As the CEO of successful tea company, Mighty Leaf Tea, Sheila Stanziale formed an executive leadership team that has helped take the organization to the next level. According to Stanziale, her team is made up of straight-talkers who are passionate about the future of the company, but know how to tell it like it is. In the below Q&A, Stanziale opens up about her personal leadership style, talks about “failing fast” if an idea isn’t working, and also gives advice to those who are looking to climb the ladder.
Q: Tell us about your current role and company.
A: I’m the CEO of Mighty Leaf Tea. Mighty Leaf was founded by local Bay Area entrepreneurs 20 years ago; the company actually began with a tea shop in San Francisco called “Tea & Company.” Our founders helped put premium tea on the map and today we have national distribution across the retail grocery and natural channels, a growing eComm business, and a global foodservice business. Our point of difference is whole leaf, uniquely blended teas that produce exceptional flavors in both hot and iced tea formats. If you enjoy our hot tea in a restaurant or hotel, you’ll experience our trademarked silk, hand-stitched pouches which help make your cup of hot tea a very memorable experience! We’ve also recently introduced a new tea pouch to the grocery and natural channel; it’s designed to deliver the exact same tea experience but in a silky, pyramid shaped pouch which allows us to introduce more consumers to our brand at a more accessible price.
Q: What senior leadership qualities are the most important for your team at Mighty Leaf Tea?
A: First, bringing a successful, consistent track record across a few different settings is important because it demonstrates that a leader is flexible, able to adapt to different environments, and still be effective. After that baseline, I think a collaborative style, affection for facts, exceptional listening skills, and compassion towards others are all very important. Senior folks must achieve a good balance of strategy and execution and generally have a bias to action and decision making.
Q: As a team, how do you deal with failure? If an idea doesn’t work, how do you fix it?
A: We’re big on “failing fast.” We put a lot of effort into understanding if our strategy is working early on and if it’s not, we try to quickly understand why so we can tweak or reverse course. We don’t penalize team members for making mistakes because penalties discourage great ideas.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is looking for an executive leadership position in the food and beverage industry?
A: Get perspective across a few different but related companies and get experience in a few job functions. I started with premium brands, and then later focused on beverages, beginning with carbonated soft drinks, then beer, fresh juice, and now tea. I found staying in one big category, premium food & beverage, across several different companies was very helpful. I’ve worked for Fortune 50, large and medium public companies, and now private equity. I also took a few jobs that others didn’t want and they were among the most valuable in terms of experience and learning.
Q: At what point in your career did you know you wanted to be an executive leader?
A: Early on. By the time I gave my 8th grade graduation speech and pushed back on the principal’s “suggested” (& very boring) edits, for sure.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: I hope the team would say I set an ambitious, high bar but I’m very fair. My communications are generally pretty straightforward which helps get tough issues on the table and draw the team out so we can solve problems together. I like to understand how things work and I ask a lot of questions – it helps develop empathy for others and promotes understanding of an issue or problem. I think operating informally and being approachable is really important, too.
Q: How important is company culture at Mighty Tea? Do you participate in team building activities?
A: Culture is pretty important anywhere so Mighty Leaf is no exception. People want to feel like they belong and can be themselves and that work is an enjoyable place to be. We try to spend time by getting all of our associates together for a “Tea Time” every 6-8 weeks and we use this forum to celebrate accomplishments, try new products, and enjoy each other. Our executive team does a full day offsite once or twice a year but honestly, it’s really to focus on strategy and to assess big adjustments we have to make.
Q: Tell us your favorite thing about your executive leadership team.
A: I have three favorite things. First, I love that the executive leadership team truly enjoys working together and are highly committed to winning and our future. I also like that they are terrific individuals, happy and proud about their families and personal lives. Last, it’s great we’ve got a group of straight talkers, there’s no B.S. and they’re incredibly experienced.
Q: What’s your number one piece of advice for someone who is looking for a senior executive position?
A: Develop advocates and make it easy to get feedback so you can improve; these folks will later invest in you. Take delivering results seriously, they really do count. Take some reasonable chances if it means learning something new or sharpening your skills. Be helpful to others and ask questions. Work to develop a broad perspective so you understand your colleagues’ point of view because you’ll add more value when you have this in your pocket. And don’t forget to have a life outside of work.
Q: What do you like to do outside of the office?
A: Later in life, I hope to ski 100 days a year but for now, I do what I can. My favorite weekend thing is to cook something new and get friends around a table for conversation, laughs, and good food and wine.