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Sep 15, 2020
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Episode 2. Susie Quesada
Episode 2. Susie Quesada
Jeff and Susie, President of Ramar Foods, discuss her journey from school teacher to President of a multi-national food Corporation. Susie shares her self-care strategies and how their family-based core values have shaped the company, radically reduced their carbon footprint, and created a safe environment for human conversations about continuous improvement, performance, and race relations.

Transcript

Intro: Duration: (2:25)

Opening music jingle & sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

This is Human Capital sponsored by GoalSpan, and I’m Jeff Hunt. Human Capital is the place where I get to interview dynamic thought leaders in business to help us learn how to embrace the value of Human Capital. My guest today is Susie Quesada. Susie is the President of Ramar foods, and Ramar is the number one Filipino food manufacturing company in the US, and has growing distribution also in Europe the Middle East and Australia. The company was founded in 1969 and has been family owned ever since. Of course, I appreciate the family legacy since I was President my family 75-year-old company in a former career. Susie and I had a lot in common in that regard, so maybe we'll hear a little bit about that today. And I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for about six years. So, she is a great person. Welcome Susie!

Susie Quesada:

Thanks Jeff, thanks for having me.

Jeff Hunt:

So, I always like to start out the interviews with a personal question and, so the question is I would love for you to share with our listeners something about your family, something interesting about your experiences growing up that led you into business.

Susie Quesada:

Sure, I would love to elaborate. The interesting thing about being a part of my family's business is there was never an expectation for me to actually join the family business. When my grandmother started it she really started businesses so that her kids could take over, and this particular business my dad took over, and as we were growing up with my dad I worked in the company for a long time since I was a kid, helping out wherever I could, filing, helping in production even, summer vacations, or even on the weekends, but there was never an expectation that oh, you know one day you're gonna work here full time, or that you would even take over.

So, I actually took a different route with my career and went to school to be a public-school teacher.

Jeff Hunt:

Oh cool. Very cool.

Topic 1. Helping Culture (2:25)

Jeff Hunt:

And so, based on that experience you were a teacher for a while and then eventually you ended up back in a business. And so, tell us a little bit about that journey and what prompted you to jump back into the business.

Susie Quesada:

It was really my dad. So always growing up working in the business one of the things I really liked to do on my summer break was to work at the Filipino Festivals. They’d be community festivals where I would scoop ice cream and, we had the longest line at the festival, and it was just fun to talk to people and serve ice cream.

So, when my dad asked me, hey, you know, what do you think about coming and learning the business? My whole thought process was oh yeah! it's gonna be about, you know, serving ice cream and fun marketing events that's kind of what I was thinking, and it ended up being a little different.

It was more of why don't you fill in for somebody who's out on maternity leave in accounting? So, it was an interesting experience, I ended up taking a two-year leave of absence from teaching, and that's kind of how my dad presented it. He said, come learn the business, you know you might even like it after two years, but if you don't, you can just go back to teaching, you won't lose your tenure and you know continue to do what you love and, as I helped out I started to learn why my dad worked so hard.

And I really got to understand not just the marketing side of business. Because it's food, I mean who doesn't love serving and eating food? Especially food that I grew up eating and I was so proud to eat and a lot of the recipes are family recipes, but it was really, what drew me was, that my dad created this culture and atmosphere where he was helping other families reach their dreams too, and I think that was really what sparked my attention so that after the two years were up, I never had a discussion with him, we just kind of plowed through.

Jeff Hunt:

Sure, yeah that's so cool. I love that story on multiple fronts, because number one, you weren't pressured to get into the business whereas, you know, there's 5.5 million family businesses in this country and they uphold a tremendous part of our economy, but in many cases there is huge family pressure to enter the business so, that seems like a big win for you, to be able to sort of make the decision on your own.

Susie Quesada:

It worked for our family yeah.

Topic 2. Leadership Parallels Between School Teacher and President of a Multi-National Food Corporation (5:27)

Jeff Hunt:

Exactly. This is interesting because I did remember that you were a former teacher and so, I had a question that I wanted to ask you about that. because actually some people would say that, it is significantly more difficult to be a teacher, than being president of multinational food corporation now, of course that's debatable but my question is from a leadership perspective, what parallels do you see between the teaching environment and leading in the business world?

