Patrick Criteser is President + CEO of Tillamook — a 1,000 employee company, and an iconic Oregon dairy brand that makes some of the best cheeses and ice cream in the world. Patrick and I met through a mutual friend Sheila who recognized in us two white guy CEOs who are both very intentional around our equity journeys. We dive deep into a conversation about race and gender equity in this podcast interview.
Patrick is an Oregonian through and through — growing up in NE Portland and then Corbett at 12 yrs old. He was an incredibly independent and driven kid — in sports + academics, which led him to become the first in his family to go to college and eventually Harvard Business School. He credits the leadership training academy at P&G as the most impactful thing in his early professional years. The most painful thing he has ever endured was a turn-around at Farmer Brothers where he was working 24/7 for the largest shareholders who were the grandkids of the company founder. They hired private investigators to talk to his friends and follow him every day and yet Patrick resolved to serve them with grace and with excellence, successfully turning the company around.
Tune into this podcast interview between Patrick and me.
Ryan: Hey there, welcome to the Faces of Marketing podcast where we talk about the human stories and lives of different people and perspectives in the marketing profession and entrepreneurs and movement makers. This is your host Ryan Buchanan, and I'm here with my friend Patrick Criteser, President and CEO of Tillamook. Welcome to the show, Patrick!
Patrick: Thanks Ryan. Thanks for having me.
Ryan: Awesome. So before we get into some big weighty topics, I wanted to start with, what is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Patrick: Ah, that's hands down chocolate peanut butter. My family accuses me of having eaten chocolate peanut butter ice cream every night for the 10 years before I joined Tillamook. So I've kept the streak going.
Ryan: That's actually my wife's favorite too. We're big Tillamook fans, and it's almost so addictive that it's dangerous to have in your freezer.
Patrick: So hard to keep it to the one bowl I think.
Ryan: Yeah, for sure. Awesome. So, you and I met about a year ago through Tillamook's EVP of People and Culture. Her name is Sheila Murty. She's an amazing woman and you're lucky to have her.
Patrick: I agree with that. Yes.
Ryan: I got to know Sheila when she was at Oregon Community Foundation, which you must have gotten to know her there because you're on the Board there. She was part of a small group of leaders in the community - men and women of color primarily - I was one of the few white guys - where we convened and she helped to inform this non-profit that I co-founded called Emerging Leaders. It used to just be thought of as an internship-only program as a diverse college-aged internship program. And she helped to inform and really with our mutual friend Su Embree who has also been on the show - they helped to create a vision for that program to be much more expansive. The vision grew to be for professionals of color from college to the C-suite and for it to be a leadership program. And so I think what she saw in putting the two of us together is two straight white guy CEOs on a similar journey around equity. And so, I wanted to kick it off with your journey and when, when you started to be more conscious and aware of your white privilege and just what were some of those moments? And I know it's been a journey, but there are moments along the way, if you could kinda talk to us a little bit about that.
Patrick: Sure, yeah. I'd be happy to. It's certainly a journey. I had the opportunity early - the good fortune early, of starting my career at Proctor & Gamble, which back even in the early nineties, a heavy emphasis on diversity in particular. I think the concept of inclusion and ultimately equity has sort of evolved over the last 20 or 30 years. But at that point, I really had an opportunity to learn about the value of diverse perspectives and experiences in the conversation, and in decision making. I've kind of carried that forward with me a bit, but I'll say that certainly over the last two or three years, my understanding of the important dimensions beyond having diverse voices in the conversation.
Patrick: So for example, creating an environment where everyone's bringing their authentic self to the conversation, uh, where we're avoiding driving things like assimilation that sort of naturally happens when you join an organization or a community. And then, really sort of looking for ways to break down barriers that folks face because of their ethnicity, because of their background, because of their orientation, because of their immigration status, frankly.
Patrick: As I think about my journey - so I grew up in a family with very little educational background and certainly modest means, and I felt to some degree like an outsider in a lot of situations. Through education, a lot of hard work, I've been able to enjoy some career success and at least internally, I've always sort of thought of that as my story as an example of the opportunity for people to reach their full potential in our society - in our capitalist-oriented culture.
