Boyden's Leadership Series Features Dean Foods' Ralph Scozzafava

Boyden’s Leadership Series presents discussions with business and thought leaders from organizations across the globe. The series focuses on topical issues that offer executives, political leaders and the media insight into current trends in business and talent management in the global marketplace.
This issue features Ralph Scozzafava, Chief Operating Officer of Dean Foods, an American company that reported $8.1 billion in revenue in 2015. Scozzafava discusses his views on leadership and continuous personal growth; Dean Foods’ business strategy and approach to corporate social responsibility; how the digital revolution has changed the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry; and his “no jerks” policy.
Scozzafava joined Dean Foods in October 2014 as Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. He was promoted to his current position in October 2015. In this role, Scozzafava oversees the commercial functions of Sales, Marketing and R&D, along with Operations and Procurement and Logistics. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Stage Stores, Inc. where he is a member of the Compensation Committee and the Audit Committee.
Scozzafava previously served as Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of Furniture Brands International, Inc. This followed several leadership positions at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, including Vice President - Worldwide Commercial Operations and Vice President & Managing Director - North America/Pacific. Earlier in his career Scozzafava held sales, marketing and merchandising positions at Campbell Soup Company, Clorox Company, and Johnson & Johnson.
Boyden: You have had a long, successful career in the CPG industry. What is it about this industry that piqued your interest at the outset, and what’s kept you here?
Scozzafava: I’ve always been interested in understanding the consumer – what people buy and how their behaviors are influenced by current market trends. It’s a bit like being an anthropologist: observing the individuals in a specific market; finding out who they are, how they live; and ultimately, how their environment influences their behavior as consumers.
Once I was a part of the industry and had the opportunity to manage brands, it was just a lot of fun. It’s a scalable business. There are lots of smart people in it. I’m lucky I stumbled onto it early on.
Boyden: How have your previous roles at Dean Foods or other roles in your career prepared you for your current role?
Scozzafava: I spent most of my career in what I’d call “premier consumer products companies,” and held roles across many different functions, eventually becoming a general manager.
Working in these diverse functions and at different companies – and ultimately managing whole business units, both domestically and globally – prepared me for virtually everything I see in my current role. Joining Dean Foods on the commercial side, before moving to operations, gave me a chance to learn the business, its nuances and its people. I now have unique perspective and can make more informed decisions.
Boyden: What would you say are the most important decisions you make in your current role?
Scozzafava: I enjoy my job because each day brings something new and different. One minute I’ll be having an in-depth conversation about a “people” program. The next, I’m in a meeting regarding our advertising, new product launches or the potential to buy a new plant. There are lots of things happening across the business, and it’s riveting to see how they all fit together.
Boyden: Is there anything you proactively do to continue to grow and develop as a leader?
Scozzafava: Sure, a couple of things. First, I’m curious. I subscribe to the notion of being a lifelong learner and I’m always reading something. Second, I seek out feedback, and I take it whether it’s given to me directly, or gained through personal reflection on things I’ve done or said. I receive feedback daily and I give it to myself daily. If a leader believes he or she or their company is a finished product, then that’s the beginning of the end.
I haven’t done a ton of formal leadership training, per se, in the last few years, but I experienced a lot of that on my way up the ladder. As we roll out our new strategic plan at Dean Foods, we’ve incorporated an element of change management and ultimately change leadership training, which we’re using to drive skills and awareness throughout the organization. It takes the form of a half-day course and it’s something all of our leaders will go through. I took the course in its early stages, and it was actually pretty fun.
Boyden: Dean Foods recently acquired Friendly’s ice cream and its retail and manufacturing divisions. How does this transaction affect your competitive position and how does it fit into your overall business strategy?
Scozzafava: One of the pillars of our strategic plan is to build a strong brand. We like the ice cream business here a lot. We’re the third largest branded ice cream company in the nation, and it’s a space in which we can really grow. The acquisition of Friendly’s gives us a brand that’s number one in New England and number two overall in the Northeast, so it gives us a competitive edge in a key geography, but also allows us to fold it into our national portfolio of brands.