Susie Quesada:

That's a great question, there are so many parallels. I think the first one is when I made the transition you have to work with a lot of people. As a teacher you're very autonomous in your classroom, and you're constantly working with people so, you're serving the kids, so I taught sixth grade which means I had, almost 200 students coming through my classroom, a day sometimes, and so we're having to adapt to their style, and what's going to get them motivated, and at the same time there's their parents, that you have to also communicate with and then you're working with, and collaborating with, the other teachers in your grade, or in your subject matter, as well as on a bigger scale, the other teachers at the school. We had a great leader, our principal Diane Kerr, she was this amazing dynamic leader who, really brought us together and led by consensus, so, when I came over, I was working for the family business and I realized that the dynamic can be very similar, where you're working with a lot of different people and supporting their families, so it wasn't just the employee who works for us, but it's their whole family too. So, is nice to get to know their family and understand what their dynamic was, so there was a parallel there, and just collaboration. And then as far as, leadership and training, there's another parallel because, most of my day I spend working with other leaders, and helping them work with their teams, and how to collaborate with their teams, and promote a positive working culture, a place of psychological safety, which is basically what I did as a teacher.

Jeff Hunt:

Wow! I love the analogy there because, really what's talking about is building culture, and whether you're doing that in the classroom or, with other stakeholders that are related to classroom like, faculty other teachers or families, it's really the same in business, because you have all these stakeholders, and if you have the ability to create culture that has that safety and the relational aspects, and also the learning that's associated with it and both environments, you can really create kind of an environment that people want to be in, or excited about, it promotes learning and development, would you say that's kind of an accurate reflection of what you're trying to describe?

Susie Quesada:

Yes, definitely, I ran my classroom using Stephen Covey's seven-effective habits, those were like the rules of my classroom. Which is interesting because, when I got into the business world, I started reading the business parts of those books, whereas before I read the one for kids, and it just translated so well, so the values in the classroom setting, that we’ve also incorporated into the business setting, those are our go-to’s, right? we do everything based on those values: hiring, retention, the way that we've been dealing with the pandemic, everything we've been doing is, are we sticking to our values? And I think that is important in leadership because, you know what’s driving you and you won't stray from those values.

Jeff Hunt:

Definitely, and it doesn't mean that they make your decisions easier, sometimes they make them harder, don't they?

Susie Quesada:

That is true.

Topic 3. Core Values and Purpose (9:44)

Jeff Hunt:

Because you might really like somebody, may have to chemistry with them but, if they don't fit your core values or they compromise them some way, then you may choose not to hire them, or you may have to have a tough performance conversation with them. So, yeah that makes perfect sense, and that's actually a great segue to kind of my next question, which is about, vision, values, core purpose, we talked a little bit about values, but, talk to me a little bit about Ramar foods core purpose and, maybe you can share a little bit more about your values as a company and, the type of culture you're trying to create.

Susie Quesada:

Sure¡ So, Jeff you actually helped this, create values and, you know, I think it was something that, as a company we had them, there in the background they just weren't intentional. So you released that, sat down with my team, and we, kind of extracted them from, the best parts of the culture and, in doing so, we were being really intentional about, well this is our purpose and these are our values, and people are like you're right! no one's ever said that, but it is, it's true!

So while some of our wordings have changed over the years, it's still, our true purpose, which is to nourish our community, while we celebrate our family food legacy. And, when we talk about nourishment, it's not just through the food that we make, because it is a good quality of food, but it's also through nourishing, you know people, in the community, and so, we talk about the community it's the greater community that we serve, as far as our customers, it also includes our employees and their families.

And then, the actual communities that we do business in so, in this case it's the communities where our buildings are, where we are. And then also in the greater Filipino community, Asian community, and how we can make an impact on each one of those communities, and of course we had to include family in our core purpose because we are. We're going on 51 years, and my grandmother she really, instilled in us these values that we extracted together.

