Chuck Bengochea Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Early in his career, Chuck Bengochea faced a difficult choice — take a big promotion with an even bigger international company and uproot his young family to Europe, or decline it and look for a different opportunity. He chose the latter, which eventually led him to The HoneyBaked Ham Co., where he serves as president and CEO. Under his leadership, the company grew to an estimated $250 million in revenue last year — up 10 percent over 2005 — and he encourages his 1,000 employees to live meaningful personal and work lives.

Check your ego. I don’t want any arrogance in our organization. I can’t take arrogance.

I don’t have an ounce in me, or anybody in my leadership team, that I’m one bit better than our store managers. I might be better trained academically, but that doesn’t make me better.

I don’t have a right to say, ‘Go get my coffee.’ There’s a please and a thank you in everything you do, and there’s a sense of gratitude when people do things well. That’s the way we ought to operate.

Embedded in all that is when you have the privilege to lead people. Leadership is a privilege, not a right. Too often, leaders think it’s a right. When you view it as a right, there becomes a sense of, ‘I’m better than you ... It was ordained in me.’

No, it’s not ordained in you. A lot of people view it that way, but I’m not very motivated by bosses I’ve had that view the world that way. You need a sense of humility. If it was all up to me, I’m not sure if we’d fail miserably, but I’m sure we’d not be in the position we’re in because we have a lot of talented folks alongside me, and we’re all in this journey together.

Drive execution. Growth takes creativity and innovation, and you have to continue to challenge yourself. It doesn’t matter how pretty you articulated it, it’s what you’re executing.

Whatever they think they can do, I want two times that. Challenge them beyond their expectation, but then equip and enable them to achieve that. That’s the most satisfying thing you can do professionally.

If you think you can deliver 10 widgets, I say, ‘If we really think creatively about this, if we just open our minds up, I think we can do 20.’ You go, ‘I don’t think so.’ I say, ‘Give it some thought, how you would go about doing that.’

You can’t do last year’s job a little bit better to go from 10 to 20. You’ve got to do something holistically different, so ... it’s going to demand that you think about it differently.

Then you’ll come back and say, ‘I hadn’t thought about that. Let’s try that,’ and boom, you did 16. You were going to sign up for 10, I asked you for 20, and you did 16. Sixteen is a grand slam because it’s six more than you would have done.

Adapt to grow. Ensure that you’re following the trends. Demographics have changed dramatically. Family size has shrunk from 20 years ago, and the ethnic makeup has changed dramatically.

That impacts that core ham that we’ve sold all these years. What are we going to do? Complain that the demographics have changed, and the baby boomers are empty nesters, and they’re not buying as many hams? We could complain, but it’s just not going to help us, so what do we do about it?

Stay current with where the consumer is going and how they make decisions and where the opportunities could be.

Recognize opportunities. Have bright people that you trust, and enable them to push you. You have to create a culture that is open and allows people to say, ‘The emperor has no clothes, and we need to go in a different direction, and here’s an opportunity.’

At the end of the day, the consumer is going to dictate. The consumer doesn’t have to get my approval for what they want to do. The consumer is going to go in the direction that they want to go, both on a macro level and an individual level, so we need to have folks close to that consumer.

I find myself often behind my desk in my office, so you have to hire people that are talented out there, who are close to the consumer and know what the trends are and feel comfortable pushing back to me and my leadership team and saying, ‘I think there’s an opportunity here.’

Create values. It can’t be a game. It’s got to be from the heart. You have to sincerely believe this is the way to lead an organization.

When you start playing games because you have an objective, people see through that. It looks like it’s patronizing. It’s not sincere. Take a deep look at your heart and see where you think it needs to go. Then bring your entire leadership team into the processes. The values — I didn’t come down from the mountain and give them a tablet.

We got offsite and said the destination is to be the best place to work, where people can pursue their dreams professionally and personally, and what would that look like?

Promote balance. Start with core values that are compelling. We articulate it this way: great results, great culture. I want to deliver the greatest results in my niche as the GEs of the world can do — consistent year over year, exceeding all the expectations, but at the same time, I want a phenomenal culture. I want to enable lifestyles, passions and dreams that our employees have.

I get great satisfaction by what I do at work, but that deep joy doesn’t come from work. That deep joy comes from seeing my son married or seeing my other son commissioned in the Marine Corps. That deep joy is the balancing act that we can have.

You’re more productive if you’re compelled by where you work, if you feel that they sincerely care about you. My legacy when I’m done is not going to be how many hams I sold. The legacy each of us carries is broader than that, and I want to enable them to do that.

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