Ryan: Like anything is possible if you made it, anybody can make it.
Patrick: Exactly. This concept of, "well, people helped me along the way," I certainly emphasize that. There's a lot of luck involved, but we have a system where anybody can make it. What I've certainly come to realize, I would say over the last five or six years, much more acutely and certainly the last couple even more so, is that that opportunity does not necessarily exist for everyone. And that there are barriers - institutionalized and societal barriers - and inequities that folks face that I didn't face. Well certainly it doesn't diminish the pride or satisfaction I take in what I've been able to accomplish in the position I've been able to put myself in now in terms of impact. And again, never believing that that was done all independently. I had lots of help along the way.
Patrick: But, it's certainly shifted my perspective about that story - about that idea that -anyone could accomplish anything in the system we have. Because I'm coming to understand through a learning orientation and an interest to serve has allowed me to lean into asking more questions, trying to stay open minded. And certainly I'm on the journey somewhere. I don't have a full understanding of it - you asked the question about my journey around equity - I think it's this idea of how I see my own story and my own experience has certainly shifted. And, I'm fortunate enough to - you mentioned Sheila, but there are others in my life that are generous with their time and their thoughts and are willing to sit with me and challenge some of the things I say and think. And, to the extent that I can and sometimes I struggle with it, but to the extent that I can be as open minded as possible and hear what they're saying, it's certainly been on a journey that's going to continue.
Ryan: That's awesome. What I like about what I heard from you is that it is highly personal and not compartmentalized to the office environment and then say, "okay, now I'm going to leave that at the office and I'm gonna go home and go back to my old thinking in my personal life. For me, I was raised in a house where we didn't talk about race because we didn't have to. We weren't confronted with it and we were taught to not see color and all of these things. I was raised by super progressive, amazing parents and family. But, we've just come a long way into to now knowing that those are now micro-aggressions to say we don't see color because it doesn't acknowledge a person of color's life experience and things like that.
Ryan: With that being said, you shared your personal journey, and I would love to hear about Tillamook because we're here in your office and it seems like you've made some pretty major strides as a company. It probably started with your personal journey. Tillamook is the iconic Oregon brand that deals not only with equity but we were just talking about this rural and urban mashing together. Because you're a collection of farmers, but probably a lot of your consumers are urban. And so what are some things that you've done here at Tillamook to embrace equity, across some of the things that I mentioned across race, across the urban rural piece, things like that. I know it's a really wide topic, but maybe just expand on some of that.
Patrick: Sure. Yeah. Thanks for the question. So a couple of things that became clear early on. So I came here exactly seven years ago and a couple of things became clear to me. One was we needed a diverse set of voices around the table. For us to make great decisions in this company, we need to bring in folks with different perspectives and backgrounds and invite them to bring their authentic self to the conversation. And so one of the places that was glaring for us was around leadership, gender + leadership. So at the time, you know, we had a little over 500 employees and I think we had two women working in the company with the title 'Manager.'
Patrick: Today we have 45% of all managers across the business are women. We have around a thousand employees. Now, 45% of managers across the business are women. And that's a heavy manufacturing intensive environment too, which tends to be a little more challenging in terms of recruiting gender diversity. And so, we're very proud of that. But the better point of it is that we're making better decisions. That was one aspect of how do we get more diverse perspectives around the table to make better decisions. Another aspect was that - you mentioned the urban and rural piece - we have folks that work in Portland and frankly other cities around the country, and we have a lot of folks and our ownership, the farmers that live in Tillamook and most of our employees, 600 plus of our employees are in Tillamook County.
Patrick: And we have another 150 or so in Morrow County. So they're living in rural areas. And you know, that's been over time, certainly a source of tension and it was at the time I joined Tillamook. But, we shifted that pivoted that conversation to say, "this is an asset for us. This is a competitive advantage, um, and it will make us better to have urban and rural perspectives within the company." And so, bringing in more diversity and then inviting them to participate, but then shifting the way we see it to be an advantage rather than a challenge. We talk about that today. You know, the fact that we're a 100 year old co-op, and at the same time a growing, innovation-oriented progressive brand, those two things are in tension. Yes.