Friendly’s knows how to develop exciting products. They’re smart operators and they’ve got great brand equity. They tick a lot of the boxes we look for when acquiring a business. We’re very excited about this acquisition.
Boyden: Dean Foods’ products are in households across America. As such, you have a special relationship to families and their health. With this in mind, what is Dean Foods’ approach to Corporate Social Responsibility?
Scozzafava: It starts with the product. We take pride in selling wholesome, nutritious products and serving the needs of families and communities nationwide. But the real question is, are we good corporate citizens? It’s a question we ask around here quite a bit.
We have 17,000 employees and we’re in 70 percent of American homes. We want our employees to feel great about who they work for, and consumers to feel great about who they are buying from.
We view each of our CSR practices as an investment in our business. This applies across the board, from our active tracking against sustainability and corporate citizenship goals to our DairyPure “purity promise,” our responsible animal welfare practices, and a number of highly focused efforts around community giving in partnership with various Feeding America food banks, Promise House in Dallas and through our own Dean Foods Foundation.
Boyden: What is the biggest challenge facing the food industry today?
Scozzafava: Consumers are smarter than they’ve ever been. They are more attentive, informed, alert and intelligent. They are paying greater attention to the food they’re bringing home to their families. Where does it come from? How is it cultivated? What does it contain? I say this all with reverence. It is a good thing, and it holds everyone in the industry accountable.
Now more than ever, the changes required of us go farther upstream in the supply chain. And if we’re talking about organic items, we must go all the way back to the farm. These consumer trends increasingly require companies to change their infrastructure to meet market demand.
It does not end with the products either. You must also be attentive to the communication and information aspect. Once you achieve the optimal product and bring it to the market in the right way, you must then notify the consumer in a way that’s clear, concise and real to them.
Boyden: Given consumers’ new level of involvement, how have social media and data analytics changed the way you operate?
Scozzafava: With the advent of social media, we’ve changed our marketing mix and we continue to spend more money on digital communications in response to how today’s consumers live, which is in a very connected world. We’re proactive with our messages on nutrition blogs, sites for sharing recipes, product news and even the way in which we respond frankly to complaints and questions.
In terms of data analytics there’s been less of an impact, as the CPG industry has always been data-rich. What has changed, however, is the immediacy with which we can get this data. Now we can respond to consumer demands in minutes rather than months.
Boyden: What is your approach to hiring and has it changed over the course of your career?
Scozzafava: I focus on outstanding achievements and experience at premier companies. Intellect is critical, as are work ethic and cultural fit. I also have a longstanding “no jerks” policy.
If I don’t want to personally spend time with someone, I won’t want them on my team in the long run. We want individuals who can be part of a strong team, and have a good time doing it. If that’s the environment you create, you’re setting yourself up for success.
Boyden: What is the value of the executive search firm in today’s job market?
Scozzafava: At the mid and lower levels, sites like LinkedIn and others have allowed many companies to take their recruiting in-house. What I like about search firms is that they provide a more tailored experience and ultimately a stronger candidate pool. Partnering with an executive search firm means those in the C-suite can spend less time managing the process and more time selecting the right talent from a well-qualified shortlist.
Still other intangibles differentiate a premier executive search firm, like Boyden: conducting highly dependable reference and background checks, providing counsel on succession planning, and maintaining open communications with both the hiring manager and candidate well after a placement is complete.
Boyden: Turning to your own career, what were some of your best and worst decisions?
Scozzafava: Looking back with regret, you often miss out on what’s in front of you. As I do look back, however, there were a lot of good decisions. I knew I wanted to be a function head, then
later, a general manager. I realized that in these roles, I could really influence what happened within the business and help the company succeed. The more exposure I got, the more it changed what I aspired to do. I’m a pretty lucky guy. If you’d asked me when I was growing up if I’d be sitting where I am now, I couldn’t have even dreamed this big.
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