Dan O’Connell knows what it’s like to be fired. Unfortunately for him, he just can’t escape the person who keeps giving him the old heave-ho.
“Over time, I’ve pretty much fired myself from every job in the agency,” says O’Connell, founder and CEO at Foodmix Marketing Communications. “Function by function, I’ve identified the appropriate skill set for that function. I’ve identified people who could do them and over time, I filled those roles.
“Today the CEO’s job, my job, is to support the team and make sure they have the resources to be successful. It’s my job to orchestrate everything so that we deliver this promise to our clients of improved business results.”
Foodmix is an advertising and communications firm that helps clients get their brands to the right consumers. As with most things in life, there have been a lot of change in the food industry over the years and that keeps O’Connell and his team at Foodmix on their toes at all times.
“Food is everywhere,” O’Connell says. “We’ve spent a lot of our time helping big food companies capitalize on that change. That’s the business-to-business portion of it. You can’t just be in the grocery store. You need to be in the restaurant or convenience store or wherever a consumer might get hungry and decide to buy food or a beverage.”
The key to enduring success is an ability O’Connell seems to have mastered, even if he wouldn’t admit it: You have to be willing to adapt to your environment.
Be more selective
Foodmix had an opportunity to be in business with Kellogg’s, the maker of all those great cereals you enjoyed as a kid — and maybe still do. It was a massive opportunity with massive responsibilities and massive money.
“But the reality when we looked at all the various parts of it was there were a lot of people who could do it a lot better than us, or at least could make a more compelling case,” O’Connell says. “We chose to go after one sliver of it. But that sliver was an area we knew we excelled in. We thought we had a point of differentiation and as difficult as it was to say ‘no’ to a lot of it, it was the right thing to do. We focused on our sweet spot.”
Kellogg’s was looking for a lot of things, but O’Connell wanted to key in on their interest in alternative channels to communicate with consumers. The company wanted to get stronger in restaurants, convenience stores, college cafeterias and corporate environments.
“Where else did consumers want to enjoy their brand and how could they make that happen outside of the core retail business?” O’Connell says. “We had a strength in this area and we found a part of their needs that best reflected our sweet spot and we focused on that and gained a lot of credibility.”
O’Connell could have taken a number of different paths. He could have insisted that his employees just figure out a way to get the work done on this massive proposal. He could have seen that it was too much work and walked away. Instead, he took a deeper look, looked for an opportunity and worked with his team to make it happen.
“It’s being true to yourself and understanding that you can’t be all things to all people,” O’Connell says.
Find your focus
Focus is not always easy for the busy CEO.
“Sometimes we confuse the journey with the vision,” O’Connell says. “When I hear of an assignment, I have to separate. Is this what I want to be able to do today? Or is this what I can do today? You can’t confuse the journey to get to your vision with the vision. The vision is where we are heading, but the journey may need to be taken one step at a time. You may need to take some smaller steps and stay focused on what is the best path to that vision.”
One of the best ways to keep your focus sharp at work is to be sure you have other things to think about outside of your work life. One of the most natural areas for Foodmix to get involved is dealing with the problem of hunger.
“We got an opportunity to create a brand strategy years ago for America’s Second Harvest,” O’Connell says. “Our team enjoys it. It gives them a sense of self-worth and contribution. It’s something they are proud of, particularly as they work with more milennials and younger folks.” ●