Patrick: But they're also, they're also an advantage for us. So, in more recent times we've gotten a lot more intentional about our inclusion and diversity work - through hiring practices where we're making sure that candidate pools - are more representative of the diverse communities that we draw from and wanting to build here. Also, we're training around, cultural agility, around terminology and awareness within the company. Also around our policies and practices and how those create an environment of intentional inclusion or conscious inclusion. We like to call it that rather than unconscious bias; it's the proactive approach to that. And then social impact as well are some of the ways are we impacting the communities in which we're operating.
Patrick: And so one of the things that I think has been important for us is a couple of years ago, we defined our core values. And, one of those core values that we defined was "genuine care for the whole person." And the idea is that we're officially announcing our aspiration to not just see people as the role they're in - the productivity they have for the company or the value they can bring to the business operations - but to take steps proactively as a company to serve them as the person that they are inside and outside of work. In particular for people that face social and institutionalized inequity and barriers, that's part of their life outside of work as well. And so if we think about the progress we've made, not just in recruiting more women into leadership roles here, but creating an environment in which their voices are heard and their influence is positively impacting the business.
Patrick: What are we doing in the communities where they live? Same thing with people of color as we recruit more people of color here to the company in leadership positions and otherwise, how are we impacting their experience outside the business? So those have been motivating factors for us as well. But certainly, early on the focus was probably a little bit more on how do we benefit the business with more diverse voices and including those diverse voices and decisions. And it's sort of evolved to this point around this value of a genuine care for the individuals that work here in the communities, and our obligation of social impact in the communities where we're operating.
Ryan: That's cool. I think for us, we're a little different in that we're not nearly a thousand employees, but our change has happened so fast and we don't quite have the infrastructure to have a large HR department and what I would imagine at Tillamook is that you're systematizing these things. Here at my agency, Thesis, we're catching up with some of that systematizing and it's been very intentional but very organic. And, one of the things that I heard from one of our directors, and when you're newer in your equity journey, you often talk about a cultural fit and that mentality can really play into a more homogenous culture - that unconsciously takes us all into assimilating.
Ryan: One of the things that our Director mentioned is that in his design department, and we've now adopted it throughout the whole company, but it's this notion of a cultural addition - where life experience is valued and that we are really looking across the whole team of what is needed to compliment the whole team instead of very individual. We are trying to progress from our old thinking of "did you go to this Ivy League school or did you go to this very traditional pipeline of where companies typically look at?" We really look differently at our pipeline. So I dunno, are those some of the things that you all do?
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. That idea of fit versus being additive to the culture really resonates with me. And it's something that we've tried to focus on here. Fit is a dangerous concept because it can easily just evolve into the same, which will be the easiest implementation of that same communication style, same relatable backgrounds, same interests, same industry, whatever it happens to be. And so, I'm a big believer in putting that sort of somewhere in the process that screen on a hire that says, "what is this person bringing to my team, to the team dynamics, the team thought process, the team capabilities that I don't have today." And if I can't answer that question, I think I need to keep looking - no matter how talented, and how great a culture fit that person's going to be if they're not adding something to the team. I think we probably aren't doing as well as we could with the hire. And so if that's an objective, then working up the funnel in terms of the candidates you're surfacing to make sure you're surfacing candidates with a range of backgrounds and experiences and life experiences, I think is important.
Ryan: Yeah. Just because this is a marketing podcast, and I was doing a little bit of research before meeting with you here, I noticed a couple of things that kind of reinforce what we're talking about. Six years ago in 2013, I saw you in an online video at this Oregon Business Plan summit that you were keynoting and you showed a video that had all this beautiful Oregon imagery. The quote in there is this, "the wagon trains came in the 1840s and they kept going west as far west as they could go. You or I or anyone else could claim 640 acres and it was yours if you made any improvements the land."
Ryan: So I looked at that video and then compared it to the language and the video of the Challenger project that was just a year or two ago. And one of the things that before I really had my awakening moment, which was at the end of 2015, and I'm not sure if this was Youtube, but that language and the way it was with the imagery and it was like, "Oh, I'm an Oregonian. I like Tillamook all the way." But if we look at the text, it's actually not really true because only 30% of Americans are white men and white men were the only ones that could get the 640 acres. There's a lot of women in America, and America is almost 40% non-white right now. It must be intentional that the language that you're using externally, not just that we've been talking to everything internally, has changed because you've grown so much in your equity journey as a company. Is that accurate?