So, the first one is to be Ramarkable and, we spell it wrong because we spell it the Ramar, and, that basically means that, we do things with perseverance and humility. Then our second value is, to make it the best, no matter what it is we try to make it the best. Whether it's our process, our product, or our people, and with that comes a continuous improvement mindset, that's something we've added over the couple years, as we became a continuous improvement culture, and we continue to build that. And then our last value is to treat everyone like family. So, again that means our employees, their families, our suppliers, our partners that we work with, and then our customers that we serve.

Jeff Hunt:

Sure. I love that, I also am just reflecting as you share those about how, the first two especially, are very actionable. So, you could literally have initiatives corporately that, make sure that you're achieving those core values, that you're living them out. Which is great because, oftentimes and organizations it feels like they become a little too touchy feely or, they become like the ether and, okay we say we're gonna do this but, how we actually do it? So, it feels like you're actually really presenting a good model or, a good example for, how to live those out. And I love the family one, and businesses that have a family type culture don't have to be family businesses, you know, I work with a lot of companies over the years that are not family businesses, that still have that care and compassion, and essentially what it sounds like you're saying is, you're not having to do a lot to motivate people to come to work, and to want to stay working for Ramar foods for a long time, and maybe even attracts new talent into the organization because, they understand that kind of ethos that you have internally. Would you say that's true?

Susie Quesada:

Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of leaders share that same value of, you know, if I take care of my people then, they're gonna take care of my business. Whether we're blood related or not, and you know, I work with my two younger brothers, and other than that, there's not really any other family members in the business. My parents are still, you know, they're practicing retirement so, they're not active on the day-to-day, but I think taking care of our people is the most important thing as a leader, and a lot of other businesses can do that without having family members in the business.

Topic 4. Motivation, Stress, Mindfulness (15:10)

Jeff Hunt:

Sure. Yeah, definitely. Okay sometimes for executives, it can get a little lonely at the top. Especially if you don't have good support mechanisms in place, and you know, obviously if we don't put our oxygen mask on first, we can't help others. I would love to know what you do for support what helps you stay motivated inspired even during difficult times.

So, ultimately you can continue to uphold that culture and lead your organization well. What are the things that you do for self-care?

Susie Quesada:

I’m a big believer in self-care, and I do a number of things. I really try to take care of my body and spirit. I'm always been big at working out. I still play soccer although that's a pause right now, I go to an adult league and so there's that team camaraderie that, I really like, in playing team sports.

Other than that, I do a lot of hiking, and biking, and working out, and then I recently started meditating, I would say not even on a year since November started meditating, and that has been really helpful. Tried all kinds of techniques and finally I'm technique that works for me.

It's just like anything. There's all these different types out there, and you have to find what's right for you. And then my yoga practice over the last three years has really been helpful, and taught me to center, and breathe, and be able to handle the challenges that come down the line. I do have to say that having the right people in the right places, is immensely helpful because of time to do self-care.

Yeah, just the mindset of, I'm so overwhelmed with everything right now and, most people would say, okay, just do everything one at a time, but I actually just stop, and breathe. Stopping is actually I needed. Being able to take care of myself and just stop, even if it's for 20 minutes.

Just going for a walk, it rejuvenates.

Jeff Hunt:

That's so awesome. What a great example because, so many executives get into the spiral where, things are crazy, and they're super busy, and then they feel like we have to do is just work harder. When it's this kind of ironic or backwards response, ideally what we should be doing is, stepping back from the business and rejuvenating ourselves, filling our own tank, and then, when we return we're gonna be that much more productive, and we're gonna be that much more present with our people, be able to communicate better.

So, I just feel like that, is a really great example, and I also appreciate that you brought up the idea of meditation because, if you look at the last few years, mindfulness has taken on a, huge role for HR departments in many organizations across country, and it's become something that organizations now understand the ROI for better. So, I think finding the right meditation practice is very helpful.

There are a couple of apps out there for those of you that are listening that are interested. One is the Calm app, and another one is called Headspace, and both of those apps are a little bit different, and there's also some free apps that are out there.

I think Medito maybe one of them. I believe it's, I may have to correct that spelling, but it's sponsored by Salesforce.com, so they've actually made available for free I believe for people.

