As a part of the series about strong female leaders I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Collins, President & COO of Bulletproof, is responsible for the strategy, operations and omni-channel growth of the company. Her mission there is to create products and provide information that radically improve lives. Bulletproof’s vision is to help people tap into the unlimited potential of being human. She is a versatile and transformational leader who has pioneered and scaled new businesses at some of the world’s most admired multi-billion-dollar companies in a variety of industries ranging from healthcare, advertising, gaming and retail to technology. Most recently, Anna served as worldwide general manager of Amazon Prime membership, where she led the first two Prime Days, pricing and member engagement, growth and retention programs. Prior to Amazon, she was recruited to Microsoft to build out and scale the global search advertising business from concept through launch and growth to over $1.6 billion. At CVS Health, she was responsible for leading the internet channel strategy and acquisition culminating in the launch of CVS.com. As SVP Media & Client Service, Anna was an instrumental executive in the early growth stages and IPO of ad technology start-up Avenue A/AQUANTIVE. She holds an AB in Economics and an MBA from Harvard University. When not changing the world Anna coaches sons Henry and Cooper in basketball and keeps up with her wonderful wife Debbie. “Family first. Love wins.”
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I didn’t have a defined career path. After High School, I sought out doing military service to serve and to get that leadership and management experience early. Even though I had other full-ride scholarships that would have taken me down different paths, I chose the military scholarship so I could get that experience at an early age. This set me up to continue having other management opportunities, like at Johnson & Johnson, and I was off to the races after I left the army.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The April after I started at Bulletproof, I was in Oklahoma City for my niece’s wedding. I walked into a natural foods store, Green Acres, to check out the Bulletproof product in-store and see what it looked like and how it was doing. The main display of Bulletproof was completely sold out, so I went to the back of the store and there was some collagen and coffee left. A woman, Holly, walked up to me and was looking for Bulletproof product. I introduced myself and said I could help her. A friend of hers told her about Bulletproof’s Collagen Protein and how great it was, so she came in to try it on that one friend’s recommendation. I gave Holly the whole spiel about Bulletproof and she walked out with the Collagen Protein Bars, Brain Octane Oil, and a few other products. I also gave her my card to keep in touch.
Fast forward to August of that year, I get an email from Holly. She said I inspired her to learn more after our meeting and she stayed on the Bulletproof diet ever since. Her husband and son joined her on the diet. She lost 20 lbs. and her son lost 20 lbs., which changed his life since he was heading back to high school. She was headed to the store to get more Bulletproof and wanted to thank me for changing their lives.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m excited about our major retail expansion to over 20,000 new doors this year. It will allow us to increase the availability of Bulletproof’s products to a larger variety of areas and consumers across the U.S. and to more mainstream outlets, like Costco, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and others. This will help people, whether they are using the Ready-To-Drink coffees to get ready for their mornings or the Collagen protein bars to feel better on the inside and outside. Our products can do amazing things for people’s health. It’s also not just about what our products can do, but about what they can replace, such has high sugar unhealthy snacks.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
That is astonishing that half of the workforce is unhappy. To me, that would mean they’re detached from the actual work they’re doing, and they feel stifled. They could feel like the work they’re doing isn’t impactful or making a difference.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and well being?
If people are unhappy, that ends up being a negative on all 3 categories. Clearly if a worker isn’t happy, it’s a negative to their well being. Negative health and well being leads to negative productivity, which leads to negative profitability. When you have negative productivity, you need more people to accomplish the same tasks, so your profitability decreases.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Demonstrate that you care about your team. I do this by taking a personal ESAT, or employee satisfaction, regularly. I’ll ask my teammates, on a scale of 1–10, what their ESAT score is today and why it’s that specific number. What’s working and what’s not working for that employee? The ESAT survey makes them stop and think about their happiness and what is challenging them, whether it’s organization or a specific task. Then we can discuss what I can do to help them and what the right tools are to increase their ESAT. The fact that you ask about your team’s happiness shows that you care and fosters a better work culture.