Patrick: Yeah, that's a really interesting example because I think you're right on that. You know, at the time that video was put together, which actually is an interesting side story about that video from a marketing standpoint. So that whole voiceover, it's like three or four minutes long, was actually just an interview with the head of the Oregon or the Tillamook Historical Society. And he just went on and it was so great that we said, let's just run that. There was no script, there was no actual voiceover intention.
Patrick: But your point is a really great one, which is that - I've seen that video so many times you can imagine - and it that just didn't occur to me that that language was not true. Like you and I and the guy who said it would qualify. But a lot of people wouldn't. And so I think that's a great example of how putting a more culturally sensitive lens and an Equity Lens on the marketing communication is so important, in that case. If we were to do that today, are we any less proud of our history or heritage of the company? No. But, would we have included that line that I think is insensitive? No, I don't think we -- I'm sure we wouldn't include it today.
Patrick: So I think that's a really interesting point. Um, and you know, so in terms of the way our marketing is today, I'm not gonna say that focusing on our history and heritage, the way that we did then was inherently bad. Or that from an equity standpoint or that the marketing that we're doing now is targeted, as driven primarily with an equity objective. What I will say is that you can see the lens difference. So when we launched the 'dairy done right' campaign, which was the point of our big shift. And the topic of conversation for that Challenger video that you referenced. There are various elements of photography that include people of color.
Patrick: For example, one in particular, there's a, there's a pair of hands breaking, a two pound block of cheese, which is not easy to do by the way, but you know, kind of on video in slow motion and you know, they're black hands. And I've had several people say to me, "Hey, I noticed that and that was really great." And so, I don't know that it was the primary driver or would be for either kind of campaign. Um, certainly you can see the evolution and what you're pointing out in terms of our sensitivity to the issue. The intention is to be inclusive, certainly not to perpetuate, societal issues, and as we can to advance the progress that we need to make.
Ryan: Awesome. Cool. So we're gonna switch gears to our regular programming on the podcast. And really just getting to know your story personally - not necessarily solely through an equity lens, but just kinda how you grew up. I think it was in rural Oregon or outside of maybe suburbs or rural, here in Oregon. What it was like growing up? Do you have siblings, mom and dad? How was it for Patrick as a boy, growing up?
Patrick: Yeah, my parents were divorced when I was very young and I lived with my mom in Northeast Portland.
Ryan: So maybe not that rural.
Patrick: No, but we're getting there. We'll get to that part of the story. I lived with my mom, uh, in Northeast Portland, in the Hollywood district until I was 12. And then I moved in. My mom ran into some financial issues that, andI have a sister that's a couple years younger than I am. We have the same parents and then I have two other much younger sisters that have a different father. And, taking stock of her economic situation, she came to my sister and I, the one next down and said, "you're going to need to go live with your dad." So we moved in with him, his wife and my three step sisters, when I was 12 years old out in Corbett. So there's the rural part, not too far out of out of Portland, you know, a 30 minute drive or so, but certainly a rural area. We lived on several acres and had some animals, a cow and some chickens.
Ryan: That was back in the day, right when Corbett was way out there, right?
Patrick: Well, yeah, Corbett was farther away back then, wasn't it? Exactly. I went to Corbett middle-school, Corbett High School - a pretty small school there. My graduating class class of 1986, Corbett Cardinals, there were 49 of us in my graduating class. So quite a small school.
Ryan: Were you into sports - what kind of stuff were we into?
Patrick: Yeah, well, the cool thing about being in a school with 180 people in it - is that you get to do everything. So, I played football and wrestled and I was a student body President and active in the school. Because it was so small, felt like sort of one class, one community. Clearly when you're dealing with that few people, more so than my kids go to larger schools and it definitely is kind of more split up in terms of the gaps.
Ryan: Were you big into the outdoors or what'd you do as a kid on the weekends? Like, you know, 10 year old boy?
