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Mac Anderson: “To drill down to the essence of thought leadership, in my opinion, is to make it accessible”

I think anyone can and should push themselves to be an ‘authority’ in their given field, whether you’re doing it at the local level or at scale, you create value for yourself and others in doing so. In the various speeches, university talks, podcasts, and, especially, dinners with friends and colleagues, I have always been […]

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I think anyone can and should push themselves to be an ‘authority’ in their given field, whether you’re doing it at the local level or at scale, you create value for yourself and others in doing so. In the various speeches, university talks, podcasts, and, especially, dinners with friends and colleagues, I have always been able to learn something from my peers and from the ever daunting experience of putting yourself and your beliefs out there, to be able to hone in on a true message and what is important allows you a refreshing perspective and cements what you truly feel is the right point or course of action. It also allows you to ignite and impact a meaningful change or discussion with your chosen community. While the idea of becoming a thought leader may be a daunting one, I always have found it extremely rewarding to have shared and impacted my community in a positive way.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mac Anderson. Mac Anderson is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of Cleveland Kraut Co..


Thank you so much for doing this with us Mac! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Of course! I’m excited to connect with the Authority/Thrive community.

My brother and I grew up in the emerging natural food ecosystem. Our mother started the North Union Farmer’s Market, Northeast Ohio’s first non-profit network of producer/grower-only farmers markets, when I was just 4 years old. Child labor laws aside (joking), we’d be up at the crack of dawn each weekend helping farmers schlep fresh-picked produce from their trucks to their tables and watching the natural foods and farm-to-table movement blossom in Cleveland. In high school, we were each responsible for managing a weekend market and spent time helping small businesses setup and grow, taking note of makers who would produce amazing products, position and package them well for market shoppers, and eventually end up on grocery store shelves. Our Mother’s entrepreneurial spirit and our childhood spent watching small businesses grow and flourish stuck with us and planted a seed. After my brother took a job as an analyst with a large bank in Richmond, VA, he naturally found comfort and expression in the local food scene. He explored the local BBQ joint, soul food spots, and markets, but couldn’t find that ‘Cleveland Fare’ of kielbasa, pierogi, and sauerkraut to ease his homesickness. He began fermenting his own Kraut and, after perfecting a methodology learned from Sandor Katz, he taught me how as I wrapped up college. My housemates were less than pleased at the experimentational crocs I had bubbling away in our kitchen, but come BBQ season, they too were singing the fermented tune.

One night, over shared beers with our to-be brother in law, Luke Visnic, Drew discovered they were both home fermenters. Luke was getting in touch with his family roots, fermenting Kraut in the style his Croatian-German Oma had taught him as a child (our Classic Caraway is a riff on this family recipe). Drew, having just moved back to Cleveland and accepted a rising VP position with a bank, was eager to share recipes and the two noticed there was nothing so fresh, crunchy, and flavorful available on store shelves. We began to feel that same entrepreneurial itch and realized 3 twenty somethings fermenting Kraut was just too weird a coincidence not to test at our old stomping grounds, the farmers market. After a year and a half of late nights after “work” making kraut, selling out at markets, and nailing down our recipes, we quit our respective jobs (Drew from Banking, Luke from Architecture, and myself from Finance) and poured everything we had into our own commercial kitchen and packaging and have since become the fastest growing and best tasting raw-fermented kraut in the nation.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I push myself to lead conversation on better food systems, sustainability, and industry tactics in the food & beverage space. I’ve been recognized by my peers as a leader in food marketing, positioning, and sales and am very excited to continue to add value and grow as an entrepreneur and thought leader.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’m sure any early-stage entrepreneur can rattle off one-hundred interesting stories about their “career”. One of the best early moments of our young business was having Iron Chef Michael Symon give me a ring a year in to work out a deal to bring our spicy Gnar Gnar into his hit BBQ restaurant Mabel’s. It was a surreal feeling to get approval from such a standout culinary genius and a huge marketing boost for our young brand. We executed and serviced his restaurants to the very best of our ability, bending over backwards to get weekend and morning deliveries any time his team needed it. Our hard work, great service, and better product was rewarded when Chef Symon had the opportunity to go on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. I was leaving an event on Saturday when I received a text from a friend saying they almost choked on their dinner (which included Cleveland Kraut) while watching the show and seeing Chef emerge with a plate of Mabel’s BBQ and our goods. I had no idea this had happened as Michael had gotten a last-minute request and the gem of a man stopped at a local store in NYC to snag our Kraut for the spot. I also share this story to not only highlight what a great man and partner Symon is, but to also illustrate that going above and beyond for your partners pays off — treat everyone and each partner with the utmost attention and you will be rewarded, celebrity chef or not!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader, in my humble opinion, takes time to share with others what has made them successful, not for any monetary benefit or assumed credibility, but because they know by sharing value and knowledge they can hopefully help someone or many people get to the next stage or enact change their chosen community. A thought leader provokes thinking and action for their audience and hopes to impact positive change.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

I think anyone can and should push themselves to be an ‘authority’ in their given field, whether you’re doing it at the local level or at scale, you create value for yourself and others in doing so. In the various speeches, university talks, podcasts, and, especially, dinners with friends and colleagues, I have always been able to learn something from my peers and from the ever daunting experience of putting yourself and your beliefs out there, to be able to hone in on a true message and what is important allows you a refreshing perspective and cements what you truly feel is the right point or course of action. It also allows you to ignite and impact a meaningful change or discussion with your chosen community.