- Say thank you. Bulletproof has a culture of gratitude and it’s one of our eight core values. Senior leadership meets every week and we do quickfire gratitude rounds to share what we’re grateful for. It can be professional or personal, but it’s about being in the moment and sharing what’s top of mind and heart for everyone. This helps keep the team authentic and creates a sense of community at the company.
- Re-evaluate priorities with team members quarterly. Sit down with your team individually and ask them what they can stop and start doing. Most companies need to change what they’re doing frequently, so we need to check in and evaluate how the team can work most efficiently. It’s about starting new things that will increase happiness and productivity, while stopping tasks that aren’t useful or working anymore. For example, we just did this with a new product group. We shifted one priority to a new product category and deprioritized it for another team to ensure everyone was happy with the work load and tasks.
- Increase communication. People want to know what’s going on, so internal communication is incredibly important. How are you cascading information when business is moving so quickly? I added an extended leadership team meeting once per month to share information that wasn’t getting shared with a larger number of teammates. Additionally, we have Friday Flashes, which are videos to share wins and key progress in the business with the entire company. Keeping everyone in the know makes every employee truly feel like that are part of the company and have a voice.
- Integrate more fun into the workday. Gallup research shows having a best friend at work is one of the marks of high performing teams and companies. Fostering a sense of fun at work will help to create these tighter friendships and bonds between coworkers. At Bulletproof, we do product tastings and coffee cuppings. They’re fun and bring the team together, but they’re also productive and help us get feedback on new products. Create more opportunities to bring employees together in a fun social setting, and you’ll see your work culture improve immensely.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
Changing the work culture is about valuing a person’s whole life. Friend, family, and a person’s interests outside of work are just as important as the time he or she spends at work. It’s about celebrating the non-work parts of life. As a society, we need to place more value on personal improvement and goals rather than just focus on excelling at work and hustling 24/7.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I would describe it as direct and authentic. There’s a quote I love on leadership from Max DePree’s book The Art of Leadership: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.” I strive to create the context for my employees to succeed and support them in having autonomy and accountability.
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?
Kathy Delaney-Smith is a great woman who influenced me and my leadership style. She was my basketball coach at Harvard. She started at a losing program and, within my four years there, she turned us into a championship team. She is still there, and has led the team to more wins than any coach in Ivy League basketball — men or women. She hails from the school of John Wooden — the great University of California, Los Angeles, basketball coach who famously insisted players start their careers with him by learning to tie their shoelaces properly. Begin with the basics and insist on high standards.
Kathy taught me valuable lessons about leadership, especially what I call the three Cs: character, confidence and caring. Many leaders possess the character and confidence. To me, however, leadership with caring is where the magic lies.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve used the lessons and techniques I’ve learned over the course of my career to bring success to Bulletproof. The entire brand’s goal is to bring goodness to the world through better health and wellness and enhanced human performance. By making people feel good on the inside and outside with our collagen protein and variety of products, we are improving their moods and bringing more kindness and happiness into the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Amelia Earhart wrote a letter to her husband before she crossed the Atlantic Ocean. She said, “I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. If they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.” This quote constantly inspires me to listen to my heart. It’s about being tuned into your heart even when your head is trying to rationalize a different choice. You need to be honest about what you want to do and then just do it. Everything thought I was crazy to go from big companies to smaller startups, but I did it because it’s what I wanted to go and where my heart told me to go.
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. 🙂
The movement I would inspire is kindness. It’s also Bulletproof’s goal. The armored Dove is our logo and it’s a symbol of peace and strength. At bulletproof, we foster strength, peace, serenity and kindness. When you’re centered and full of energy, you can be a kind parent or co-worker. It’s the opposite of being hangry or HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, and tired). If you’re HALT-ed, you’re not your best self, and you cannot be kind. We bring about the most good when we bring about the most kindness. If we were kind, we’d help each other more and work out the world’s problems.
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