A proven leader in building and executing strategic plans that drive revenue growth and productivity (while also increasing employee engagement and loyalty), Jolie Weber is a force to be reckoned with in her field. Today, she serves as CEO of Lenny and Larry’s, and she joins the show to discuss her incredible journey to the powerful position she is in now, including all the trials and tribulations she faced along the way.
Listen in as Jolie explains the importance of taking risks in your career and being willing to fail. You will learn the benefit of asking for help and speaking up when you have something to say—because you deserve to be heard. Jolie also gives her advice for any woman looking to make a big career jump into the C-suite.
Empower to In Power, a podcast mini-series highlighting the trailblazing journeys of women who boldly carved a path to leadership.
“I have generally grown up in the south and never wanted to be that small-town girl.”
People who empowered them along the way.
“What differentiates an extraordinary leader from other people is their degree of emotional resilience.”
And how they continue to empower forward for the women to come.
“The tools that I have learned in my life, they kind of reside in a big toolbox that I carry around with me.”
Thank you for joining us.
Vicki Shackley: Hi everyone, welcome to Signature Women’s new podcast, Empower to In Power, where we explore the journeys of some of the most successful women in their industries and learn more about their path and how they’re helping others come behind them.
Vicki Shackley: Today we’re so excited to have Jolie Weber, CEO of Lenny & Larry’s, home of the Original Complete Cookie and protein and plant-based snacks. Jolie, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jolie Weber: My pleasure and thank you for having me.
Vicki Shackley: Tell us a little bit about your journey. You have worked in several continents. You have worked across several different beverage, snacks. You were all things that I’ve been doing too much of during COVID and so I wanted to hear a little bit how you got to Lenny and Larry’s.
Jolie Weber: Absolutely. Yeah, so as I always like to tell people I’m in the business of feeding and hydrating everyone, so that nobody goes hungry and nobody goes thirsty. But yeah, so I have been my entire career in some form of CPG and frankly it’s been tremendous., But I started my career first with Coca-Cola and really was kind of hand-picked or recruited when I was still in school at the University of Georgia. I went to the business school there and at the time focused in international marketing with a minor in Spanish, but was handpicked and of course given the roots here of Coca-Cola in Atlanta had an opportunity to go to a country where my skills could be used, but also the fact that I spoke Spanish could be helpful.
Jolie Weber: And yeah, honestly, out of the gate I thought at least in my mind, I thought, oh my gosh, I get to go to Mexico or Spain or Columbia, you know all the big countries that you think of. And lo and behold, the country that I ended up actually being selected for is a small landlocked country in the southern part of South America, by the name of Paraguay, and of course like many people you go, “Where? Where’s that? Where am I going? What do I pack?”
Vicki Shackley: Yeah, exactly.
Jolie Weber: I had to look and see, what was the weather, did they actually speak Spanish there? A lot of unfamiliarity at the time, but nonetheless started out on the journey and probably a good thing I was pretty naive in terms of what to expect. But those are some of the best moments in life when you head off and just kind of say, look, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and I’m going to try this. And so I did go to Paraguay for a couple of years, working with Coca-Cola, particularly in the marketing and market research area. Just to give you a little bit of context, Coca Cola at the time in Paraguay had 98% market share. So it was quite an amazing experience in terms of just owning a country and owning the consumers and the connection that the brand had with people there.
Jolie Weber: And so I got a wealth of training from not only one of the best brand companies in the world, but also from the experience on the ground in Paraguay. And I would say at first probably I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity to go to a country like Paraguay, but it turned out to be a tremendous blessing for a couple of reasons. And that was nobody spoke English so I was forced to speak Spanish and till today, use it almost daily, which is so valuable.
Vicki Shackley: Full immersion.
Jolie Weber: Full immersion. Yeah. Nobody could get by with English, which would have been very different obviously in a country like Mexico or Spain. So that was great. And then, like I said, just a tremendous induction to the discipline of marketing and market research with such a world leader when it comes to branding.
Jolie Weber: And so really got my feet wet on that and had a great time. The third thing, I guess, that came out of it is I actually met my husband in Paraguay and so that was also a bonus.
Vicki Shackley: What a good souvenir.
Jolie Weber: Yeah. I know bring something back with you, right? Permanent. But then we decided to get married and I actually came back to the US. And when we came back, I went to work for a company at the time was Suntory Water Group, but you would know it particularly here in the southeast, under the Crystal Springs Water brand. And so had the opportunity I was still in beverages and it was still kind of in the marketing space, let’s call it. But when I took on that opportunity, my marketing experience not only was important, but I then had the opportunity to get more involved in an M&A so mergers and acquisitions.