Patrick: At 10, I was riding my bike around Northeast Portland until the streetlights came on and we all raised home. Right. I really was into sports, always. Growing up, playing basketball before high school, before I switched to wrestling. But, I'm definitely into sports, like to be outside, running around, getting into trouble at that age. And then as I got older and we moved out to Corbett, certainly I did appreciate, although probably not as much as I do now, the forests and the hikes and the things that we could do out there. But, you know, in high school I was a busy guy. I mean sports all year round. And, I studied really hard. I was very much into school. I feel like a couple of teachers early on convinced me that I had an aptitude for academics.
Patrick: And as I mentioned before our interview started, no one in my family had been to college before. And in fact, my dad's father dropped out of school in the fifth grade. I got great support and continued to achieve in school, I realized "hey, there's something here to this." I can win at this. I can do well in school, I can leverage that into a college education and then who knows, I could do great things someday. So for me, academics materialized as that opportunity to create a life of impact that I wanted to.
Ryan: Because I work with so many college kids and my daughter's about to go to college in a year, I am super curious of what drove the decision of, I would imagine you had a lot of options in front of you - why UW and was it their engineering program or was it just like, "yeah, University of Washington."
Patrick: So yeah. Good question. Having just gone through this in the last four years with three of my kids in terms of what schools they picked and, and how competitive it is. It's funny to think back on 1986 because how I learned about schools, how I got the application to put in a typewriter. Like I have no idea. I mean this is such a different, time, it was a different world at that time.
Ryan: But you didn't tour a lot of schools when you were a kid?
Patrick: There was no touring happening. When my dad drove me up to Seattle and we landed on the University of Washington campus, it was the first time I'd been on a college campus in my life. So, there wasn't a lot of input, but what I do recall finding somewhere in the library or something, a list of the top ranked engineering schools in the country, and so I applied to a few of those and UW seemed the most within reach. I don't know if it still does, but University of Washington had a reciprocity program which means you can get in-state tuition. I think the deal was if you were one of the top GPA students from Oregon at a Washington school, they would go down the list and pick a certain number and then you can get in-state tuition. So I was working towards that and I ended up ultimately getting that. That was a factor and you know, just no money to fly places and all that just the opportunity to drive up there.
Ryan: Got It. If you had to think about most of the time in our lives and the premise of this podcast is about something that happened in your foundational years, which typically is in high school, college and right after. Was it that moment of moving to Corbett at 12 years old or was there another moment in that 12 to 22 year old timeframe where it was a big obstacle that you ever came that is either very independent, so maybe going to college, or it was just really hard and you, it gave you more grit and perseverance and so it's like, "oh, this allowed me to be on a leadership track because of something hard I overcame or independent or both."
Patrick: That's a good question. A couple of things come to mind. One is that certainly that move into my dad's house, because at the time, my dad with another partner was starting a business, which ultimately did not pan out the way he wanted to. But during those first couple of years that I moved into his house, he was working 24 hours a day, sleeping at the office, doing all that. And so there was a pretty rapid transition to a lot of independence. So two things. One is I got to see how hard he was working, which was inspiring. He's pouring himself into something. And then the other thing was just here I am on my own, to and from school and practices and meals and all that.
Patrick: I just sort of adopted this level of independence. You know, another thing, we talked about the, the UW transition or move up to Washington. I can think of a lot of times in my life, I sort of referenced this earlier where I felt really out of place, showing up on a college campus. We showed up, we went to the dorm, and then realized I need bedding because the school doesn't supply that. You don't know that if you've never been to college.
Ryan: And no conversations in your family about college because you're the first to go to college. So yeah, so many...
Patrick: Here's what to expect. None of that, right. None of that going on. And so that's one example. I mean, certainly later at Harvard Business School, even some elements of just day to day living, like being in a restaurant, what to do exactly. Those kinds of things sort of have emerged for me constantly.
Ryan: Or how to go on a date how to go on a date.
Patrick: Yeah. Any of that stuff. Right? I mean, it's just like, "okay, I'm going to try this and I will figure it out." Right? And so there's some amount of kind of vulnerability that helps in those situations. And just this learning orientation - like what are other people saying? What are other people doing? How are they acting and how do I need to act to be able to fit into the situation? And so while certainly, I mean, referencing our earlier part of the discussion around equity, I mean certainly I enjoy a lot of advantages as a white male, but there's a lot of just discomfort and then it works out.
