The shortest distance between two points is often not a straight line. This is the case if you’re a CEO or work in any business. Creativity and the willingness to ask the questions “why” or “why not” will enable you to make sure you’re making the right long-term decision for the company and the consumer.
I had the pleasure to interview Brad Charron. Brad is the CEO of ALOHA, a company dedicated to making healthy living simple and accessible to everyone through clean, organic, plant-based food. With a focus on protein powders and protein bars, ALOHA creates organic products meant to be savored and enjoyed without sacrificing taste or nutrition. Having held positions at The Nature’s Bounty Co. (formerly NBTY), Chobani, Under Amour, Frito-Lay and KIND, Brad is a CPG and natural/organic food industry leader.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My backstory is one of good fortune — I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch great leaders in action when I was growing up. My father was CEO of a fashion company, so I was able to learn first-hand from his experiences. In my professional career, I was trained and mentored by leaders from big companies and spent time with the founders of innovative brands like Under Armour, Chobani and KIND. I learned what to do and more importantly what not to do. I was able to try new things and have the opportunity to fail while finding my own voice. While my backstory may seem unspectacular, I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to such a variety of a at different stages of a companies’ growth. I’m now able to apply these learnings and experiences to ALOHA and to drive brand momentum along with my savvy and strong team.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I arrived at ALOHA, I was examining the sales development and distribution channels and found that — like many young companies — a lot of the information was — a either incomplete or somewhat inaccurate. I asked the team how much inventory we had on-hand and the answer was none! I asked if that applied to a specific SKU, and the answer was “no, we have nothing, none, zero.” For a young company that is growing and moving quickly, it’s not unfathomable to be unaware of where your products are sold or how much inventory you have available, but I knew I needed to change that quickly. From there, I felt confident that the success of the company was dependent on having not only having a great product but also having clear facts at my disposal to have honest and effective conversations with retailers. I think the merit of a company’s future success is how quickly can react to those types of situations.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
ALOHA is one of the first plant-based companies built on a foundation of transparency and a forward-thinking philosophy about only using real, clean organic plant-based ingredients to fuel a healthy lifestyle. For us, it’s important to have a brand and a product that stand the test of time. We want consumers to obsess about our product and rely on our brand because of the lifestyle experience it provides. ALOHA products have strong nutritionals and we’re making our food — which has organic and real ingredients — accessible to everyone at a reasonable price point. We’re also hyper focused on taste because if doesn’t taste good, it just won’t work.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! We just underwent a major initiative to revamp our products. This was done from the ground up. Based on consumer research and insights, we focused on what consumers wanted most from our products and made that our top priority. The results are a better tasting plant-based protein bar that is lower in sugar and delivers on higher protein and fiber. The bars have a great texture to them and taste delicious.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I believe in truly making all employees a part of the business. At ALOHA, our employees have an equity stake in the business so every decision matters to them and they have a say in everything we do. There is no greater empowerment than truly having a seat at the table. We don’t want to create a groupthink mentality, but want to involve employees at all different functions, departments and skill sets so they have a voice at the table. At the end of the day, as CEO, I want to make sure that everyone has a voice and I take that very seriously. We are all equal partners — and that matters a lot. If you want someone to work and make your company and team a success, then you’ve got to have skin in the game, and that’s what we do right away here at ALOHA.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I have been given the gift of guidance by so many talented people who I’ve worked with throughout my career, including former colleagues from Frito-Lay, my friend Miguel Leal, the CMO of KIND and my friends at Chobani. I also have people who have worked with me at multiple jobs like Mike Messersmith, who is the General Manager of Oatly. They have all helped me achieve success in so many ways. The most important person who has helped me, however, is my father, Paul Charron. Paul is the former Chairman of the Board at Campbell’s, former CEO of Liz Claiborne and a former Naval officer. I was taught from a very young age how you lead from the front, how to lead with compassion and how to lead with a sense of wonder and curiosity. He instilled the knowledge that you’re not the smartest person in the room. These values and traits are very important and were instilled in me thanks to my father and being able to watch his leadership in action.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
While I’m not curing cancer or solving world hunger, I’d like to say I’m bringing goodness to my community and my family. I’m trying to teach my daughters about how to lead with compassion and to have fearlessness in the face of adversity. I want to teach them to always ask why and never be afraid to ask questions. I’m not bringing goodness to the world — I’d just like to bring a little goodness to my community and make those around me a little bit better.
With ALOHA, I believe the movement to plant-based protein has positive health benefits. By making a nutritious product that tastes good, has organic, real ingredients and an affordable price point, we are able to provide a service to consumers.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Surround yourself with smart people. You can coach many skills, but you can’t teach smarts. I hire specifically for people who have the ability to do much more than one role or one function. With a smaller startup like ALOHA, we have a lot to accomplish and need to be scrappy.
2. Being a CEO requires much more than just having a vision — or “Founderitis” as a I call it. You really have to be intimate with the details of your company. Of course, you need to have a vision and a mission, but you have to be able to execute it and fulfill the vision.
3. Transparency is a necessity in today’s world. This applies to every constituency: retail partners, employees and consumers. For our retailers, I want to be in a partnership where I have direct conversations with them and they can have real conversations with me as well. We win, or we lose together. When it comes to employees, it’s important to be transparent on how we’re doing and where we need to improve as a business. And, with consumers, they are so smart, savvy and connected so we have to give them full transparency into how we’re operating and how our products are made in order to turn them into brand advocates. If you ever break that transparency and trust, it can have huge impacts.
4. Good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster. You need to deal with the latter early and be tough about facing it bravely and head on.
5. The shortest distance between two points is often not a straight line. This is the case if you’re a CEO or work in any business. Creativity and the willingness to ask the questions “why” or “why not” will enable you to make sure you’re making the right long-term decision for the company and the consumer.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Quoting John Adams: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” I like it because it’s so true and relevant to a startup company.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I would love to have breakfast with John Mackey. As the founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, he revolutionized a dormant grocery model and brought change to communities, children and the planet. I admire his ability to boldly change the grocery landscape and shake up the entire retail environment through a deal with Amazon.