“My Story Reads Like A Mix Of Forrest Gump Meets Che Guevara, But Of Coffee” With Todd Carmichael
“Even given my extreme adventures, from walking across Antarctica to multiple near death experiences, still the most interesting moments in my career happened when Isolated in the mountains of Haiti, working on our Haitian coffee academy. A UN helicopter appeared overhead and landed on this remote farm just steps away from where our team was working. You can imagine everyone’s surprise, and even more so when President Bill Clinton stepped out “to learn more about our work at the academy.” For a coffee guy living a fringe life and who’s been all over the world, it’s simply not the sort of thing that ever happens.”
I had the pleasure to interview Todd Carmichael, co-founder and CEO of La Colombe Coffee
What is your “backstory”?
My story reads like a mix of Forrest Gump meets Che Guevara, but of coffee. The backstory would take a book, and with all that remains ahead, its hard for me to focus on anything but the wide open future for more than a second or two.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Even given my extreme adventures, from walking across Antarctica to multiple near death experiences, still the most interesting moments in my career happened when Isolated in the mountains of Haiti, working on our Haitian coffee academy. A UN helicopter appeared overhead and landed on this remote farm just steps away from where our team was working. You can imagine everyone’s surprise, and even more so when President Bill Clinton stepped out “to learn more about our work at the academy.” For a coffee guy living a fringe life and who’s been all over the world, it’s simply not the sort of thing that ever happens.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What sets our company apart from the others is that we keep both innovation and people at the very center of our being — we are a human relationship tech company in truth with an eye for ingredients. If you dig inside La Colombe you’ll find people committed to a simple formula, true ingredients plus innovation plus the human element = disruption. Few respect all three.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Y.E.S.! I keep a lab in my offices, I keep labs in my factories, and I keep a lab in my home. I am continually working on the next round — and its coming.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My advice would be, although it is not about you, it all begins with you. Know this, you are your biggest challenge. Not so much employees or anything else. As a CEO, you must evolve at a faster pace than your company and if you do this correctly your staff and your company’s success will follow you.
Oh, and try not to be a dick.
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?
Yes. Although my job means I spend a lot of time in isolation, four outstanding people were instrumental in my development as a CEO. In fact, our “hockey sticking” as a company began when they entered my life. My wife and I made a family when we adopted four children from Ethiopia. They taught me more about life and evolving as leader than anyone else. I have four small mentors, Yemi, Yordi, Selah and Bek, my four amazingly resilient children.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Goodwill is at the core of who I am and what we do at La Colombe. I really only have three things that I can give. My voice, my time, and my resources and I work daily with this trilogy in an attempt to make the world a fairer, better and more decent place for everyone.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each)
- You are your biggest challenge. You need to evolve the fastest. The person that runs the company today is not be the best one for tomorrow. On day one I was one of two employees with no competitors, and now I am one of 1,000 on an entirely different landscape. We need to always be evolving into the next person the company needs. Evolving yourself, that is where you need to invest.
- Let go of certain things and tasks, leave it in the hands of capable others… and do that sooner than your instincts direct you.
- Ultimately, it’s never really about you. Never will be.
- The stakeholders in your company go far beyond those that are shareholders. They are the employees, suppliers, the community and others. Work for all stakeholders not just the shareholders.
- In this game, the winner is the last one standing. This is an ultra-long-distance endurance sport, go strong but be patient. Again, the winner, is that one that is left standing at the end.
- The most important thing is that businesses and people are not in conflict. When you get these two to flow in the same direction — that is when you have something special, when you emerge as a next generational company. This is where success resides.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
A Todd quote? “Work your hardest to evolve what interests you the most — in the most disruptive and irreverent way possible.“
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?
I’ve had the opportunity to have breakfast with so many of my heros and role models, but right now the person at the top of my list would be Elon. I am absolutely curious as to how he keeps his stuffing in the cushion. He is human after all and with so many near misses and alike, how does he manage to keep the crazy in the can?