Patrick: And so I feel like that's a pattern that's kind of stuck with me and it translates into business, you know, kind of our approach to business strategy or things that I want to teach my kids or get involved in outside of work is that, "I don't know, let's try it and see if we can make it work." If we believe enough that it will, and we work hard and we make smart decisions along the way, we'll figure it out.
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, as an entrepreneur I absolutely relate to just try it. Jump and figure it out along the way. So that definitely resonates. Um, so I wanted to build off of you graduating from UW. It's not that I did that much research, but there were a couple of good videos online. One of them was with our mutual friend Craig Wessel, publisher of the Portland Business Journal, and I guess the question here is it seems like you had an incredibly positive experience with the leadership training or an academy within Proctor and Gamble. And if you had to choose between that and Harvard Business School and everything that comes with that, the network and the education, which do you think was more beneficial to your personal and professional growth?
Patrick: I mean both certainly have afforded benefits and a lot of learning. But if I had to pick one, I'd pick the P&G experience, the Proctor and Gamble experience. The opportunity to be a shift leader at age 22, and all the humility that comes with that and all the learning that comes from managing 28 people that are all your parents age, kind of quote unquote managing right. Learning how to adjust to that and, and how to approach leadership from a servant / service orientation - that was tremendous. And then referencing the earlier comment about the values that P&G implemented or leveraged or work built off of and day to day decisions was really strong.
Patrick: The P&G experience really colored my view of what business can and should be in that I see business as an important pillar of our society that not only can be but has an obligation to play an important role in the progress we are making and need to make. Business creates economic activity that provides jobs and funds state and federal tax, payroll tax roles. But way beyond that, and I know there's a lot in the news about this lately, about the business round table coming out with a multi-stakeholder model versus the fiduciary obligation just to the financial shareholders. But, I really see business as that opportunity, not just to impact the employees, the work of the business and their families and their communities or churches or whatever it happens to be, but also just how communities need to show up in the community.
Ryan: Yeah, I was nodding my head a lot in that be the way that I would say it and maybe a few less words, is that business can be a platform for good in the community and it's an amplifier. So when I look at other entrepreneurs, friends of mine, who ask "when are you going to sell the company?" And basically sit back and be some retired guy that maybe does a volunteer thing here or there. And that's just not interesting to me because I feel like - you have a thousand employees here at Tillamook and we have 120 at Thesis - and if you can inspire your employees to get engaged in specific areas, maybe it's around equity or things like that - you're amplifying by a thousand. You're amplifying by 120, versus just being another retired old white guy.
Ryan: Like that doesn't have as much impact because you can't amplify what your employee base can get engaged in. And so, and then that ripples throughout all of society. So we're not a B corp yet, but, um, there's a lot of like-minded companies like Tillamook and Thesis in Portland especially. I just think it's important for people to not think, "oh, government and non-profits are going to solve this and business needs to just be purely greedy capitalist pigs." It's not good for business, frankly.
Patrick: No, I agree. And I think you're a great example of how Thesis gives you that platform to do good, not just within the company, but then through your employees and their activities and then into the community, through your role at Thesis and the leverage that gives you. So that, no, that's fantastic.
Ryan: You didn't have to say nice things about me.
Patrick: Maybe I'll ask you some questions too.
Ryan: That's another time. We only got a couple of questions left. So you have had a professional journey of going from Proctor & Gamble, then you went to business school, then Disney, Nike, then this total shift in going to Smart Forest - very embedded in the Portland scene as an angel / venture partner. And then went back to kind of mid-size companies with Farmer Brothers, Coffee Bean International and now Tillamook. So I wanted to give that context to our 173 listeners. But what was one of the hardest things that you've had to endure? It's always the most painful things that are often the things that are the biggest learning opportunities, but you would never seek them out because they're so painful. Do you have one or two of those moments in that path?
