Leaving the mother ship

The difference between a risk and an adventure

“I’ve always wanted to run my own business. Good or bad, right or wrong, this is my opportunity to do it.”

That’s a quote from Paul Smucker Wagstaff, president and CEO of Eagle Family Foods Group LLC, taken from this month’s cover story.

Wagstaff, along with his business partner, Jeff Boyle, founded Eagle Foods just a few years back. That on its own, however, isn’t so much the heart of the matter.

The remarkable aspect of this story is that Wagstaff was essentially set, career-wise. He was — prior to the start of Eagle Foods — the president of The J.M. Smucker Co.’s U.S. Retail Consumer Foods division, which itself was larger (1,300 employees) than many companies. He was also considered to be, or was at least one of a few candidates to be, the next in line to lead the entire multi-billion dollar Smucker enterprise. Then he left.

Why, is the obvious question. Why leave a sure thing? Why take on what is more-or-less unnecessary risk? Despite his position, which gave him the organizational clout to build the business almost however he wanted, Wagstaff chose instead to leave what he called “the mother ship,” the paternal and prescriptive structure of a 120-year-old company.

What Wagstaff sought, he told me, was adventure, independence and the opportunity to shape his company his way, essentially in his image — to create that which is wholly and by definition his.

I imagine there are many who, in their current roles, think about how they’d do things differently. How if it was their company they would approach products differently, services differently, build teams differently. It could be argued that what keeps these people from starting their own venture isn’t an unwillingness to take the risk, but seeing it as a risk rather than as an adventure.

“I know it may sound crazy to some people, but to me it’s very exciting to run and create something and create the team,” Wagstaff says. “That’s fun to me. That is exciting.”

Adam is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.