Organic growth Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Dave Lanstein occasionally needs to be reminded

that while the organic food industry is growing fast,

it’s not quite mainstream yet.

And foods like quinoa, a grain

sold by the company, can

seem foreign to some, says the

founder, president and CEO of

Multiple Organics, a supplier

of organic ingredients.

“You can start to feel like the

whole world ought to eat

quinoa,” says Lanstein, whose

company posted fiscal 2006-2007 revenue of $13.7 million.

“Some people just don’t like

the way it tastes; some people

can’t afford it. So the whole

world shouldn’t eat quinoa.”

Smart Business spoke with

Lanstein about how to get

your employees to better

understand your product and

why it might help your company to take everyone on a

trip to Brazil.

Q. How do you communicate

your vision?

Make the path that you’re

headed toward and on very

clear to folks, so that if they

feel that you are a leader

indeed and that you can handle the uncertain future, then

they know where they’re heading with you and they’re willing to follow the lead.

We have a very open weekly

meeting where we touch on

the metrics of the business,

and we make sure that folks

know what those are, where

we’re going and where their

place in where we’re going fits

and why it’s important.

That way, people feel good

about what they’re doing, and

they can explain what it is

they do to their family and for long periods of time.

We also have two off-site

retreats that are very open

forums so that management

will talk through where we’ve

been, where we’re heading,

where things have gone right,

where things have gone

wrong. Then, we open the

floor for questions so we can

see where people are confused and make sure that people understand where they’re

heading and in what capacity

they need to be fully functioning in their positions.

So there is a lot of communication, a lot of, ‘If you believe

in this path, let’s make sure it’s

clearly lit; there aren’t

any street lamps out.’

Q. How do you get

your employees on board

and working toward the

vision?

It’s a small company,

so there is good old-fashioned involvement.

Take people down to

the grocery store one

group at a time and say,

‘This product that you

love and eat in your

house is actually made

with the ingredients that

we sell to this company

and turned into this

awesome organic product that you eat and

believe in.’

You get people involved in

that. Take them; get them to

visually see it. We try to take

every single employee on a

trip at least once per year. We

have a budget that says, ‘OK,

we know this doesn’t have

anything to do with your section of the company, but come

see a processing facility in the

California Valley with us. Or

come to the microbiological

lab and learn about how they

do all the testing for different

ways to see if the food is safe,

or come with us to Brazil to

see the sugarcane farm.

That’s deep involvement.

Some companies won’t [put] a

budget together for that,

because they’ll say, ‘OK, you’re

purchasing; that’s what you

do. That’s not what these other

people do. They’re processing

orders, so they don’t get to go.’

But when you get to see the

full picture, it gets exciting.

Q. How else do you get

your employees to see the big

picture?

If you imagine yourself processing orders, you see the

names of the clients and the

product. It moves through on

the computer, and it’s on your

desk, then you’ve confirmed it

and you do it, then it’s off

your desk. Then your warehouse releases it, and they

pick it up. That’s your world.

That’s your world, except if

you can relate that world to a

tangible perspective, then you

can gain an appreciation for

the fact that your job is really

important.

So you get to go to the

warehouse and watch what

happens when the truck driver shows up without a purchase order number and

doesn’t even know what

they’re supposed to be picking up, to see how frustrating

that is for the warehouse if all

the paperwork involved isn’t

correct.

Q. How does that help your

employees?

You just have a much deeper appreciation for what it is

that you’re doing. Plus, it

stops being hacking something into a computer, and it

starts to become, ‘This is the

stuff that Javier and Marta

and the other families I met

grow. They go through this

whole process of cleaning it

up, then it gets tested at the

microbiology lab, and it’s

finally here, and you can be

proud of it. And I’m the one

who gets it out to the customer and keeps them happy.’

That’s a very different perspective than, ‘I got hired to

do the job — if you took the

emotion out of it — of a

robot.’

HOW TO REACH: Multiple Organics, (415) 482-9800 or www.multipleorganics.com