Start With Strawberries: Lessons and Reflections from New CEO Cara Crye

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Highlights

  • Cara Crye’s 21-year journey to Farm Supply CEO (2:25)
  • An exceptional leadership development program (4:45)
  • Key learnings as a new CEO (7:40)
  • Trusted resources for this period of personal growth (9:45)
  • Preventing feelings of isolation (11:55)
  • How to keep your head clear (14:25)
  • Crafting a fine first day as CEO (15:25)
  • Cara’s chosen mentors and role models (19:30)
  • Tips for anyone who wants to move up in their organization (21:50)
  • Where Cara might be after the next five, ten, or 52 years (25:00)
  • Closing words of wisdom (27:00)

Start With Strawberries

An Excerpt of the Interview with Beth Wonson and Cara Crye, CEO of Farm Supply Company

Beth: Oh, I love that. So, Cara, tell me a little bit about some of the things … It’s so funny because Cara and I had a phone call about, I don’t know, two or three weeks ago. I was getting ready to come down there and do some work with her team, and I said to her, “So, how long have you been in this position? Like 18 months?” And I’ve been working with her since Day One, and she goes, “It was June of this year. It’s been like six months.”

We both cracked up because it seems like it’s been ... I bet for you, some days it seems like it’s been a week, and some days it probably seems like it’s been about three weeks in one 24-hour period.

So, what are some key learnings that you’ve come across so far as the CEO?

Cara: So, you know, I’m saying every day, “I’m learning,” and I think that’s healthy. I’m a lifelong learner. However, I am a worrier. So when I started this job not quite seven months ago, I told myself the day before I started, “Every day, I’m going to get up, and it’s a fresh start. And I’m just going to get to work and see what that day brings.”

And that has been huge for me because, luckily, in the past seven months … you know, you’re right, some days fly by, some feel like weeks. I’ll be honest, very few days have seemed like weeks, so that’s exciting, and I know it’s not always going to be like that.

But, what I’m learning is I’m learning a lot about myself and what I’m capable of as I’ve been given this amazing opportunity. I’m having more confidence in my abilities, which has been really powerful. I’m learning about others, specifically my coworkers, and where they want to be met – what their needs are to be successful, not only for our company but themselves. And with 110 employees, it’s a challenge, as everyone needs something different. It’s not easy, but one of my greatest passions is people, so I’m really loving this challenge.

Beth: Wow, that’s great. And folks who’ve heard me speak or heard me talk, they hear me always say, “You can have the best strategic plan, you can have all of the best resources and systems in place, and those are the bones of your company. But if you don’t have the people in the right seat on the bus, utilizing their strengths and doing what they’re passionate about, those bones have no connective tissue, and so they’re not going to go anywhere.”

And that’s one of the things that I’ve so loved in working with you is your commitment to identifying people’s strengths, empowering them to do their work, and giving them the tools and the resources they need to be able to do that. So, I love that.

What kind of resources have you depended on in this period of growth for yourself?

Cara: So, you know, it kind of goes back to me just mentioning a minute ago about how passionate I am about people. So, truly, my main resources are people-based. My family, my friends, my former bosses, people that I really respect professionally and personally. I’m learning a lot from my coworkers.

You know, Beth, you’ve been an amazing resource. And you’re not paying me to say this, but you’ve been an amazing resource for me, and I never pretend to know anything, but I do know the right people who can give me the guidance that I need.

Beth: That’s great. And you’ve really embraced that concept of being an agile learner and being really curious as you go through this transition.

And one of the components that the literature talks about, or research talks about, is as we go through periods of change and transition, there are moments when we can feel completely overwhelmed. But if we can get really curious, and if we can really embrace the fact that we don’t have to be the expert, we can be an agile lifelong learner. Then we can navigate change without becoming overwhelmed.

And I’ve certainly seen you role model that as we’ve been working together, so that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you on here, because I just so admire the way you’ve approached this.

Cara: Thank you.

Beth: How do you avoid feeling isolated? And when I ask that question, I want to put a context around it, which is you’ve really come up through the organization as a member of the team. And now, I know you still see yourself as a member of the team, and a lot of times you act as a member of the team, but there are certainly moments for you when the decision-making buck stops with you.

And so, how do you keep yourself from feeling isolated?

Cara: You just said it, Beth. I do consider my employees my coworkers. But, a phrase you would use is, when I became the CEO, the line in the sand was very quickly drawn – and not by me, but my employees. And a shift has definitely been made. I knew that was going to happen; I was preparing myself for that but, I’ll be honest, it happened a lot quicker than I thought it would.

So, to not feel isolated, and for my mental and physical health, I will continue to have a full life outside of Farm Supply. Actually, Farm Supply, being a co-op, is governed by a board of directors. I was very clear with our board when I interviewed for the position that Farm Supply has always been a huge part of my life, it will continue to be a huge part of my life, but it will not swallow up my whole life because that is not what a healthy, successful leader does. So, my family and friends really keep me grounded and always make me feel supported.

And I’ll be honest, in prepping for my transition to CEO, I had that conversation with my five best girlfriends. It makes me emotional to think about it, actually. But I just told them that I’m really going to lean on them more. And, of course, they were totally open to that because they’re amazing. And that has rung true a couple times. So that’s really how I avoid feeling isolated.

I had a conversation with a few of my coworkers when I was selected, you know, just asking them to give me some time to navigate this new role, and it didn’t mean that I didn’t care about them any less or love them any less, but we have really great, tight relationships here within our company, and that has had to shift because I have 110 others to think about.

Beth:  Yeah. That’s such great advice, and I frequently talk to people about creating your roundtable. Who are your advisors? Who are your confidential people that you’re going to go to? You almost have to develop a trusted team that now sits outside the organization, as well as considering the folks inside the organization, your team. But there’s going to be times when you’re just going to have to be able to talk about what’s happening for you outside of the organization.

 

 

To hear more from Cara, such as her 21-year journey to CEO to Farm Supply and her tips for anyone who wants to move up in their organization, listen to the podcast or download the interview transcript.

Thank you for listening,

Beth


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