Jesse Edelman is the CEO of ArchPoint Group, the parent company of ArchPoint Consulting. ArchPoint Group also includes the ArchPoint Products and ArchPoint Sales divisions, which serve the Grocery industry and employ over 150 people across Texas. We spoke to Jesse on his unique perspective leading a sizable organization in an industry that was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What was the biggest lesson you learned last year?

There is a real balancing act for any organization to overreact versus being nimble enough to shift. In the chaos of the pandemic, some companies went all the way to bright in completely changing who they were and what they made. We saw this most glaringly in our Products division. I learned that we can pivot and flex, but still need to hold our ground. Initially, customers were asking us for all sorts of products, and we took the bait. Then they would go with the lowest price. We regrouped internally and decided to limit anything that was short-term. Anything we would take on would have to continue past 2020. The lesson here was that we proved we could flex and pivot, but do so without compromising our strategy.

How can leaders know when a pivot has gone too far?

It is about staying true to your principles.

I always say, “we are really good when we are really good at it.”

For us, that means that we had to be laser focused on what we do well. Think of strategy as a three-lane highway and you are driving down the center. There are guardrails on each side. You can shift a little to the left or to the right, and as long as you stay close to center, you won’t veer too far outside your competency set. Last year forced companies to validate their strategy and make sure it can survive under unusual circumstances, and allow potential shifts left or right. You do not want to overreact, turn completely off the road and build capabilities you do not really need. Right now, we are revisiting our OGSM to take these learnings from last year to see what we missed and need to build foundationally to reinforce those guardrails.

What advice would you give on building an organization that can flex?

I could argue we were prepared for this moment. We made a commitment early on in the business that we would go deep into a targeted set of customers. We had been building to a crescendo of being the first call when a customer has a problem. That is our version of customer intimacy. Being the first call, providing innovative solutions, and delivering.

There is a connection between competency set and being deep into the customer experience.

Competency set goes back to the heart and soul, DNA of the business. We offer great products and services and have great clients and customers. When disaster strikes, talk to your customers about what they need to survive and pivot to the degree they need within your competency set. If I’m not deep in the customer experience, it’s hard to help them solve problems. Richard (Spoon) had to do this with Consulting. He had to overcome the lack of presence to continue delivering value. He pivoted within the framework.

ArchPoint Products is an inventory business that relies on accurate forecasting, which was nearly impossible at the beginning of the pandemic. How did you manage through the uncertainty?

Going into the year, we built collaborative forecasts and demand plans with an assumed level of predictability. We did the best we could last year, and I don’t really know what we could have done better. But one thing I know for sure is you have to trust your own narrative. If a customer misses a forecast and tells us they will make it up, we had to learn how to challenge that, with data. Also, the insanity of the global supply chain taught us a lot last year.

There must have been lots of tough conversations last year. How did you handle communication with customers on sensitive issues?

We have been totally transparent with customers – holding no cards close to the chest. We could not have built trust last year without this approach. There is great value in transparency. We had instances last year with partners who were not transparent with us and learned some hard lessons.

You must let your guard down ever so slightly and be comfortable with being uncomfortable to get the payoff that comes with being a truly trusted partner.

People in our positions waste so much time and energy creating a story, second guessing and being afraid of reactions. We used to go out of our way to not share bad news. It became exhausting and we needed to shift. In 2020, we were determined to give all news straightforwardly and at the same pace. We were thanked for it. This lesson goes back to my P&G days and the origin of the P&G/Walmart relationship. They changed the game with total transparency and a common goal of growing each other’s businesses. That was unheard of at the time. The caveat here is if you present bad news, you must propose solutions. Otherwise, you are shifting your problem onto someone else.

This transparency also applies internally. At the worst of times, I was communicating rather frequently to the team. I did not realize how important that was. Now I understand how critical frequent, transparent communication is with your teams. Everything you say matters.

What has been the biggest challenge leading an organization?

What we thought would be the biggest challenge really wasn’t – taking our culture and having it dispersed in a remote workforce. But we did not lose it. In fact, we probably improved camaraderie and commitment to the business. This is at least partly due to the same approach we took with customers.

Stay true to your principles, have some flexibility, surround yourself with good people and communicate openly.

I am 100% convinced that we performed well last year because we lived within our values and aspirations, and we did what we do well – really, really well. It was not without headaches and challenges. We will tell war stories for years. But we emerged out of 2020 much stronger than when we started.

Jesse brings more than 25 years experience in strategy development, sales effectiveness, customer management, go-to-market execution and product innovation and sourcing to ArchPoint. He serves as CEO of ArchPoint Group and President of Acadian Crossing Consumer Products and ArchPoint’s Sourcing Division. Contact Jesse today for more information.