DALLAS — In 1996, Acosta Sales and Marketing had a negative net worth and was operating as a regional agency in the Southeast.
But Gary Chartrand, who had just become the chief executive officer, had a vision to take the company national, he explained in a presentation at Food Marketing Institute's Future Connect conference here last week.
Through a series of bold maneuvers that resulted in mergers with other regional sales agencies around the country, Chartrand was able to secure funding and persuade clients to back his vision.
“You have to stay the course when it all seems impossible,” he said.
Chartrand said he foresaw the need for a national sales and marketing agency as he correctly predicted that more and more retailers would merge and create central buying offices for their far-flung chains.
Although some manufacturers balked at the idea of going through a national agency and giving up their relationships with regional agencies, some — including Minute Maid — bought into the idea, he said.
“As a leader you need to take risks,” he said. “You don't need to be reckless, but you need to take calculated risks.”
Other speakers at the conference also echoed his assertion that creating a vision was central to leadership.
Mike Krzyzewski, the men's basketball coach at Duke University, related how he sought to give his players “ownership” of the team's vision when he was coaching the U.S. Olympic team.
“Leadership is about getting people to see themselves in the future,” he said. “And it's not just important for them to see and hear, it is important for them to feel it. They have to have a voice, and they have to have ownership.”
He related how he asked all of the players on his 2008 Olympic team to contribute their ideas of what their standards should be, and they worked together to maintain those.
While Krzyzewski was concerned with blending top-level talent as a team, other speakers focused on building and maintaining a team in a business environment.
One speaker outlined how having a supportive culture is “the single most significant thing you can do as a leader” to attract and retain a high level of talent in the organization.
Many organizations, said Linda Sharkey of Global Leadership Associates, waste too much time focusing on organized performance management assessments and not enough on building a culture of clear communication that helps employees achieve the organization's goals.
It is also important for companies to hire for the future, Sharkey explained. Organizations should look ahead to what their challenges and opportunities will be in the next two to three years, decide what skills are needed, and guide the workforce accordingly.
“If you have the talent for today, it's too late,” she said. “You need to think about the talent for tomorrow, for the future.”