Guiding principles / Jodi Berg blends passion, inspiration and the desire to make a difference into a Vitamix winning recipe

When Jodi Berg speaks at the orientation for new employees at Vitamix Corp., she asks if anyone was born yesterday ” that old idiom that ponders your knowledge and experience.

“This is really important: was anyone in this room born yesterday?” she says. “I have yet to have anyone raise a hand.”

So with all eyes and ears focused on her, Berg, president and CEO, makes her point.

“I say, ‘I’m going to assume that you’re coming to Vitamix with a great deal of experience. I’m going to assume that you’ve been using your brain most of your life and that you have a great deal of knowledge, wisdom and perspective.'”


Test your knowledge of the
blender that’s just no pretender

What was the first item William G. Barnard, founder of Vitamix Corp., sold in the 1920s? 

A 25-cent can opener. He caught on to a new can opener where the blade was covered and with a turn of a dial, you could open a can and not be in potential risk of cutting yourself. Canned foods were becoming in vogue. Even during the Great Depression, he was continuing to grow as an organization and travel the entire U.S. demonstrating at shows and fairs and sell-
ing this can opener.

What else about Vitamix is ‘Papa’ Barnard famous for?

In 1949, Vitamix founder William G. “Papa” Barnard created the first infomercial in the U.S. to demonstrate how the Vitamix blender can help families eat healthier with whole foods.

When was the name Vitamix first used?

In 1937, Papa was introduced to a new product, the blender. He immediately saw the value of blending to quickly and easily prepare healthy foods that taste delicious. He focused his attention on selling this new product, which my other great-grandfather named the “Vita-Mix” because vita means life. In 1936 and ’37, the Great Lakes Exposition was actually here in Cleveland. The Barnards were demonstrating over both summers, ended up falling in love with the city of Cleveland and set up business here.

What year did Vitamix actually begin manufacturing its own blenders?

We actually started manufacturing our own blenders in 1992. Previous to that, outside companies manufactured most of the blender, and we did the final assembly. We will do as much just-in-time production as we possibly can in order to fill the customer needs with the product.  Also, in our mind, it’s simply the right thing to do. But if you produce product that isn’t what an end customer actually wants, you do one of two things: You either eventually reduce the price ’cause you have to get rid of the inventory. And so you’re dumping product on the market, or you’re dumping product in a landfill.  Either way, you’re not adding a value.

What can you make with a Vitamix besides, for instance, smoothies and margaritas?

You can even make hot soup in a Vitamix.  There’s no heating element in the machine, but the heat is simply from the speed and the friction of the blades. In six or seven minutes you can have steaming hot soup. You just let it run long enough and through friction, it literally will take your whole foods, whole fruits, vegetables — well, in soup’s case, you’re doing primarily vegetables and turning it into steamy, hot, amazing soup that has the vegetable flavors layered like a fine wine.

You can make frozen treats.  Take frozen peaches put in some form of whether you wanted soy milk, or regular milk, or if you wanted something creamier, mix it in with these frozen peaches, and it turns into this hundred percent peach sorbet.

At home we make — not butters all the time — but peanut butter and tomato sauce where we just grind up all the tomatoes fresh out of the garden, add our seasonings, and blend it.  Then I’ll just put it on the stove and let it cook. I don’t have to strain it or anything because I’ve already taken all the seeds and the skin. They’re in there already.

The best way to clean out a container after you’ve made peanut butter is to add some ice cream and a little bit of chocolate sauce.

SOURCE: Jodi Berg, president and CEO, Vitamix

These are the qualities, along with experience and education, Berg says, that the company is looking for when making personnel decisions.

“Next I say, “The reason we are who we are today is because we’ve taken all that and we continue to learn.”

“We passionately believe our future depends on learning and innovation,” she says. “We also believe in creating our future while embracing our past. So don’t turn the brain off when you get here.”

New employees receive a pocket-sized card listing the guiding principles of Vitamix.

“You get one of these, and your first assumption is that you will look through this at orientation, and this will be  the last time that you look at it. Then you become very  aware in meetings and interactions with other employees that it keeps coming up. And if people don’t physically pull it out, they at least refer to it.”

The first principle is, “We passionately believe in the world a better place.”

Berg tells employees that if they believe in that, the decisions that follow will be about making the world a better place.

“That’s your world, that’s our world, that’s our customer’s world, our community that we’re involved in,” she says. “Just make a choice every time you’re faced with a decision,  which is thousands of times a  day. Choose what makes the world a better place, and you’re making the right decision.”

Judging by the growth achieved by the manufacturer of the iconic Vitamix blender, whose roots go back to 1921, it seems evident that employees, management and the corporation have made a lot of the right decisions.

Here’s a look at how a Berg leads nearly 1,000 people  who are smart, have a great deal of experience, have  perspective, and can help Vitamix figure out how to do  always do it better.

Align culture with a message

As a new CEO, everyone watches to see how you   are  going to manage the operation. It could be an opportune time to grab the corporate culture and   see what falls out after you shake it.

Such was the case when Berg was heading up the Vitamix household division before she became president in 2009.

“We needed to find out how to create a world where we could attract people who really cared about making a difference and were passionate and inspired about things,” she says.

Berg realized that the Vitamix message from years ago “nutritional and natural foods prepared in your own kitchen” was being heard.

“I saw the shift in our society finally realizing that there wasn’t going to be another fad diet like a miracle fix-all. The message that we have been proclaiming from the hill top for decades was finally being understood.”

The Vitamix focus on the pluses of healthy living through whole food can be traced back as far as 1937 when Berg’s great-grandparents and company founders, William G. and Ruth Barnard, wrote about the benefits of fruits and vegetables   and eliminating some processed foods.

Berg realized the opportunity to make the 21st century shift in how people thought about food was a sustainable one.

“We needed to grow pretty significantly,” Berg says. “So we really started working on our culture.

The first step to take is to figure out what you value as an organization. Depending on how open people are to change is a direct correlation of how successful you’re going to be with that change.

Berg used an appreciative inquiry process built by Prof. David Cooperrider at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. The process looks at what is being done right in the company.

“We interviewed all employees and asked what matters most about this company. What do you really value the most about Vitamix as a company” In essence, I was asking, ‘What do you want as your lifeline, because we’re going to change everything else?'”

Out of this effort came the values and principles that guide Vitamix.

“We asked, ‘What motivates you? What inspires you? What makes you happy? What gives you an opportunity to make a difference in this world?'” Berg says.

She assured employees that the company would hire other people who are also inspired and motivated by the same things and enjoy being a part of the same things and who like to make a difference in the world.

Berg then set out on her mission to make the Vitamix family much bigger so the energy off each other would create more energy and passion.