Naji: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love. I’m Naji, your host for this episode joined today by Bob Jones, serial healthcare industry, entrepreneur. Bob is founder and currently CEO of scientific nutrition products, a company addressing medical conditions by creating and selling nutrition based products. Bob was previously a principal at CIA advisors, a strategy consulting firm, where Bob led the nutrition and wellness practice. Prior to that, Bob was president and CEO of Viso USA.The nation’s largest marketer and manufacturer of tofu and the pioneer of soy milk in America, where he let successful turnaround before joining, uh, Bob launched three startups in the medical nutrition field, each company addressed chronic medical disorders, such as diabetes via specifically targeted nutrition products, all selling through retail pharmacy. Bob has also held executive positions at several other companies, including Abbot and Baxter. He has two awarded patents in the feed of nutrition. He’s an active mentor with MIT and several other organizations where I had the opportunity to learn from his wealth of experiences. He is also an incredible guitar player and part of a volunteer group that plays and sings in homeless shelters.
Bob, I am humble to have you with me today.
Bob Jones: Well, I’m flattered to be invited. Thanks for having me.
Naji: First I would love to hear your personal story from biology to serial entrepreneurship in, uh, in healthcare and nutrition. What’s in between the lines of this incredible journey.
Bob Jones:: Uh, it’s a long and winding road Naji.
Um, When I was studying biology and doing a research thesis in neuroendocrinology really what I cared about was behavior. I was trying to reconcile what the psychology professors were discussing with what the neurophysiology professors were. And of course that. That quest continues. Uh, but what I cared about was behavior and through an odd set of circumstances, my first job out of college was four years, uh, teaching school in the projects in west Philadelphia.
And. I walked in thinking, well, really what these kids need. They just need a friend, which of course was the height of naivete because that flatly didn’t work. Um, and I was required to dig a little deeper and. I would walk in and say, well, good morning kids today. We’re gonna learn how to find the area of a square.
And they would look me in the eye and say why we don’t care. And I had never thought about that. And, um, anyway, I had to dig a little deeper because I knew the material that I was being charged with teaching would make their lives better, but I had to sell it. I had to create the motivation because if they wanted to learn it badly enough, then even if my pedagogy, uh, was clumsy, they’d get it.
Anyway, on the other hand, even if I offered elegant explanations of stuff, they didn’t care about it was not gonna go anywhere. So, um, I. Had sort of a, a crisis rethought. All of this regrouped had at it just refused to quit. And, uh, discovered that I started having some real successes with these kids. They began accomplishing things.
You could see their self self-esteem go up. They moved up within this school hierarchies. Some of them got out of the gangs that they were in and actually ended up going off to college. Um, it was quite rewarding. but I left after a while, took a few more jobs and went to business school and, uh, was exposed to a completely different ethos.
We all were sort of told that we. Spring out into the world to become, uh, corporate leaders. And at that time, when I heard the word entrepreneur, I thought it was a French word. And I thought that it was a French word that meant unemployed and so, so I pursued the sort of traditional corporate, you know, command and control and all of that and discovered that.
It just, wasn’t a good fit for me. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t feel like I was having any kind impact that I wanted. I felt that the agendas were. Off access from, from my value structure. And so I began starting companies because I didn’t know what else to do. And so I ended up starting four companies in total with the docs out of Harvard med school.
I, I turned around a company that had lost money for a lot of years. I worked hard. I had some failures, I had a couple successes. It was much more fun, but then, um, Within a fairly short period of time. Two members of my family died and several of my friends died and all of them were younger than me. And I think we’re not well wired to lose people who are younger than we are.
And it brought home to me that one day the lights go out and I ended up thinking, I just don’t wanna waste any more of my time doing things that I don’t wanna. And it’s time to stop and think a little bit about, well, what do I want to do? And what I’ve found is that if I can help other people realize their dreams, that I find that quite gratifying.
And so I have ended up working rather. In the last few years, um, as a member of business advisory boards as a, a lecturer or workshop leader in various organizations that are associated with helping entrepreneurs, um, achieve their goals.