Jolie Weber: At the time that I was with the organization, the bottled water industry was exploding so from a personal use perspective, Aquafina was being introduced, Dasani was being introduced and of course, Crystal Springs and many others were coming on the marketplace. And the distinction between the Dasani’s and the Aquafina’s was they are purified waters and then Crystal Springs, of course, was a spring water or is a spring water.
Jolie Weber: So it was really important to have access to springs and so I got the opportunity then to work with the M&A department to acquire businesses so that we could get access, not only to their brands, but then also to their well sites or their spring sites, which was paramount.
Jolie Weber: And so again, building on the marketing experience, but then got my fingers and toes really wet and excited around the mergers and acquisition as well. After a couple of years at Suntory, I was recruited again by another company, which is called Wise and Wise is actually this year, 100 years old and wise really is a salty snack manufacturer.
Vicki Shackley: I’m familiar.
Jolie Weber: Yeah, yeah, you would probably know it under the Wise Potato Chips or Cheez Doodle brands. Anybody who grew up on the east coast would know the brands and they really are kind of legacy heritage brands for a lot of people. And I always enjoyed when I was at Wise and I would tell somebody that I was from Wise or worked with Wise, they would immediately jump into their childhood memory of their experience with the brand, whether it was with their grandparents or with their parents or their own experience in college. And so it’s so exciting and kind of just a passion point when you can see that reaction from people and their connection with brands. And so I’ve always really appreciated that relationship that we all have with not only products, but brands in our lives.
Jolie Weber: But I joined the organization as brand manager and was there for 15 years and my final five years were as CEO. So you can see kind of the…
Vicki Shackley: Transition.
Jolie Weber: Yeah. The career transition and how things developed over 15 years. And not only was it just an amazing journey for me, but also just the 15 years was such a great experience. It really kind of…
Vicki Shackley: A balance of going from a marketing role to a—I think you were CFO and then CEO, how did you kind of handle that transition?
Jolie Weber: Yeah. So great question. And I never, honestly, well, I wanted to be very successful in business and exceed and, do amazing things. I never had really set my sights on CEO, but at one point in my career, I had an individual who was the CEO of the business at the time, come to me and say, what’s next for you? I see that you have so much more potential, but I don’t know, where do you think you’re headed? And this is somebody who I would point to as well as being truly a sponsor in my career versus mentors. I know we talk about mentors and sponsors, but a sponsor is really somebody who comes behind you and pushes you and says, what are you doing next, who do you want to be, and what do you want to do, kind of thing.
Jolie Weber: And so he asked me that question the first time, and I said, look, I really want to go back and get my MBA. I think that I can do so much more than just marketing and I’ve got interest in other areas, whether it be operations or sales, and I just want to really push myself. And so first thing he did was to support me in going back to school from the time as well as the financial support from the business to do that, which was fantastic. And then second, once I did complete my MBA, he then came back again and asked that same question and said, what’s next for you? And at the time, honestly, I was thinking, look, I want to do something in operations or I want to do something in sales. I knew I wanted to expand my experience so that I could frankly, aspire to being CEO or even COO, at some point.
Jolie Weber: He came back to me and he said, no, I think both of those are a waste of your time, frankly. I think you should be CFO. That was absolutely not on my radar. And my initial reaction, at least internally, not out loud to him was no way I can’t do that. I have no experience to do that. And I should never ever take on something that I feel like I don’t have the experience or that I could fail at. And so, I said, thank you for the opportunity. Let me think about it and I’ll come back to you. And I don’t know what came over me if it was just where I was in my career or where I thought I wanted to go but at that moment, it was probably the first time I can remember in my career where I said, you know what heck with it, if I fail, I fail. But I would rather have tried this and gotten the experience out of it than to look back 15 or 20 years from now and say, why didn’t I do that? And really kick myself and say, I had such a great opportunity and I let it go to waste.
Jolie Weber: And so I went back to him and I said, look, I don’t know if I can do this or not. I think I can. And I’m going to give it a hundred percent and I think I can be successful and I want to do it. And he was 100% supportive. And so I launched off into my career as a CFO and it was phenomenal.
Jolie Weber: I’m not going to say that it wasn’t very difficult, particularly in the first six months of trying to learn everything very rapidly and drank from a fire hose. But it was really a turning point in my career and something that allowed me to then sit in the CEO seat, having had the marketing experience, the exposure to sales, and then particularly the financial handle on things as a leader of an organization. So yeah, it was great making that transition. Completely unusual I think. You know you don’t see that a lot, but it turned out to be a great opportunity and a pathway for me at my time at Wise.
Vicki Shackley: And I’m sure a lot of hard work along the way.
