Landec CEO On Getting Challenged By The Board

Landec CEO Molly Hemmeter
Landec CEO Molly Hemmeter

Molly Hemmeter has worked in marketing and chemical engineering, for both big corporations and startups. She has a master’s in chemical engineering and an MBA from Harvard.

This diverse background has prepared her to be the CEO of Landec, a $500 million publicly-traded company that manufactures food and wellness products. “It was a company that really brought my experience, my passion, and my entrepreneurial and leadership skills together in one role,” she says.

Landec has two product lines: a healthy natural foods business, which includes packaged vegetables, salad kits and other healthy foods. This side gives Landec the brunt of its revenue at $460 million. It also has emerging biomaterials business, which does $55 to $70 million in revenue.

As a public company, Landec also has a corporate board, featuring directors with a variety of backgrounds representing the company’s numerous offerings. Corporate Board Member sat down with Hemmeter, who also serves as a director on the board, to talk about how they work collaboratively. Below are excerpts from this conversation.

As the CEO, how do work with the board of directors and what advice do you have to CEOs on working with the board?

We have an extremely strong and experienced board of directors. I’ve been very lucky and blessed to be surrounded by a team on the board of directors with such a vast experience. If I were to characterize our board, I would say they are highly intelligent and experienced and they bring to the table diverse set of experiences. And on top of that, I believe we have a very collegial and collaborative culture. And one that’s challenging. Believe me, they challenge me and they challenge the team, and they ask all the hard questions. But I also feel that how I interact with the board is I use them as my sounding board and I leverage their experience. I mean, we all want the same thing.

As a CEO and the entire board of directors, we want to maximize shareholder value. We need to do that and we’re going to do that by providing products to the market that consumers and customers need, and are differentiated. But we need to deliver value to the shareholders. And so, I would say, I want to make sure that our board is filled with a diverse set of talents that I can access and leverage as, you know, we run the company in order to make sure that we’re doing just fine and maximizing shareholder value. And I think that’s how I approach my relationship with the board of directors.

Talk to me about R&D. You guys are always probably looking for the next big thing in healthy eating. What kind of focus do you put there?

We’re always looking at the consumer and we’re always trying to make sure that we’re on trend. We have a R&D process where we try to create new product solutions and test those with consumers before we take on the market. We work with our customers very directly on those and I’d say, we have a just a tremendous track record over the history of our company of proving that we can deliver with our own internal efforts. We don’t have to go to an acquisition, although we have done them in the past.

What advice would you have to your fellow business leaders—whether they are a CEO or a board director— about maximizing your company’s potential and really ensuring that your operations are sustainable?

I’ve been fortunate enough to find a job that allows me to live out my passion and really leverage all the experiences that I’ve gained over the past decade. In this position, I’d say that it’s my responsibility to have a vision for the company, make sure that we have a long-term plan that ensures a long-term growth and profitability. And then to build a team and help deliver that plan. And as I’ve gone to more of a managerial role to CEO, I am really still evolving and making sure that my job is not as much about doing, but it’s leading the team, encouraging the team, supporting the team. Knocking down the obstacles to make sure they can do their job, so we can all go after that vision and making sure we’re all on the same page, and going towards the same goal.

I would say if you can find that job that you’re passionate about… And I love to lead, I love teams, and then if you can find that passion…it doesn’t become a job anymore. It becomes something that you love to do and that’s what I’d wish for anyone in whatever job that they have.

Read more: Susan Salka: Boardroom Diversity Is More Than Just Filling Quotas