Naji: Thank you Bob, for, for sharing your story and, and your perspective, uh, also on, on life, I would say you, you founded startups, you started companies, you worked in, uh, the corporate world, uh, to, and now you’re advising so many different, uh, companies at different stages. What are your leadership lessons for, from really those diverse experiences you.
Bob Jones:: Well, I thought about your organization a little bit. NA and, um, and I think there’s a lot of merit in what you’re doing, but I may have a, a slightly different perhaps somewhat more constrained view of. Love Vivi, helping people realize their dreams. And, and that I found that sometimes the best way to show love is to tell people things that they don’t necessarily want to hear, but get ’em back on track.
And as an example of I’ve spent some time working with an excellent group called pipeline entrepreneurs that helps high growth entrepreneurs in the Midwest. And, uh, I lead a two and a half day workshop every February for the incoming group and a year or two ago at the end of the three days, couple of came up to me and said, Bob, Over the course of the past couple of days, you beat up every single one of us in this group.
And I said, yes. And they said, well, thank you. because our employees not always tell us the, the candid truth. They’re not always. Sagacious enough to know what they should tell us. They’re not always brave enough to tell us stuff we don’t want to hear. Um, but the net is, I think you transformed our businesses.
So in a potentially perverse sort of way, I was showing them love. And I was showing them a respect by helping them accelerate their path toward. The, the goals that really mattered to them. So I, I guess if, if there were a lesson in there, um, it would be candor if I were to summarize it in one word, and sometimes it’s not showing love to gloss over the gross mistakes that you see people making.
Sometimes you just have to tell ’em even if you think they, um, don’t want to hear it. But I also find that just spreading love universally is, is potentially a recipe for disaster because I’ve found that sometimes there are people in organizations who just don’t contribute. And if that’s because there are hurdles and I can remove the hurdles, then it’s a good thing.
If it’s because they’ve lost their motivation and I can help them find their motivation or help create some motivation. That’s a good thing. But I have run into people who just don’t wanna work. And I run into people who embezzle corporate funds. And, uh, and they have to go because on a professional basis, it would be a violation of showing love to those people in the organization who are motivated to create value.
If I put up with that kind of behavior beyond a certain point, and there have been times when I’ve. I have pulled aside the people after I fired them and said, look on a personal basis. I think you have a lot going for you. I think you could be very successful. I think you have a personality characteristic.
That’s a lot like having a pebble in your shoe. It may strike you as a small thing, but you’re never gonna sprint with a pebble in your shoot. You’ve got to address this and I don’t have the time to wait while you address it for us. And I haven’t seen any real commitment from you that you will address it.
So I have to fire you and I’m going to, but personally, I think if you could get this pebble out of your shoe, you could be a real runner. So, so as I said, I have to a constrained, maybe bounded view of.
Naji: Can I can I say I love it because it’s, , it’s not a thank you. It’s it’s not portrayed and it’s not bounded.
It’s, you know, it’s what I, when I think of love, this is true love. Right? You talked about candor, you, and this is when genuinely you care about someone. You need to tell them when things are going wrong. I, I don’t think people show up and wanna do it back job. And it’s our responsibility as leader. If we care.
To tell them that it’s going wrong and to, to, yeah. To help people go out of an organization, if it’s not where they’re getting at, where they’re being at their best. So you, you really touched upon two things that many times when we hear the word love, we think it’s. You know, like just love and it’s never those true discussions and those crucial conversations or taking some decisions sometimes on people.
It’s exactly this when it’s read off. So thank you for mentioning those. Um, yeah. I love how you framed it.
Bob Jones:: Well, you’re welcome. Um, as a, as a footnote, uh, you, uh, as a healthcare professional and I, as a healthcare entrepreneur know that though, this fact is tragic. There are people out there who simply have no interest in taking care of themselves, and you can do Mo motivational interviewing and you can salvage some of them.
But there are some that you simply can’t salvage. I’ve talked to many, a visiting nurse. Who’s told me terrible stories about calling on people who are stuck in a wheelchair with diabetes, with the oxygen in their nostrils. And they’re still smoking cigarettes. And of course, oxygen likes flame. And sometimes they blow the top of, of the building.