Jolie Weber: It was. It was hard work. It was different work. Obviously there was a lot of things that I had to learn or just teach myself thank goodness for the internet, because you can go out and look things up. I also would tell you, I had just a great support network, internally and externally as well. So as things came up that I was either uncomfortable about, or just completely unsure about, I wasn’t afraid or shy to reach out and just say, look, I don’t get this. Or can you help me with something? And I think particularly when we’re younger in our careers, we have a tendency to think that we should know everything and not want to ask for help. But I think as we mature as individuals and professionals, we are much more open to asking for help, and I would always encourage people, ask for that help. Don’t be shy. It doesn’t make you look fragile, weak, or uninformed. It Just means that you’re human, frankly.
Vicki Shackley: I feel like you may have already answered this, but what is the best advice you can give women who want to jump into the C-suite? Is it don’t fear the fear or, what is the best things they can be doing?
Jolie Weber: Yeah, I think there’s frankly, a number of things and you did just mention one of them. Which is what I always share with, women that I’m working with, whether it’s internally or externally, and that is failure’s not fatal. Don’t be afraid to try things and I tell my daughter this, even till today, and I tell her some of the best learnings in life are from your failures. I have tended to learn far more from when I have failed at something than when I did it perfect. And then, six years later, I can’t remember actually what I did when I was successful, but six years later, I can remember how I corrected something when I failed at it. So just don’t be afraid to fail. We all make mistakes and frankly, we learn from it and I think we’re better off for it.
Jolie Weber: I would also tell women in particular that don’t be afraid to speak up. I think when I was younger or newer in my career, there was a lot of times where I hesitated to speak up, particularly in large audiences that were dominated by men. And I kind of took the old adage of better to be thought a fool than to be known a fool. So better not to say something, but the reality is, that you’re in the room or you’re at the table for a reason and people want to hear from you and you should be heard. And so don’t be afraid to put your thoughts, ideas, considerations on the table, even if you get pushback or even if you get challenged. Those are all part of your personal growth and that’s part of your contribution to the organization that you’re in.
Jolie Weber: So I think, don’t be afraid to speak up would be really a second one. And then a third, I would say, and this is I think, very particular to women, unfortunately, and that is we, as women tend to be perfectionists. We want to do everything to the absolute, best of our ability and to have every t crossed and every i dotted and sometimes that’s necessary, but we tend to take it to an extreme where it becomes an impediment for us. And so I always encourage people think about things in a way that is this good enough, do I have enough information? And have I looked at it in enough ways to move forward? It may not be perfect, but it’s good enough. And sometimes speed is important in making decisions and so it can’t be just sitting until everything is perfect. And so I think those are a couple of things that I would recommend as women think about the C-suite and how to make sure they’re successful there.
Vicki Shackley: Right. Let’s talk a little bit about Lenny’s & Larry’s and what you’ve been doing there, because it looks like you’ve really expanded the footprint and the distribution, and in your short time there have made quite an impact.
Jolie Weber: Yeah. So, I mean, Lenny & Larry’s has been a very interesting journey. Interesting in a very positive way, I will say, but I left Wise or exited from the organization late in 2019. And honestly thought I was going to take about six months just to refresh myself, kind of ground myself and say, look, I’ve done all these things, what is it that you want to do next? And such as life on the day that I was actually leaving, my last day of work at Wise, on my way home from work, I got a call from a recruiter and the recruiter said, “Hey, we heard that you’re on the market. Can we talk?” I said, “I haven’t even finished my last day, but sure.” And initially again, it was one of those things where I was like, nah, I want to take some time off. I’m not really interested. It was on the west coast. Interesting product, but thank you but no thank you.
Jolie Weber: And they were very persistent and kept coming back and saying, look, we just really just give us the time, come out and see us one time. And so I eventually conceded and said, okay, let’s get together. And so I think in November of 19, I flew out for the first time and met with the ownership group and some of the employees and the senior leadership team. And it was one of those things that I just, I fell in love with every aspect of the business, from the brand to the story, to the products, to the leadership team, to the ownership groups. It was just one of those natural fits. And you say, look, this is something I want to do and I have to do.
Jolie Weber: And so I accepted the role and took on the CEO position as of February of 2020. So you all know what happened in March of 2020. And that is on Friday the 13th, I flew home from California for the last time, and then did not go back out to see my team for six months. So it was very much a unexpected twist in what I was looking or expecting to do, let’s say with Lenny and Larry’s. We very much went into crisis mode of managing the business for the first, I would say six to eight months of the business. Just how the landscape was changing. So many unknowns. Of course employees were concerned about what was happening. And so just, I give you that context because it was a very different reality than what I had expected going in, but it ended up being an amazing experience thus far.
Jolie Weber: And we adapted and pivoted as an organization. That’s the one thing I would say about making sure as a leader that you always have a good team in place. Teams make a difference. The team here at Lenny and Larry’s is just outstanding. And they made the difference in terms of our ability to adapt and to pivot and to be successful, frankly. Throughout this past year, which has really been marked by the pandemic and changes and so many aspects of food and beverage and just, consumer packaged goods overall.