Susie Quesada:

That's great. They're teaching it in the schools now. They teach mindfulness in the school. Which is such an amazing tool to teach kids, because if you can start that habit early, than is just so much better when you become an adult. It's just like anything the more you practice the better you get at it. As a leader and as somebody who likes to be a high achiever, I tried meditation five years ago and I just kept on not being so great at it, and so I pushed it to the side until, I read a book and they said, you know what you're gonna fail at meditation, every day you do it. Until you practice and practice and you just get better so just like with anything else. I practice it every day and I get a little bit better every day.

Jeff Hunt:

That's great, yeah. I love it. So, I would like to shift and reflect on the fact that in this country this year, it's been an unbelievably challenging time for the problems that we've had with racial injustice, violence, and also just the exposure of the lack of diversity in companies and so, what I'd love to know from you, and this is so relevant too because you guys are ethnically manufacturing company, and your grandmother, if I remember correctly, immigrated to the US, is that correct Susie? So, that's especially relevant and so I would love to know, from you, what advice you have for everyone about, what our role is regardless of our ethnicity, our race, our religion, anything about us, what is the role of leadership in combating racism and promoting diversity in the companies that we lead?

Susie Quesada:

I'm glad to ask that question. This is one of those topics that make people uncomfortable, even leaders right? at anywhere that you go, and I think it's important that we just acknowledge it, and we acknowledge that it's okay to talk about it, even if you don't necessarily know how to talk about it, there's no wrong way, there's no necessarily right way.

I think just making it a safe space, as a leader to have the conversations. So, modeling those conversations and then helping others have the conversations, I think is one of the most important things. We did that in our company, we were affected especially when some of the protests did turn ugly, and you know, people didn't feel safe, so we had to educate.

About what's the difference between a protest and a riot, and have that common language, so people understood the language that was circulating on the news, and just talk about you know, being kind and being understanding of each other. So, I think that's like the jumping-off point right? it's just make that safe space.

Next, I think is some trainings, now I'm a big believer in trainings. I don’t know if it's the teacher in me, but we had kind of like the canned, diversity and inclusion trainings, that we had before, and so that's something that my leadership team feels very strongly about, and so we're building a new, you know program, that I think will really address what's going on out there today.

Topic 5. Performance Conversations (23:04)

Jeff Hunt:

Fantastic. Yeah, it just I guess training is also sort of help to keep it on the forefront as well, so you're creating an environment that promotes those conversations number one, and then you're also reinforcing it through the trainings it sounds like. So, that's great. I love it. Let's see, let's shift and talk a little bit about performance.

What advice can you share about how to have difficult performance conversations, whether they are remote, and you know remote working or in your case, you have essential workers and so you know, a lot of people are still coming to work at the plant every day, but when you think about, your experiences in terms of what's worked well and what has not worked well having difficult performance conversations what comes to mind?

Susie Quesada:

I think what's difficult about, the conversations themselves, is most people don't want to have them. And people are just like you know, I know I need to have this discussion, and they kind of put it off, and so one thing we talk about at Ramar is to give feedback right away, positive and negative, because we want the opportunity to be seen, we want that, it happened today and by tomorrow we found a way to you know, make it better so I think that's the first part, is just addressing it right away, because we have a lot of essential workers it is happening more, you know, 6 feet away.

And we continued with our performance appraisals this year and they were a little bit late, then when they would have been. So, we did a lot of them remote, and they turned out well. I think we really just focus on how we can use our strengths. So, instead of saying do this, and do that, and do this, it's more of a, how can you make this issue better? If you really put it back on them, instead of telling them how to do it better, they have the answer, and so we really worked with our managers on, scripted questions that would kind of make sense depending on who you're talking to, about what, that would encourage them to talk.

Jeff Hunt:

I love that! So, you're making those conversations very forward-focused, so even in the case, it sounds like where you may have a difficult performance issue, yes you're gonna reflect on that, but you're also gonna turn that forward-thinking, and maybe in more of a coaching approach, in a way that empowers them to come up with their own solutions, versus creating a dependency that they may end up having on a manager, to constantly be telling them what to do or what to change, is that right?