They live in. And so I had to conclude that I might have a lot of love, but I don’t have a limitless amount of love and that I should, I should love the people who have some interest in growing and living a fulfilled life.
Naji: That’s that’s awesome.
Bob Jones:: Call it conservation of resources. yeah.
Naji: Yeah. Limited amount of time and resources and, and yeah, it’s, there’s always this challenge, like.
Where you put your time and resources and love for people who generally care and what I would love to, uh, what would be your advices as a, now a serial founders and advising so many entrepreneurs. If we wanna boil it down to one or two advisors for those, uh, founders in the healthcare word, specifically, as you know about it, uh, in what.
Bob Jones:: Make sure that the need you have identified is genuinely unmet rather than you just being seduced by a really cool idea. Make sure that what you are offering is something that your clients or customers will think is better. Not that you will think is better, but that they will think is better. Make sure you’ve figured out a way to do this so that you can actually make enough money to continue sustaining your company.
Otherwise you don’t have a business. You have a really cool hobby or maybe a philanthropy. But, and, and for those who are interested in social entrepreneurship, I think the bar is even higher because if you wanna give away a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes you sell, you’ve got a lot of make a lot of money on the shoes that you sell in order to fund the ones that you give away.
And so your initial, no motivations might be noble. But they will founder and flop if you’re unable to make enough money to keep the lights on. So, um, look for that combination of creativity, maybe noble intentions and a practical, pragmatic view of, of how you’re actually gonna grow a business.
Naji: That’s great.
Noble and practical. I’ve I’ve heard about this word of pragmatic idealistic. I, I, and I think you’re summarizing it here, here, somehow. It’s
Bob Jones:: a tricky synthesis as you well know, there, there are people who genuinely want to be noble and they don’t know the first thing about making money. And there are people out there who genuinely want to make a lot of money and have zero interest in helping their fellow man.
Yeah. And what we’re looking for is the synthesis of those characteristics in some balanced fashion. Totally.
Naji: You led, uh, obviously your company through, uh, through those moment of crisis. I’d love to hear more first about your current company and what you’re doing, cuz you’re working on a noble, uh, purpose with, with your teams.
Uh, and also how you led through those those times. Uh, it’s always challenge in healthcare specifically with the pandemic and you’ve been working with, um, what, what, what your, the people, your company serve is also people who were. Highly touched during, uh, the pandemic. So how have you led through those, uh, those moments internally and externally?
If I may say.
Bob Jones:: Well, let me, uh, set the stage that I’m in the process of exiting the fourth business right now. And so there’s at least some of this that I probably should be discreet about. Um, having said that, I think it’s a very rare startup that doesn to encounter, uh, several crises along the way to stability.
In fact, this. Book that I’m in the process of writing has a whole chapter titled of don’t it right? The. And, and I have some remarkable stories from entrepreneurs that I’ve interviewed, fleshing that out back several of button hold me last week and said, put my picture up there next to that chapter title
So I think. Leadership through crisis is unavoidable. If you’re starting a company. And I, I think that the pandemic is a convenient heading, but maybe a more broad heading equally applicable is just growing pains. Because every company gets to the point where they’ve grown too fast and the quality assurance has gone to hell or they’ve hired a bunch of employees, some of whom they should not have hired and they don’t know how to fire ’em.
Um, they, they hired their relatives because they thought this would all be great. And then over that their relatives were a bad fit. And can’t figure out how to fire ’em without, uh, ruining family relationships. Um, there’s just all sorts of, um, hurdles that entrepreneurs inevitably have to clear. I think, keeping your team advise of what’s going on.
I mean, you can sell it a little bit, but there can’t be too much smoke. I, I think your employees almost always know the truth, even if you think they don’t. If you have an employee that is not performing, they probably know it before you do. And to try to pretend otherwise, uh, lowers your credibility as a leader, uh, damages your ability to lead the firm.