Jolie Weber: One of the ironies that we saw of this pandemic was products that hadn’t been important and had been contracting for frankly decades became very, very fashionable and on fire. Like a product like spam or baking at home, there was just the craziest things were happening and then kind of the new vogue products or things that had been really trending prior to the pandemic got hit quite hard because people weren’t on the go anymore and didn’t have a time crunch or a need to have these kind of meal replacement products. And so there was a huge shift in how the landscape was playing out with food and beverages. But the good news is that we’re starting to see some relief in the marketplace from that. And hopefully with vaccinations and things coming along, we’re going to see some relief. First society to get back moving again and interacting.
Jolie Weber: But no, it’s been a great journey, a great team, great products and we’re excited about what the marketplace has to offer for 2021 and 2022 as well.
Vicki Shackley: That’s right. It was a difficult year to navigate. All right, we’re running out of time, but I wanted to ask you one final question. I know you’ve done a lot of speaking about helping women gain equality in the workplace. How do you feel that’s going in lieu of the last couple years and how can companies kind of lean in and do more there?
Jolie Weber: Yeah, so I think there’s I’ll probably talk from my own experience and kind of what I try to do, and then think about the global side of things and from the company side of things. But personally what I try to do each and every day is just be very mindful, particularly in my organization about what kind of female talent, female leadership do we have, number one. And how are we making sure that those individuals are supported and recognized, frankly, in the right way to keep them engaged and interactive in the workplace? Because I’ve seen so many times over my career where women don’t feel that their voices are being heard. They don’t feel like they’re being supported properly from their time off, whether it’s for taking care of a family member or maternity leave, and many other situations.
Jolie Weber: But it’s so important that we’re listening and making sure that women have, again, that voice and representation at the table to make sure that their situations are unique and each one is individual and we have to make sure that we understand, we understand that and we give them the ability to be successful in today’s business world. And frankly, I think the pandemic has done a lot to equalize things for women from a work perspective. And that doesn’t mean that, that doesn’t come with challenges. I don’t want to say that women weren’t challenged with kids being home and childcare and things like that. But it certainly has allowed women more flexibility in their day than we may have had, or at least in my case that I had before the pandemic. I was on an airplane all the time and I’ve actually had time with my daughter now.
Vicki Shackley: I mean, there could be some upsides to it, right. Flexible work day and not have to travel and being able to be effective from further away and allow them more time with their family. So maybe there’s a positive.
Jolie Weber: Yeah. I mean, there’s always challenges in everything, but I think there are some good things that we can see that came out of the pandemic that hopefully will persist and allow women then some additional flexibility in their lives to manage a lot of the things that they have to juggle. I would also say that from an external standpoint, I also try to connect with other professionals, particularly female professionals that are at inflection points in their career where they’re questioning, should I be pushing for something more? Is there something more I can be doing? Am I asking for enough from my organization and from my superiors? And so just having those open two-way conversations to share my experience and how things worked for me.
Vicki Shackley: So Jolie, the pandemic did offer while some negative, some opportunities for women in the C-suite. Anything else you could say about how women are working, how this has worked for women over the last year?
Jolie Weber: Yeah. So as we all know, and I’m sure that we’ve seen in the news, the pandemic certainly brought with it, some challenges for women, particularly around having the kids at home and having them virtual. And that certainly was something that threw a wrench into all of our schedules. But I would also say that on the positive side, what I’ve seen and experienced with some females as well is they’ve really appreciated and enjoyed the time to be number one at home not traveling and on the road, away from their families. And so that’s been something that’s been welcome.
Jolie Weber: And I think that that to some degree will persist as we now have found that we don’t have to absolutely be traveling to get work done. So that’ll be a positive. I think the flexibility in schedules throughout the day, the ability to pick your child up from school, if they are in fact back in school, which I hope they are. Or to to attend an important event from your child or something with your spouse. Our schedules have just become more flexible in allowing us, I think to better balance. I wouldn’t say perfectly balanced. There’s never a perfect balance, but to better balance the different aspects our life.
Jolie Weber: And then I would probably say the other thing is that I think globally what we have found and this should help women longer term and that is talent doesn’t have to relocate for a job any longer. We have, I think wonderfully discovered that we can have talent just about anywhere and be effective. And so I think that’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for women to be awarded new posts, without having to necessarily relocate their family, which could disrupt their spouse’s career, if their spouse has a career or disruption to the children as well. So hopefully women will get more opportunities because it is now a larger marketplace for them with a lot of opportunity.
Vicki Shackley: We’ve had some of that at our firms. So definitely, I definitely agree. Well, thank you so much for your time today and thank you for sharing your thoughts and all that you’ve done for women and the various companies you’ve worked for.
Thank you again for joining us on Empower to In Power, a podcast mini series by SignatureFD. Be sure to join us every month to hear more stories of strong women and their journeys to leadership.