Patrick: Yeah, sure. I think the Coffee Bean International / Farmer Brothers situation and transition really was very challenging and it gave me a lot of opportunity to learn and I'm very grateful for that opportunity. So, we had Coffee Bean International, which is a great company. When I joined it, it had been around for 40 years. Pretty small business and just great people and great culture and product. And so we grew up pretty rapidly through some really fun years of expansion. And then, we sold it - it was private equity owned and it was at the end of the investment cycle - and we sold it to Farmer Brothers, which was a publicly traded Nasdaq traded company, based in Los Angeles.
Patrick: And so then the CEO of Farmer Brothers who had acquired us said, "you guys are on a great trajectory, you've got a great strategy and part of the sale I agreed to a lock up, you know, it's pretty common, right?" So I've got to stick around. I actually agreed to three years. Part of it was because I really loved the company and I wanted to keep doing it and part of it was just negotiating.
Ryan: Usually it's a year. What I've seen is private equity companies leave the company that's been acquired alone for like a year. And then literally on the 366th day, it's like, "okay, making big changes." And it feels like that from the outside.
Patrick: No, I think that's right. And so I knew what I was agreeing to - a really long lock up. But you know, the arrangement - what I believed would happen was that the CEO who had acquired us, told me, "look, what you're doing is fantastic. You're the growth engine for the company. You keep doing what you're doing and we don't really need to do a lot of integration here. We'll look for opportunities, but you can stay very independent." And he said he's got some other things he's going to focus on. So, I really loved that company. In fact, a lot of the people that worked there work here at Tillamook now. It was just a great culture and great business. And so I wanted to stick around.
Patrick: During that period, Farmer Brothers made another acquisition and that didn't go very well and it was a bigger one than ours and that didn't go very well. And so what had happened was a couple things. One is there was some pull gravitational pull towards integration. So I was getting pulled more into being on the leadership team of the parent company and I was resisting that. And so there was a phase where I was trying to stay away from the parent company and somebody gave me some great advice and said, "hey, if you're in this situation, make the most of it. Like leaning out is not doing anything for anyone. You're not learning anything, you're not having an impact. If you don't like the situation, lean in and make a positive impact."
Patrick: And you know, that was one of those moments for me which was like somebody hitting on you on the side of the head with a two by four. Okay, wait, you're right. All right, I can have a positive impact. So I started to lean in more to that situation, act like a member of the leadership team with the parent company, contribute to overcoming some of the challenges associated with this other acquisition that they had made. And then through a crazy series of events, I find myself as co-CEO of the parent company - fairly suddenly. And the parent company Farmer Brothers was - its stock price had dropped from $18 to $4. It was losing $6 million in cash a month, kind of losing thousands of customers a year. It was just a death spiral and it had thousands of employees spread all over the country and a lot of more leaving and just a lot going on.
Patrick: Leaning into the situation better prepared me to serve the organization in that way. The other part of that story, just to cut it short, is that while it was a publicly traded company, there was a significant shareholder of the third generation of the guy that had founded the company. They were pretty big stock shareholders. And for some reason, they had an unreasonable and unwarranted dislike or distrust of me because they didn't really like the acquisition of our company in the first place. And, so the whole time that I'm trying to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you spend every week in L.A. and all over the country trying to turn this company, which was going to benefit them.
Patrick: They were sabotaging me, and they were investigating me with private investigators and crazy stuff was happening.
Ryan: You were getting followed around?
Patrick: I was, yeah. And friends of mine would get knocks on the door on a Saturday morning and they call me and say some weird private investigator just called. I kept calling this family and saying, let's just sit down and I'm like the least interesting person you're ever going to investigate. There's nothing that you can't know. But, it's a longer story, but the point of that was, we got the stock price back up. We got to cash-flow positive. We got employees re-engaged. We got customer accounts returned in the positive direction, and it was a really successful turnaround. A lot of people involved, not just me, but my co-CEO and the rest of the team.
Patrick: We served that family well in terms of their future of their company that their grandfather had founded and their economic situation. And yet they never thanked me or shook my hand. But my role was to serve them and it helped me be empathize with where they were. They didn't know anything about the business. They weren't involved in it before. They were scared of the changes. They were concerned about what was happening. They didn't understand what was happening. And you know, my role is to serve them, even in the face of their strange behavior. I haven't faced that kind of a strange opposition from the inside. Again, hopefully I never will, but it did teach me to try my best to understand where somebody else is coming from and to understand my role in the situation. And in this case, it was to serve these folks. That's what I had signed up for. And that's what I was there to do.
