Lessons Learned from Fortune 10 Companies with Carla Vernón

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This is a podcast episode titled, Lessons Learned from Fortune 10 Companies with Carla Vernón. The summary for this episode is: <p>What lessons do Fortune 10 companies have for growth-stage businesses? Today, Matt interviews Carla Vernón to find out.&nbsp;</p><p>Tune in as Carla shares the insights she picked up at large companies, such as Amazon and General Mills, that inform her current work as CEO of The Honest Company. </p>
🏕️ Leave things better than you found them
02:58 MIN
🏆 Hold yourself to a high standard
01:06 MIN
👂 Have the humility to listen for the silence
03:07 MIN

Intro: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. Each day we welcome transformational executives to share their real- world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.

Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. I'm Matt Blumberg, co- founder and CEO of Bolster, and I'm here today with my friend Carla Vernon. Carla is the CEO and member of the board of directors of the Honest Company. Prior to this role, she's had some senior leadership roles at Amazon and at General Mills. Carla, it is great to see you.

Carla Vernon: Good to see you, my friend.

Matt Blumberg: All right. So here's my question for you. You are a first- time, CEO. You're at a public company, although I think you would describe it as a growth stage business, and your career has been like Fortune 100 or Fortune 10 or Fortune 50 or something, leadership experience. So my question for you is what are one or two things that you've brought to the smaller company from the big companies that have made a difference, and what are maybe one or two things that you didn't expect that are kind of, wow, now what?

Carla Vernon: Okay. Well, Matt, thank you for having me on. I love listening to these bolsters. I'm getting boosted up myself from the bolsters. The journey to being a public company. CEO has been an incredible build and layering of a lot of experiences that I think led up to this moment. I'm so grateful for some of the training that I got from General Mills and Amazon, but I would say it's really an interesting combination because I've never been a traditional duck inside of corporate America. Never been your regular middle of the bell curve data point, and so it's been a really interesting journey to blend what's kind of my natural style, which has been to be very creative oriented, to be very purpose- centered. In the early days of my career in corporate America, purpose- driven wasn't really part of the vernacular in corporate America, but it was a big piece in what I was always looking for. I really always held myself to a hope ever since I left undergrad, of finding places where I could work, where I could follow the campground rules, if you will, leaving things better than you found them. And that brought me first to a couple of experiences where I got to do that much more directly. When I worked for the Nature Conservancy as my first job out of Princeton, when I was working on environmental stewardship, that was so gratifying to learn at one of the best of the best in that realm. And then that actually led me to a stepping stone career of doing public policy work and learning how big policy gets made and pushed through the system when I worked for United States Senator Carol, Mosley Braun. But when I went back to business school, I really found a different side of my brain that I became very interested in developing, and it was this more disciplined, traditional metrics and frameworks oriented approach to running businesses. That's what brought me to the consumer products industry. I thought CPG was a beautiful place where both creative work as well as strategically excellent work comes together and I really got that experience at both General Mills and Amazon.

Matt Blumberg: And it must be so much more creative where you are now, or at least one would think.

Carla Vernon: You know what, I think it is a hard centered work we do at the Honest company, but because we make products that people actually put on their bodies and people trust us to make the diapers that they put on their babies, there's quite a seriousness about what we do. Our products are highly regulated. We hold ourselves to a super high standard, even higher than a lot of our industry peers in terms of the number of ingredients that we will not allow in our products. So while there is a deep purpose centered heart in what we do, the thing that Honest, really needed that I brought from my big corporate experience was the rigor and the discipline and the way in which rigor and discipline can actually unlock your creative freedom. And I don't know why that was new for me to learn late in my corporate career because I was a dancer. You and I, we knew each other. I love a dance floor, I love a dance studio, and dance really requires an enormous amount of rigor and discipline to unlock your creative best.

Matt Blumberg: Yeah. That's for sure. What is something that you didn't expect, whether it's the public side of things or the smaller company side of things or being on the board as well as being the CEO, what's something that you were like, you can think about that?

Carla Vernon: It was great to be able to come in and immediately apply some of the tools like we just talked about. That were so well known to me, very familiar, really implement these frameworks and these just practices of operating business day- to- day. That was a huge borrow from what I knew before and easy. The thing that was the newest for me was understanding in the seat of CEO, there are things that are my job responsibility and mine alone for the company. So in addition to caring about the culture and the business performance, the amount of responsibility externally facing and the amount of importance for me to really lead our message in an outward way, that was a new ratio of how I had to learn how to use my time, which means you have to really build a strong and aligned team inside. And I would say that that was one of the big surprises. The other big surprise, which is probably not surprising, but not that easy to talk about, is one of the challenges when you finally... I've aspired my whole life to be a leader in an organization, and when I get to the top seat, what I discovered was there's an enormous amount of silence and skepticism that come at you in that role. And people say it's lonely at the top or it's lonely being a CEO. And I don't think it's because people don't care. I think they assume a lot. We entrust leaders so much, and so we assume and entrust in them this really enormous bed of knowledge and peripheral view and wisdom from the top, such that then often the interaction happens either in silent agreement or silent dissent, both of which can be signals. Or skepticism because it's really easy to, I think, try to manage on the edges of what you wish was different or what could be different about the leader. That was a surprise to me and really asked me to then I think reflect internally, making sure that I always have a very strong and clear compass and humility. Humility to listen for that silence in the skepticism, because I'm always in just trying to get better or that centeredness to say, I know people may not understand yet where we're going, but I believe in this vision so strongly.

Matt Blumberg: I think the phrase that wins this podcast is the humility to listen for the silence. So let's leave it there. Carla, so good to see you. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Carla Vernon: Thank you, Matt.


What lessons do Fortune 10 companies have for growth-stage businesses? Today, Matt interviews Carla Vernón to find out. 

Tune in as Carla shares the insights she picked up at large companies, such as Amazon and General Mills, that inform her current work as CEO of The Honest Company.