December, 2015

Fruits of Thought

A Step Backwards, To Move Forward

As 2015 heads to a close, we find ourselves living in uncertain times. The attacks in Paris brought a sense of danger and unease closer. Yet, for all the challenges of our times, the world moves relentlessly to become more closely integrated.

The final numbers aren’t in yet, but do you know what company seems on track to be the largest exporter out of Chile this year? That would be Wal-Mart.

And the American, British and Australian retailers still don’t know what to do about the persistent growth of the German-owned Aldi with Lidl.

The great changes on the production end of the industry are proprietary varieties. These are developed all over the world — Israel, New Zealand, Spain, America and elsewhere — and then carefully grown either directly or through licensees in a global network – with growers in Australia, Peru, Chile, South Africa, Egypt, Italy and elsewhere — designed to create 365-day-a-year availability.

Healthy products are on trend and marketed all over the world using unique packaging and flavor profiles: for example, Love Beets is in the U.K., in America and in Australia — plus exporting to various markets from these places.

On a macro level, France or any country may close its borders for a while; but in the end, if it doesn’t want to be a backwater, it will once again reach out to the world.

Even many debates that seem like important prerogatives of national policy — say whether GMOs should be permitted — will, in the end, turn more on global proclivities than one nation’s politics. If GMOs create more productive farmers, then to compete in the global economy, farmers everywhere will wind up growing GMOs. Countries that resist will simply become, again, a backwater.

This new world is a clarion call for leadership at all levels. On the global stage, we look at enemies such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, and we seek leaders who are wise, who transcend petty politics and jockeying for political advantage. We seek leaders who see a higher path toward making America, and the world, both safer and capable of moving to a better place.

While, on a more micro level, our employees, customers, vendors and investors seek those leaders who can navigate the shoals of difficulties and take our companies and people through to — not just safer places — but places that can serve as points of embarkation toward building the businesses and the industry we can imagine ahead.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better. As our political leaders look at places such as Syria, there is the possibility that all-out war is in the offing. Or, we might fail to be aggressive enough, and attacks on all we hold dear — by terrorists or nation-states such as Iran — may mean many will lose everything.

So we have to fight for good leaders, and we have to fight for the kind of culture that calls for good leaders to rise. If one thinks back to the American founding, it is incredible that there were so many gifted leaders — Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton and more.

Yet it is even more extraordinary that the political culture of the time pushed these people into positions of prominent leadership. It is uncertain whether we have such gifted and learned people in the masses of Americans today. We certainly do not have a political culture that would cause such people to: A) be attracted to public life and B) be promoted by the people to positions of high leadership.

For the great many of us who have no desire to be the next President, it still falls on us to lead. If we run entities, we have to guide our teams through perilous times. For we proceed through adversity not in the macro, but in the micro. Each day, we have to see further. We need be neither optimistic, nor pessimistic, neither brave nor cowardly. We need to be competent and confident that if we conduct our lives and our business well, we can transcend adversity and not merely endure, but prevail.

Just as countries think decisions that are their own are often not, we, as individuals, have impact we often underestimate.

If you watched the news in the past month, you’ve seen college students protesting. Beyond the substance when one sees videos, for example, of students at Yale cursing faculty and staff, one has to realize that we are part of the culture that made that behavior acceptable, and only we can make it unacceptable.

We often worry about making sure children get enough fresh produce, and three cheers for that. But the culture is not supporting standards of civility that would allow us to all speak together and move things forward.

Yet, if we insist on taking actions to deal with the real problems of today, we will later be free to devote our time and attention to focus on passions and produce. As John Adams wrote: “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

We may have to take a step backwards to move forward. pb