Ryan: I'm just using an analogy. I've only had a couple scenarios where rocks are being thrown at me either internally or in a public way. And it's gotta be hard to like to do that day in and day out when it's not just one incident from the outside, but it's literally non-stop every day [from the main people you are trying to help]!
Patrick: Yeah, it was a very difficult year. It was a long year. It was a lot of work. I mean, a crazy turnaround of a big company, a lot of difficult decisions. But what a learning experience, what a phenomenal learning experience and yeah, folks threw some pretty big rocks at me now and I can take it. I'm used to it, but I'm proud of what we got done there and got done for their benefit.
Ryan: Yeah. Okay. So last question: I'm just really personally intrigued by this and I think a lot of people are out there in the community. The question is: what do you love most about being CEO specifically here at Tillamook? But, where it comes from is I'm an entrepreneur and so the only thing I know is to kind of start something from nothing. And, you had a little bit of that with Smart Forest. You were working with a lot of startups and things like that, but I just think it's what's interesting about your path and same with Joth from Dutch Bros - you got the training around brand maybe at Proctor & Gamble. So you're running a thousand person company, and you have to have a sense of brand and marketing. What does it take? What do you look for if you were to hire, say in 25 years, another one of you? How do you get to be CEO of a large consumer company?
Patrick: One thing that's interesting about the CEO role - this is a unique role. I don't know if it's subconscious, but people think of it as an amalgamation of all the other roles in the company or something. But it's a unique role where you're sitting in a unique position to in air elevation to see small parts of everything. Rather than going deep on anything...
Ryan: Financial, Marketing, Ops, People, all of them.
Patrick: Exactly. Relationship to external stakeholders, all of that stuff. And, and so it is a unique role. And until you're in it, I don't think you really can understand or appreciate it.
Patrick: If you're leading sales for an organization, you could push a little bit because the finance person is going to say "wait, we can't do all that stuff." Right? But when you're the CEO, there's no one's who shoulders up against your shoulder to push back on the crazy idea that you know, is probably like 150% overblown, but you'll get scaled back to 100%. So there's a little bit of that. It's a little disorienting from that standpoint. But you know, the thing is, it's also a unique role in that everyone else is really there to do, to do the work of the business and, and what's left for the CEO to do - certainly connecting dots across all the different functions you talked about.
Patrick: But I think more than anything is supporting and developing the people in the organization. And, we've had great fortune here at Tillamook to attract and retain some phenomenal talent and I'm here to serve them in their capacities that they're leading and how they're serving the business. And, one of the things that the CEO role does for you is by absolving you of some of the day to day responsibility - planning next year's marketing campaign or closing the books - it allows you the space to think about how the organization works, how people are supported, how they're developing, and how they're working across the organization with each other. The other thing for me is that I'm very focused on culture and that's something that's developed over time.
Patrick: Certainly I've had to influence in all of those companies, and for two reasons. One is because I think culture is a competitive advantage. How we all work together today relative to how the competition works with each other today is what's gonna really make us win in the marketplace. I believe execution is 80% of it and strategy is 20%. So culture is what drives execution. You know, how we get the thinking and talent and energy from everyone and how they all work together. So I think cultural is a competitive advantage, but the other thing is, culture can provide a fulfilling and enriching experience for the employees. And so as I've progressed in my career, that second objective has been elevated and I still love the scoreboard. I love to win as much as everybody else. Market share, return to shareholders, everything else.
Patrick: But I also have increasingly become interested in and weighted in this idea of what experience are we creating for the people that work here. And so back to your question about the CEO role, the CEO's in a unique position to make broad sweeping changes that affect how people work together and what their experience is at the business and how their careers progress and how, again, back to our value of how we're supporting people and genuinely caring about their them as a whole person.
Ryan: Awesome. Loved the conversation. Thanks for being on the show, Patrick!
Patrick: Thanks so much, Ryan. It was a lot of fun.
Ryan: Awesome. Cheers.