“What’s the buzz around the office today?”
And we were off and running.
I first had the chance to talk with CFO Shana Rowlette last spring after she and her company Mann Lake, the country’s largest beekeeping supplier and manufacturer, were put on CFO’s radar. Mann Lake may not show up in a lot of Wall Street Journal articles, but from our point of view, it’s a company worth paying attention to.
And, I needed to know what was the best — or worst — “bee pun” she hears on a daily basis. And then immediately attempt to not litter our conversation with even worse ones.
What I loved most about talking with Rowlette that day, and what our own writer Sandra Beckwith is capturing in her story on the CFO and Mann Lake, is the journey. Not only of a company that started out as a small family garage business by Jack and Betty Thomas in 1983, but for Rowlette as well.
“When I started here as our first staff accountant, it was just supposed to be a job that got me to the area before I found a different one in an industry that I thought was more interesting than agriculture,” she said. When she began her career, it was only her and the CFO at the time. But over the course of a decade took on more and more responsibilities, showing excellence for all of it, which also included some part-time CIO responsibilities as well.
This journey is, in part, why we ask CFOs in our 6 a.m. profile how they go about their respective days. Sometimes it is inspiring to the point of almost being daunting when we hear about finance chiefs who train for triathlons or climb Kilimanjaro. But most of the time, it is basic, dogged persistence and discipline, knowing that the tracks laid daily are what get you to where you want to go. Johnson Controls’ CFO Olivier Leonetti oversees a company that generates $25 billion in revenue. But as his 6 a.m. profile notes, it begins daily by rising early (4:30 a.m.!) with daily meditation and some espresso. That habit, which he uses to propel the global company, is accessible to anyone.
In a profile about the band The Eagles, co-founder Glenn Frey reflected on the nature of songwriting by observing his friend Jackson Browne, when they lived in the same apartment complex:
“Around nine in the morning, I’d hear Jackson Browne’s teapot going off with this whistle in the distance, and then I’d hear him playing piano. I didn’t really know how to write songs. I knew I wanted to write songs, but I didn’t know exactly, did you just wait around for inspiration, you know, what was the deal? ... Jackson would get up, and he’d play the first verse and first course [sic], and he’d play it 20 times, until he had it just the way he wanted it.
“And then there’d be silence, and then I’d hear the teapot going off again, and it would be quiet for 20 minutes, and then I’d hear him start to play again ... and I’m up there going, so that’s how you do it? Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.”
Mann Lake and Johnson Controls are vastly different companies, but their finance chiefs both start small and build things that are big. Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.
Bees are pretty small insects. But they are the bedrock of a national powerhouse.
That’s pretty sweet.