And so I think, I think you have to be candid. I think you have to be forthcoming and forthright. I also think. And this might seem counterintuitive. You have to make your employees go home. At the end of the day, spend time with their families, spend time on the things that recharge their batteries and take care of themselves because just driving them slavishly to comp, say for your management mistakes is.
Or a healthy way to lead a business. I think you have to tell, ’em go home, do something good for yourself, whether it’s exercise or play music or whatever it is, go home and, and recharge your battery. Step away from this. Come back in here tomorrow. Bring me your best act. You your be at the top of your game, but go home.
And, and as the leader, I think sometimes you have to exemplify that yourself, even though it’s sometimes hard to do to pack up at five or five 30 or whatever it is and say, well, goodnight, everybody. And I hope you’re not more than about five minutes behind me. I’m leaving. And it makes them realize that, okay.
It really is. It really is. Okay. He’s gone. maybe I can be home in time for dinner with my kids. So I, that is particularly important during times of crisis.
Naji: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, I wanna move now into, uh, a section where I would give you a word, oh God. And I wanna get the reaction so the first word is, uh, leadership.
Bob Jones:: Well, I think leadership requires courage. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an organization where. People did not criticize the leader. I think if you have a really high need to be liked, you are not well suited for a leadership position. I think you can be loved, but not liked. paradoxic though. That may sound, they may love you for your leadership qualities and not necessarily like you, when you hold them.
So I think I also think that.
Let me give you a better example than one that I would offer. I spent some time with the, uh, the top guy at about a $3 billion firm out there. We were having dinner one evening and he said, you know, Bob, I’ve got a whole squadron and very experienced executives working for me. And fact is I could probably leave the business for a month and they would do a great job of running the business.
What they need me for is to look over the horizon, see what’s coming. That could either be a great opportunity for us or a great threat to us and come back and make a risk, determination that we should address those things. That very few of us actually see. And sometimes I’m. It’s not easy, but that’s what I signed up for.
And I thought, wow, I should write this down. It’s brilliant.
Naji: What about entrepreneurship?
Bob Jones:: Uh, insanity, Lecy, character flaws, uh, psychosis and, um, Well, as, as I said, I’ve been interviewing fellow entrepreneurs, um, as part of cooking up this book, I’m writing, um, the startup starter kit and. I have to say it was a revelation that people that I already knew and thought of as having a lot of self confidence and a lot of swagger ended up saying things to me like this is excruciatingly difficult.
It’s absolutely not a life that’s for everyone. It challenged my. Self-esteem it, in some cases crushed my self respect. It did, uh, damage to some of my valuable and intimate relationships and, and entrepreneurship is over promoted and over glamorized and people, people should be told about entrepreneurship, but given enough information to make a eye decision.
And of course I couldn’t resist saying, well, would you do it again? And in every case they said,
And, and then of course I couldn’t resist saying well, given, um, that this was about as much fun as taking a hammer and hitting all your fingers. Why on earth would you do it again? And one of them said, well, I think an awful lot of people trade their dreams for security. And there’s two things wrong with that one.
If you think you’re gonna find security in a big company or delusional, it’s not there. And two, for me personally, Bob, I can’t think of anything that’s worth trading my dreams for. So I think entrepreneurship is creative. It’s exciting. It’s fulfilling, it’s exhilarating. It’s incredibly difficult. And when your business fails and as most of them do, it causes you to reevaluate a number of your personal full philosophies.
And I think that. Many of us take refuge in the analogy of the jockey and the horse. I’m a pretty good jockey. I happened to pick a horse that wasn’t gonna win the race. So the poor thing died in the middle of the race. So I guess I’ll mourn the loss of my horse. And then I’ll go find another horse. As opposed to thinking if the business fails, I’m a failure.
Everything I do from here forward will be a failure. I think that’s wrong. I think entrepreneurship incorporates failure that those who are successful view that failure as a learning event, rather than as a terminal event.
Naji: Love it. And I’m eager to get your book
Bob Jones:: out. well, uh, September and, uh, there’s a waiting list getting built at, uh, the startup starter kit.com.
