Jan is uncommon.
Jan Tharp is the president and CEO of The Bumble Bee Seafood Company. She is a transformational leader in the food and beverage industry with successful turnaround stories centered on creating order out of chaos. She is a firm believer in servant leadership and is passionate about people, protecting the planet and promoting health and wellness.
We asked Jan to share some uncommon sense from her life and career prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but given the gravity of events, we thought it helpful to ask a couple more relevant questions on the state of the world to get a glimpse of her uncommon take on it all.
GET TO KNOW JAN
Bulldog Drummond: What value, phrase or uncommon truth do you live by?
Jan Tharp: If you can dream it, you can do it. I believe in the power of visualization. If you can imagine success, you can achieve success.There is so much power in our everyday thoughts as they manifest themselves into positive action. I know that if I can visualize success and then articulate that vision into a clear and concise picture for our team to see, we can deliver anything. When I think about leading a team through any type of transformation, I start with what we will look and feel like on the other side. When I am confident in this picture, I try to paint a picture for the rest of the team to see and feel so we all have a common goal and vision. The tricky part is taking what is in your head and translating it into something that is meaningful to others and motivational enough for others to follow.
BD: What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?
JT: I am most proud of The Bumble Bee Seafood Company’s cultural transformation story. Our company went through a long period where every article that was published about our company was negative—negative about the category, the business, our people and certain circumstances that created industry-wide turmoil. However, inside the company was a completely different story. Inside our company was an immensely talented group of people passionate about the business, proud of our heritage and who yearned to show the outside world all the wonderful ideas and products we were bringing to life.
This situation created an opportunity for our business to reinvent itselfourselves and take a 120-year-old brand and tell a new story. With the help of Bulldog, we took a cross-functional group of leaders and re-established our north star—our purpose and /vision. In tandem with identifying our north star, we redefined our values and guiding principles in which we would operate. We didn’t rely on words to start the change in culture, we lived our values through our actions. We celebrated each other and our successes in a very visible way. The positive energy became contagious, and we began a transformational wave of cultural change that encompasses our entire business today. The results are immutable. We had one of the best performance years in our history, managed through some of the darkest days of a financial restructuring and sold the business to a strategic buyer. Our transformational culture change has provided the foundation to create a path to deliver on our north star.
BD: What gets you out of bed in the morning? What’s your purpose?
JT: I have two high-energy rescue cats that love to wake me up at 4:30am by throwing themselves on top of me, pawing at my eyes and systematically knocking everything off my nightstand one item at a time until I give in and get up to feed them. They typically win the battle by 4:40am.
Once I am up and ready to face the day, what makes me most happy is knowing that my job and my focus areis grounded in making a significant and positive difference in an industry that is known for extracting from the ocean. I’m truly driven by the idea that we are redefining how we think about, source, produce and consume seafood, with the goal of minimizing the impact on fish and the planet while influencing people to do the same.
BD: What’s the most useful question you ask often? Why?
JT: I typically ask the question “Why?” or “Tell me more” often to ensure I understand where someone is coming from or to better understand what I think they are asking or saying. Many times, we tend to jump to conclusions based on our own internal biases or filters, and this can lead to miscommunication. I have lived through enough miscommunication episodes to know that it is better to take the time and really understand what someone is saying versus trying to speed up and get to the next conversation. Someone once told me a good way to answer a tough question is to turn it around—That is a great question, why do you ask? I have found that very useful. I also think it is equally important to actively listen when asking the “why” questions. That is tough to do if you are already thinking of your next point. I am still a practitioner in this area—some days are better than others!
BD: What makes you uncommon?
JT: I currently run a wild-capture seafood company with deep roots in traditional fishing, which has its share of social and sustainability issues. And, while the traditional industry’s issues are deeply rooted, I firmly believe that there is a different, more sustainable path to be taken. By 2050, this planet will have 10B people living on it. Most of that population growth will come from regions with high fish consumption. The oceans will not be able to produce enough fish to feed that population. We have to find ways to not only protect but nurture the oceans and their ecosystems. At the same time, we need to develop alternative, yet equally delicious and nutritious, seafood options. To me, seafood is anything that is inspired by the ocean—that means plant based, cultivated, aquaculture, invasive species, etc.
