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.'”

VITAMIX TRIVIA!

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.

Give employees the chance

Sometimes there is so much pride, so much energy and passion in a company’s facility that you can feel it when you walk in the door. And it just doesn’t happen on its own.

Berg believes that such a situation is an example of the motivational quotient just continuing to grow when you get the right people, and you give them a chance to be free.

“You give them a chance to be themselves, to be real,” she says. “Every one of us spends a high percentage of our waking hours at work, but if you add all that up, and if there’s a way to add the feeling like you’re making a difference and that you’re actually achieving what matters to you, then you’re fulfilled.”

Once people are engaged, you don’t have to guide them. You just align rather than control.

“You provide the direction and the guidelines of, ‘OK, where do we need to go? What’s important to us?'” Berg says.

Once guiding principles are established for a company, employees can embed them in their minds and use them as a filter through which they run a demanding task or challenge.

“For instance, one of our values is quality,” Berg says. “You’re empowered to make decisions, and I trust people to make good decisions because I know they care deeply.

“I know they want to make a difference and care about improving the vitality of people”s lives, so they’re going to make the right kind of difference.”

As a caveat, it’s crucial that employees understand the value of quality.

“Don’t ever compromise on quality,” Berg says. “You can make your own decisions as long as you don’t ever compromise on quality, and that gives you a lot of decisions to make.”

Low turnover

In spite of all your best efforts to search and find the best quality employees that fit in well with your company, wrinkles in their performance may occur from time to time. Then it is time to resort to your playbook ” your guiding principles.

“We”re all human, right” I love the fact that we’re human,” Berg says. “We’re all going to make mistakes because we make decisions all the time. So if we should recognize that not every day is going to be perfect.”

If there is a business meeting and two people have opinions that appear to be night and day opposites, the approach is to turn to your guiding principles.

“We pull out the card and say, ‘OK, let’s go back to what’s really important to us. What’s the actual question” Is this a question about caring and belonging to the Vitamix family? Is this question about our customers? Is this question about integrity and making the right decision? Tell me your perspective and your opinion. How does that translate to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the customer?'”

After some common ground is reached on the nature of the question, it’s a matter of deciding how best to take care of the customer.

“Then they realize that they’ve eliminated the personal opinion part, and they’ve brought it back to both of them contributing to the same goal, taking care of the customer or making sure as an organization we make a decision with integrity. That defuses a lot of frustration,” Berg says.

Should there still be disagreement and frustration, you bring somebody else into the party and reinforce the goal of taking care of the customer.

“You just dig a little bit deeper,” she says. “Why is this important for the customer” Eventually you get to a point where the answer is logical because you’ve taken away the opinions and the emotion, not the passion.”

But what about employees who aren’t living your core values? By engaging in a conversation that doesn’t become defensive for your employee, you may find out the backstory and get to the heart of the issue.

“Then you have the opportunity to say to him or her, ‘Talk to me about where you’re coming from, and how does it fit in.’ It gives us a common language which isn’t, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing, so-and-so.’ As soon as I say that to you, you just tighten up and inhale deeply.”

Focus on understanding the choice that was made. Maybe there’s a way of still achieving what you want to achieve by making a different choice. All of a sudden it changes the way you can have those conversations.

“At the end of the day, if somebody realizes these aren’t things that they value, they aren’t the things they passionately believe in, then they usually elect to move someplace else, but that’s so rare. Our turnover is extraordinarily low, because it’s really hard to leave a place that says, “We want you to be who you are.”

“We’re just thrilled to be able to have so many people that care so deeply.”

 

Takeaways

  • Align your culture with your message.
  • Give employees the chance to be themselves.
  • Let how best to take care of the customer be your guide.

The Berg File

Name: Jodi Berg
Title: President and CEO
Company: Vitamix Corp.

Born: The state of New York. I grew up in Pennsylvania. And I’ve lived in Michigan, Kentucky, Utah, Washington . . .

Education: Bowling Green State University. I started in mechanical engineering but went into the business program. I received my master”s degree in business administration at Washington State University.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? Delivering newspapers. I had morning and after-school routes. For much of the time I had both of them at once because they were having a hard time finding good paper carriers. What I learned from that job is that people cared about their newspaper. I mean, that sounds silly but I realized they needed to have it when they were getting up in the morning and wanted to read the newspaper. It was really important that I got to the place where they wanted it. I couldn’t just throw it in the front yard because they wanted to open the door and get their newspaper. When you got their paper to them on time in the place that it was supposed to be, people were nice to you, and they liked you. And I got to win the Newspaper Carrier of the Year Award in Erie, Pennsylvania.

What was the best business advice you ever received? It’s probably the same that I give to other people: find your passion. Just find what you care about. Find out what you’re passionate about and go with that. It’s proved very well to me. I realized when I went off to school as a mechanical engineer that that was not what I was passionate about. I could think that way, but that wasn’t where my passion lied. It was in the people, and it was in making people happy, and that’s why I ended up in hospitality management. I loved what I did in the hospitality industry, and then I realized I was very passionate about quality. That’s what eventually led me to a dream job, which was director of quality at the Ritz-Carlton.

Who do you admire in business? Those who I admire most are truly the unbelievably hard-working, dedicated people in this company. That’s who I respect the most in the business world.

What is your definition of business success? Making a difference and having a business model that supports your ability to make a difference. I was blessed with a couple of people that shared that with me, starting with my mom. She used to say, ‘You can do anything you desire so pick something you want.’