Susie Quesada:

I like how you use forward-thinking because most appraisals are in the past. Have been, you know a combination of all the things I did wrong which is why nobody wants to go to those right? So, we're trying to address any of the little, things that happen along the way, address them right away, so when we get to your performance we're actually talking about, the future, and not what you did over the last six months. It's really like what are you gonna do in the next three months? So, that's been a huge step for us, and it's worked out really nicely, I've never heard this until we changed our approach. Now hear managers saying I'm looking forward for appraisals whereas before it was like this big chore nobody wanted to do.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah, that is an incredible concept! To hear a manager actually saying they are looking forward to performance reviews, and I run a performance review technology company and so. Anyway, that's really cool, it's a true shift, isn't it?

I guess what you're saying is that if you kind of embody this process you really can create a shift internally on how it's perceived.

Susie Quesada:

Yes, and it's such a new shift for us. I can't say oh we are a hundred percent there, because any change we do you know it takes time to kind of, get into the culture in the language and all that so, but I think we have a really good start, and that's a feedback I got so far.

Topic 6. Green Actions (27:55)

Jeff Hunt:

That's awesome, that's really cool. Now you guys are a green company, in several ways, and I was just wondering if you could share a little bit about that, what you're doing in that area, if I remember correctly your dad had a lot of passion in that area as well, and so, tell us a little bit about what you guys do, to be green and reduce your carbon footprint as a global food manufacturing company, and what your motivations are behind that.

Susie Quesada:

Sure. I mean, you know, we've only got one world, and we have to take care of it. One of the things that we did was, we added a fuel cell a couple years ago, it's a new technology that helped us basically take some of our power off the grid, we use natural resources to run it. And this helps because being a frozen food manufacturer, we have freezers that are running 24/7. So, that accompanied with solar, really helps take us off the grid, helps with our carbon footprint, and you know, what we put into this world is what we get, so we want to take care of it as much as possible.

I think it's something that my dad instilled in all of us, myself and my brothers. And then we also work on our waste. As a continuous improvement company, we're always trying to eliminate waste, right? So, wherever we can, whether it's on the line, or with products spoilage, shrinkage, all of that, we want to reduce waste. Packaging is another big step that we're taking, there are a lot more packaging companies out there that are using earth finally inks, which we use, and then also, where we get our packaging so, how long it takes to get to us, so that we can understand the carbon footprint that we know that got it.

Jeff Hunt:

That's great. Well, once again, it seems like it's another piece of evidence about how forward-thinking and proactive you are as an organization, so I just really applaud you guys because, it takes a lot of effort and inertia, to focus on becoming more green. You know at most businesses and leaders are so focused on revenue growth and, they're focused on, you know, just making sure that they're producing shareholder results, and so I guess in some ways it demonstrates that you can do both. based on what you guys have done.

So yeah, really applaud you in that area. So, I'm just gonna ask a couple more questions and then we'll wrap up. Who do you look for inspiration and mentorship?

Susie Quesada:

Yeah, great question. It's a little bit part of self-care too, I am part of, a few different business groups, that really helped me as far as mentorship. I think that mentorship goes both ways so, I lead a formal mentorship program at Ramar too, so when I mentor others, I learned just as much as they do. But I am part of the women's presence organization, and we meet monthly.

That's been amazing, with some amazing leaders, and learned so much from them. It's just nice to know that you have someone to call when, you have nobody else to ask, because you do feel alone sometimes, what am I going to do about this?

So that's just so nice to have at your fingertips and creating these relationships with people who are in your same, situation. I'm also part of what I call my men's group, It's not necessarily, only four men, is just that my group is just me and some other men, all them leaders, and they’re great as the executive advisory council. They've been part of that group for ten years now, and then the women's group for about seven years, and then I recently went back to school, and I got an executive education. And I'm actually tapping in now to that alumni association. I have a forum with them, between all three of these wait, sorry, one, two, three.

So, that's with Harvard Business School. And then the newest one that I just joined, is actually called Tugboat Institute, and it was founded here, in the Bay Area in Stanford, and it's a group of evergreen companies. So, it made me think of it when you're talking about shareholder value, because one of the principles of evergreen companies is, pays growth people first, and really taking care of, your company as a private company.