While the idea of becoming a thought leader may be a daunting one, I always have found it extremely rewarding to have shared and impacted my community in a positive way.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

As a new brand and item for a category, it was extremely important for us to legitimize ourselves and speak out. Bringing fresh, fermented veggies to a produce set is logical, bringing sauerkraut to the desk of a 40-year buyer who knows sauerkraut to be a “meat addition” is easier said than done. I tasked myself with sponsoring, speaking, and helping lead discussions at several industry events that positioned myself and our brand as legitimate in the industry and the impact was tremendous. Instead of fighting to get facetime with key decision makers, they were approaching me with interest.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Find your passion. Ensure that you wake up everyday excited to do what you do. And then throw yourself into it, learn it front to back, and live it daily. People always remark that they love our story and passion, but for us, we feel lucky to be able to call this our “job”.
  2. Listen & Learn. Learn from those who have came and had an impact before you. Listen, do, and have your own failures and successes. As we were starting out, I constantly was seeking insight and inspiration from leaders who had established themselves and who’s work spoke for itself. Put yourself in positions to learn. Early in our business life cycle, I was walking food shows and meeting as many doers as I could in the space. An early friend and mentor took me under his wing at my first show, doe eyed and blown away by the scope of the industry, and imparted everything he could as he had once stood in my shoes.
  3. Connect. Get to those industry dinners that may seem daunting and be sure to share stories, hardships, and tips with your peers to your left and right. No matter how intimidating, they likely don’t feel like an expert at the table either, and I am always so pleasantly surprised at how much we’re able to learn from each other over a shared meal.
  4. Speak up. Start to hone your voice at events. Answer questions and share your viewpoint with the room. It’s okay to start with your neighbor, but you cannot be a leader unless you eventually take the reins of the room and offer your perspective. What starts as comments will blossom to thoughts and the room will respect your audacity and view you as an authority on the subject.
  5. Start leading. Be it your group of peers at a dinner, your local university, or even a small industry talk, start pushing yourself to speak on your passions and own your viewpoint. Share value with intent to help and spread a message that fills you with passion. Your audience will hear you and respect it.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I’m endlessly impressed with the work of Seth Godin. His passion for learning, teaching, and pursuing passion to create value in society is boundless and has a big effect on a growing entrepreneur. Seth, to me, finds every medium to get his thoughts out, be it blog, podcast, speaking, etc. and he does them with such consistency, discipline, and verve. Seth also comes from a place of teaching and that authenticity, strength in message, and passion is contagious. I feel to know Seth’s work, is to know Seth and I think all thought leaders should strive for that level of authenticity and engagement.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I think the term itself can be daunting for some. To drill down to the essence of thought leadership, in my opinion, is to make it accessible. I encourage everyone to begin speaking out on their passions, be it with your family and friends, your immediate peer group, or, hopefully, on a larger stage. I believe everyone has the ability and potential to add value through thought leadership and share their knowledge on their passions — it just takes that first mighty step.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Go to the beach when you can and laugh often. Be open to new thoughts or ideas to allow growth.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

I am grateful to be in an industry that is constantly pushing forward the health (both physically and mentally) of our planet through food. Our guiding mission at Cleveland Kraut is to produce delicious “Fermented Foods for All” and I am so excited when we are able to make healthy options available to more communities. Healthy, sustainable food should be available to all (we take great pride in making ours the most delicious, too!) and better health and community through food are, to me, a noble mission.

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

I have a habit of carrying around fortune cookie messages in my clear phone case for sometimes years at a time. I love the thought that a shared meal could end with some simple tidbit of wisdom that may just guide you through some rough times. Currently taking residence behind my all too busy iPhone, a crinkled fortune reads, “He that climbs the tall tree has a right to the fruit”. This is a simple reminder to keep pushing and growing. Every entrepreneur knows times can get tough and setbacks can hit, but there is reward in pushing forward and continuing to drive beyond and grow.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Tim Ferris. His wisdom and passion for teaching and for speaking with the very best in the world has provided my brothers and me with phenomenal insights, fun conversations, and actionable tactics for improvement. I would love to share lunch with plenty of fermented goodness and conversation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@CleKraut on Instagram, twitter, and facebook. I’m best found on LinkedIn personally.

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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