully engaged with their teams, with each other, and the day-to-day. I think that is important because we want to be there for our staff, communities, and customers. We engage fully, which is one reason we can connect with our customers in unique ways.

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

I can only speak for myself, but in my life, I am a mom first. Also, at Clean Juice, we are like a huge family, so I care for my staff and everybody we work with as if they were my family. Because, well, they are. For me personally, I find it hard to find the boundaries that you probably would at other companies just because of our culture and office environment.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Well, I got into this job because I love health and wellness, and I love juice. I didn’t know what the job would be because I am a co-founder and didn’t join as an outsider. With that said, I love every aspect of what we do. How we all come together to contribute to the business, our staff, our franchisees, and the communities we serve.

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?

A good executive is tenacious, organized, and has thick skin. You have to separate feelings and emotions from the role and learn to take the good with the bad and find that balance among life, family, and every aspect of the company. Once they make it to the executive level, people who think they can coast or simply delegate everything without being too involved probably shouldn’t get into a customer-service or product-based business.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

People want to be valued and seen and understood. I also think people are inherently good, and they want to do an excellent job while being a part of something that has meaning or a bigger purpose. I would tell all leaders, not just female leaders, to focus on giving their team something to work on that is bigger than any one person and acknowledging their role in others’ collaborative effort. Give your staff something bigger than themselves to do toward when possible.

None of us can 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 would thank my dad. When we first came up with this idea, he wasn’t entirely on board. He spent his career as a true executive in the pharmaceutical industry. When he retired, he came on board to help us navigate some of the finer business points and processes that we may have overlooked otherwise. My dad became an invaluable advisor. Once he understood our concept and the foundation or our philosophy, he was all in.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Having a successful business has allowed us to launch a corporate social responsibility division, which is one of my “babies.” Helping others is rooted deeply in our business and personal/family philosophies. Once we were in a position to help others, we did. We recently launched our Quarters for Kids program, which allows our customers to add .25 dollars to their bill (employees can also contribute), which will be used to fund various projects in the communities we serve. For example, one of the first projects was to re-build a community playground with new equipment, new basketball nets, freshly painted courts, and backboards and landscaping and other items to make the park a clean, fun, safe place for kids, friends, and families. We are also in our third year of supporting the American Cancer Society’s campaign against breast cancer. We launched the “Beet Cancer Combo,” which includes pink-colored Sabra organic hummus colored in-house using the pulp from our organic beet cold press juice.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

First, we cannot do without the Lord, and he is there when we need him and is there even when you think he isn’t. Secondly, it will also be more rewarding in ways you never considered. Thirdly, your life will change in nearly every aspect. Fourth, it is going to be a lot harder than you think. Lastly, I wish somebody would have reminded me that even though it gets tough, things work themselves out, and, in the end, it will all be ok. Just stay the course, be true to yourself and God, and go forth proudly and confidently helping as many others along the way as you can.

You are a person of significant 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.

Well, in a way, this is precisely what our company is doing. We all have a passion for organic, clean foods, and beverages. We hope to inspire more people to integrate more healthy good options into their diet. It makes such a difference in your mind, body, and spirit, and it is hard to explain further than that with words. So, the movement I hope to inspire is one that has already begun. It is rooted in my personal and company philosophy of Healthy in Body, Strong in Spirit.

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

My favorite quote is, “Nothing too good, or nothing too bad lasts for long.” My dad said that, and I never forgot it. I understand the roller coaster of life, but I know that it will all work out in the end. My faith in God and the positive life force that provides vision during the dark days and gratefulness during the bright days is the quote’s idea.

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.

My private breakfast or lunch would be with Tim Tebow. He is a beautiful inspiration. When a person like Tim can use their fame and platform to point back to God in gratefulness and thanks while staying true to themselves despite naysayers or opinions from people who just want to be negative, it is awe-inspiring. I wish there were more people like him in the world today.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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