So awesome. We’ll go there. Pedal the book co sign up. I’ll be glad to send you a personal.
Naji: Blues dogs
Bob Jones: well,
Working musician since before I was an adult and played a lot of different kinds of music, uh, thought I was pretty good until I started playing with people who made me realize I wasn’t any good. And at one point in my checkered past, I ended up playing in a seven piece fan on the south side, Chicago, where you had to go several miles to find anybody that looked like.
And I realized that I didn’t know how to play the blues either. And I had to really dig in, I, I learned the merit of space in your music that the next step in sophistication for me was learning when to not play and leave some room for everybody else, learn how to play and listen at at the same time, these were skills that I, as a hot dog, young guitar player, never assimilated.
And when I ended up with this group that I’m with now wonderful bunch, uh, we thought, well, we’re not actually playing at country clubs. We’re playing in some kind of down and dirty places along with the dogs. and the name blues dogs, uh, sort of evolved and that’s us.
Naji: That that’s awesome. And when, when you were talking about it, you talked about listen and play and give space.
I imagine you took some of those into your leadership style too, right? From the lessons of music.
Bob Jones:: Oh, absolutely. No. It’s profoundly affected my view of, of managing and. Employees on the Syrian site for a moment. One of the things we were taught in business school was concept called command and control, which was every bit as disagreeable as it sounds.
And it just didn’t work for me. I might lead the band, but I don’t know how to play saxophone. And I’m perfectly willing to suggest the direction to the sax player and get out of his way. And if we can do it in a way that is collaborative and there’s a creative synthesis that comes then sometimes a four piece band can sound like an eight piece band.
Because everything’s working and that’s a pretty good analogy in my view for how a small group of quality employees that are really in sync can move mountains.
[00:29:42] Naji: I love it. I’m a big fan of music, definitely worse than you playing guitar or piano, but , I’m, I’m a
Bob Jones:: big fan. Well, you must come see us.
Naji: uh, the last word is spread love and organizations.
Bob Jones:: Well, I’ve had a bit of a turnaround on that one, um, because. When I first, um, encountered you and the name of this organization, I thought, oh, I’m not gonna like this at all, because this is gonna be like one of those things where every kid that plays on the sports team gets a trophy just for being there.
When, in fact I’ve coached some of those teams and the kids don’t want that stuff. The kids wanna know, did we win or not? And, and independent of whether or not I’d push ’em. And coupled with some of my own insights is I really have caught employees embezzling from the company. And so I know that not everybody out there is a good person, most are, or I wouldn’t be doing all this volunteer work I’m doing, but not all.
So I was. And then I went to your website. I listened to a couple of your podcasts and thought, okay, I was wrong. That what you’re doing is shining the light on something that really will help people be effective. And.
I don’t know, maybe it sounds grandiose, but maybe leave the world a slightly better place than they found it by collaborating, working with supporting and sharing the love with, within the confines of who, uh, accept this gift and understand that it’s a gift.
Naji: Oh, thank you about this. It means so much what, what you just shared now, any final word of wisdom for leaders around the.
Bob Jones: You know, Naji I have hired people who were overqualified and making way more money than I, as the leader of a startup could afford to pay them. And when I asked them why they took the job. What boiled out of all, that was because I want to feel like I’m making a difference. I don’t want to be somewhere where I can sit all day long and shuffle paper from one side of the desk to the other, collect a fat paycheck and go home feeling like I didn’t make a contribute.
And, and I think. Is a kernel of real wisdom for leaders. If you can show people that what they are doing makes a difference and have them feel that what they’re doing is important and makes a difference. Then the next thing you have to do is just get out of their way. Sure. They understand where you’re trying to go and that they have an important in getting there.
And. Maybe step back in now and then, and help ’em clear a hurdle or something, but find out what it is that they think is important. Try and connect the dots to what your mission is, inspire ’em and get out of the way.
Naji: Love it. What a great advice. Thank you so much, Bob, for this genuine and straightforward discussion we had
Bob Jones: Thank you. Well, I’m flattered. Thank you for, uh, including me. It’s been a pleasure.
Naji: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.