Many of my peers in this industry see innovation and new technologies related to alternative origin seafood as a threat to their business. I am uncommon in that I embrace an extremely wide definition of seafood and see these new technologies and products as opportunities to change the conversation. We are pioneers in bringing plant-based seafood to the U.S. market in retail, food service and frozen. I am so proud of our team and our collective willingness to chart a new course.
BD: Can you tell us about an experience that made you who you are?
JT: A couple of years ago, I was asked to step into the leadership role of President and CEO while our company managed through some very difficult times. Although I had managed several large groups in the past, I had never held the role of the most senior person in a company. Given the turbulent times the company was going through, there were some dark days and sleepless nights. This role put me outside my comfort zone and challenged me in many new ways. It clearly reinforced and amplified my belief in what can be accomplished with the right motivation. I believe people can drive to unforeseen heights if there is uncompromising attention put on them in a positive, continuous basis. Management and nurturing talent are not one time events. They areIt is a journey toward trust, empowerment and enablement, underscored by a foundation of shared values, purpose and vision.
Over the last two years, I have lived through the remarkable cultural transition of our company that has successfully engaged our employees and has established a clear vision for our future growth. I believe in the people model so deeply that I could never work in an organization that did not value its people as its strongest resource.
BD: What are you working on that you are excited about?
JT: We have an amazing team that deeply believes in our mission to continually challenge ourselves to be seafood provocateurs and redefine how a company thinks about, sources, produces and consumes seafood. This is such an opportunity for our business to transform our company, its products and our thinking into providing another 120 years of protecting our planet and producing great products consumers crave. We are accomplishing this through our focus on people, planet and products. Each pillar has so much excitement behind it. From putting the consumer at the forefront of our new product development and heightening our focus on culinary to protecting the planet through our commitments to the oceans and all that rely on this precious resource, we are starting to see our business change in bold and innovative ways.
BD: Tell us about a positive daily habit that you have.
JT: I am typically up before sunrise and like to use this quiet time as more of a reflective time before the day starts. I like to start each day by looking up at the sky and watching how the colors of the sky change throughout the morning. Sometimes there are unique cloud formations, sometimes the sky is completely black, and occasionally, I can see the moon and several stars—each morning is different. I travel quite a bit, so it is interesting to see how morning manifests itself in different parts of the world. What is common is that no matter where I am, each morning is different—each is special. It reminds me that each day is really a new beginning. Anything that happened yesterday is in the past, and today is a new day. Watching the sky reinforces to me that everything changes. The good is not permanent and neither is the bad. I try to think about this throughout the day, appreciating things for what they are.
BD: Considering the state of the world as a result of the pandemic, what is your biggest observation about humanity/society?
JT: My general observation with respect to people around the globe is the extent of our resiliency when faced with a crisis. As global citizens, we have not only worked together to keep people around the globe healthy, but we have found new and innovative ways to stay connected, reduce the anxiety of our new normal and express gratitude to the thousands of people around the world risking their lives every day on behalf of their fellow citizens. I love the creativity people are displaying to stay connected socially, the real-time enhancements in technology to improve how we conduct business while working remotely and the resolve of so many people and businesses to take care of the less fortunate. Although there may be exceptions—I believe most people want to do the right thing, have compassion and empathy for those less fortunate, and will work together across borders to find a solution to this issue.
BD: What have you learned about your culture and your business during the pandemic?
JT: Bumble Bee Seafood’s culture has evolved significantly over the last two years after we went through a process of redefining our “north star” or vision and spending many hours talking about how the right culture can engage people. We have put a significant emphasis on what we call “People First” which governs how we operate and look at business opportunities and challenges. I am always thrilled to see our team members living our values, and this current situation around COVID-19 has certainly displayed our strength around people. From moving to a work-from-home environment in about 48 hours to immediately protecting our factory team members with proper PPE and protectionary policies to donatinga donation of product valued at over $1 million dollars to the communities in which we operate—I am so proud of our team and their commitment to putting “People First” in everything we do.