Joe's impressive resume plays second fiddle to the MBArk program, which he created to help 'progressive MBAs who want to save the world.' We're inspired by his awareness of what it takes to help small food companies survive, and his motivation to link great business minds with the companies that need them most.
Apply by August 12, 2016 to be a part of the next MBArk program.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I started eating all-natural in the 1980s, when the supermarkets only devoted a few linear feet to products like wheat germ, Grape-Nuts, and carob-coated something-or-others. But when I walked into a natural foods supermarket for the first time - it was a 30,000-square-foot Fresh Fields, in 1992 - I promised myself even before I had left the store that I would talk my way into that company.
I did, and became the head of marketing. Which eventually became the head of marketing at Whole Foods. Which later led to the head of marketing job at Sprouts. All of which I parlayed into Natural Prophets (Rodale, 2014) my book about the history of the natural foods industry and the amazing stories of its pioneers.
How did you get your current good food job?
My current job is working as an author and consultant, and that's neither terribly interesting nor sexy. But what I want to focus on here is the pro bono program I run called MBArk, which helps steer MBA students into the natural foods industry. I started this in 2011 because I sensed that natural foods companies badly needed MBA-type skills, and MBA students were increasingly looking for meaningful jobs through which they could save the world. The problem is, very few of those companies are big enough to actually recruit for help, and very few of those students know about all the great work being done in natural foods.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Developing excellent writing and editing skills in high school/college, and then building good analytical skills in business school, gave me a combination that is not often found.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
One of the main reasons I created MBArk was because I sensed an anti-education bias among many food employers. Sounds crazy, but it's true. In the food business, higher education and graduate degrees aren't valued as much as bootstrapping and field experience. The fact that you started working as a bagger in the supermarket at age 16 maybe more appealing than the fact that you are earned a master's degree. It's absurd, because the Big Food and CPG companies get lots of well-educated and smart people working for them, while the supposedly very progressive natural foods companies don't. I am trying to change that.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
The art and science of management is abysmal in this day and age, and it is much easier to come up with examples of bad practices. The best managers I have known are those who took an interest in their employees' lives, gave them handwritten notes of advice or guidance, ignored the schedule for reviews and gave raises or bonuses when they were merited.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Everybody needs help with sales and biz dev, but I think there is a growing need for people who are well schooled in sustainability. It's still a new field, and most companies don't yet have job titles or set positions in sustainability - but they definitely have the need.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Time. I have reached a stage in my life at which I value time more than money. So even though I haven't worked as an employee for years, if I did I would be looking for a flexible schedule that would enable me to pursue work and passions in nearly equal balance.