And so I'm really excited to have just join them, and now I have all of these mentors, that I look to and they really support me on a day-to-day basis, I'm also an avid reader, I love to read and I would say a few of my favorites right now would be Bernie Brown.

That I really look up to .She's amazing, and I listen to a lot of podcasts so I’m really glad you’re doing this podcast because, I feel like the more that I can learn from other leaders like you, I feel supported. And it's so hard sometimes where you're so challenged and feeling overwhelmed, that you know, you can find support anywhere you turn.

Jeff Hunt:

Yes, well and I love what you shared because, it's a demonstration that it's a multifaceted approach. Like you've got a lot of different things going on, for support mentorship, to be inspired by others, to kind of fill your tank. So, it’s not going to come from one single source for any person.

So, I think that's really cool. Okay, you already answered one of my lightning round questions, which was your top book recommendation, but you actually just mentioned the author so I'm wondering if Brené Brown, if you have any specific book that you recommend from her, for our listeners, is there one book that you're thinking of by her that's good.

Susie Quesada:

Daring Greatly comes to mind first, but I love all her books.

Jeff Hunt:

Well and I think, just for people that are familiar with her, one of the things that she espouses is vulnerability based leadership, right? so it's coming into the workplace as a leader, authentically sharing our own vulnerabilities, doing it in a way that can promote a culture of trust so that others will do the same. Which ultimately built relationship, and allows us to flourish both relationally and corporately right?

Susie Quesada:

Yes, which is my second favorite book from her is dear to lead. which shows studies on how leaders open-up and be vulnerable, and it can really elevate their organization.

Topic 7. Lightning Round Questions (35:47)

Jeff Hunt:

Nice. I have to read that one so, I haven't read that yet, that's now on my list, okay, so I have a few lightning round questions.

I'm gonna ask these and the first thing that comes to mind you can just shout out, so the first question is who would you interview if you could dead or alive?

Susie Quesada:

Oprah

Jeff Hunt:

Nice, what's one thing on your bucket list?

Susie Quesada:

Hmm, seeing the northern lights.

Jeff Hunt:

Oh, I love it, what is one thing that you're most grateful for?

Susie Quesada:

Oh, my family.

Jeff Hunt:

Definitely. Okay, then the last one, what is the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Susie Quesada:

That's hard to do lightning. Best piece of advice. I kind of go to, change so this is through somebody from my Toastmasters group, and he tells a story about, what he was going through his own leadership, and he led an insurance company, that somebody told him, when he was first starting out, hey! things are gonna change you know?, and you might not like the change, but just go ahead and go with it, because they're gonna eventually correct it, it will be corrected.

And so that has always stuck with me. While I'm usually the wind driving the change, you know, sometimes you even question it and go, why are we doing this again? It’s so hard. And just know that I gotta stay the course, and that it's okay if we have to tweak it, in a way that's gonna make it work, or maybe it's just not gonna work at all, you just try the next thing.

Jeff Hunt:

That's such a great lesson for everybody is, nothing is terminal like, it's not permanent right?

Susie Quesada:

Not permanent just try it out you might like it, or you might hate it, and then you can just move on.

Jeff Hunt:

Exactly I love it that's great well Susie thank you so much for joining us today and sharing all this fantastic wisdom. I know that it's gonna be appreciated by a lot of people so, I really appreciate what you're doing as a leader, and just the way that you're putting yourself out there, and the example that you're setting, and I just wish you the very best for Ramar foods and everything else so thanks for joining today.

Susie Quesada:

Thank you so much, thanks for having me, it was really a pleasure.

Jeff Hunt:

You bet.


Outro: (38:21)

Closing music jingle & sound effects

Thanks for listening to the show this week. we release a new episode of Human Capital on the first and third Tuesday of each month, I would really like to know what you thought of this episode, send your comments to humancapital@goalspan.com. Human Capital is produced by GoalSpan, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends, thanks for being human kind.

Human Capital — Episode 2. Susie Quesada
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