business news in context, analysis with attitude

Content Guy's Note: "The MNB Interview" is designed to engage with business thought leaders who I like and respect, and who have something to say. It will run each workday from August 23 - 30 while I am traveling cross-country on a road trip with my son, and has a simple format. I posed to each of the interviewees the same 13 questions and requested that they answer at least 10 of them; I told them that their answers could be as short or long as they wished, and as serious or irreverent as they liked. What I was looking for was a window into how they think and feel.

Today's MNB Interview features Lisa Sedlar, president/CEO, Green Zebra Grocery.

One of the things I most admire is when people who are successful and respected in a specific job decide to leave that position and do something different. For some people, maybe it is a desire to walk the tightrope, and an established gig doesn't fulfill that desire. For others, it may be a need for constant challenge. And for still others, it may be pure restlessness.

From my perspective, it doesn't matter. It takes guts to walk away from an established gig, and that's just what Lisa Sedlar demonstrated when she decided to leave New Seasons Markets, one of the best retailers in the Portland, Oregon, market, and launch a start-up: Green Zebra Grocery, described as a "healthy convenience store" that she plans to expand into a Portland-area chain.

It is fair to say that Lisa is hip-deep in preparations for the opening of the first Green Zebra on October 1, which is why I'm flattered that she took a few minutes out of a busy schedule to be part of the MNB Interview series...

The MNB Interview...

What's the most important thing you've learned in your career?

Lisa Sedlar:
I have one basic rule I try to follow: Put your head down and get the work done.

What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

Lisa Sedlar:
Oh Geez, I make mistakes every day and I'm not just saying that. The key for me is to try to learn from everything. That means the good and the bad. For example, it's just as important to know why you exceeded your sales goals as it is to understand why you missed it.

What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

Lisa Sedlar:
The most significant thing I do each week is talk to my staff. In the absence of information, people make up their own reality. Sharing information transparently and asking for feedback is the best use of my time by far.

What is the most irreplaceable or essential piece of technology you own, and why?

Lisa Sedlar:
So much technology, so little time. I think at the end of the day, the POS system is a retailers best friend because the data it captures helps inform us about what our customers want.

What is your favorite movie (and is there a business lesson in it)?

Lisa Sedlar:
I'm a movie fanatic so I'm going to stick to the "business" genre and because I'm a child of the 80's I'm going to go with "How to Get Ahead in Advertising".  The business lesson it conveys is don't worry too much.

Content Guy's Note: Okay, Lisa got me on this one. I'd never heard of this movie, so I had to look it up. For those of you as equally in the dark as I was, "How To Get Ahead In Advertising" is a 1989 British farce that looks like it may owe more than a little to Monty Python. I'll have to check it out...

Kirk or Picard?  And why do you prefer one's management/leadership style over the other's?

Lisa Sedlar:
I have a picture of Jean Luc on my nightstand (yep, Im a Sci-Fi nerd, well probably just "nerd" is more accurate). While Kirk had some good qualities, like speaking. very. clearly. his leadership was all about him and with Picard it was all about everyone else.

Who has been the most influential person in your business life, and why?

Lisa Sedlar:
Too many to list. But Brian Rohter, the founder and original CEO of New Seasons Market taught me more than I could possibly write in this brief questionnaire. The most important of which was leaders don't have to be right all the time.

Keenest insight (so far) from your life and/or career?

Lisa Sedlar:
Not to sound too Pollyanna, but forgive everyone makes life so much easier.

When it comes to food, what is your greatest pleasure and your greatest weakness?

Lisa Sedlar:
Breakfast for dinner is my greatest pleasure. My greatest weakness is food, period.

Most memorable meal?  Where & what & why?

Lisa Sedlar:
This is a really boring answer coming from a person who has cooked with lots of great chefs and been to more great restaurants than I can shake a stick at but coming from a family of six, each of us kids on our birthday got to pick our favorite meal and we got to lay claim to the television for the entire day. My favorite meal was tuna noodle casserole and it still is. That's what happens when you grow up in Midwest.

Favorite place to go to eat/drink, not your home?

Lisa Sedlar:
Nostrana is my favorite restaurant here in Portland. It's the most simple and flavorful Italian food. When in San Fran I always go to Chez Panisse - again, simple flavors cooked just right. When I'm in Seattle I love Ivar's fish and chips and when I'm visiting my family back in the Detroit area I go to Greek Town.

What is the thing that you haven't yet done that you would most like to do?

Lisa Sedlar:
Create a successful business from the ground up. Okay, that was too easy given I'm in the middle of starting up Green Zebra Grocery.  I'd like to drive to all the major league baseball parks in one summer (and see a game at each one).

If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why?

Lisa Sedlar:
Hands down it's Listening. I try to listen for the kernel of truth in every situation. Most companies as they grow tend to make more and more decisions from the top down because it's faster. But in order for a decision to be solid it has to be informed by the people that the decision will affect. For example, if you want to make a change to your company attendance policy ask staff what they would like it to look like. This kind of process is time consuming and some would argue inefficient, but as a leader, you have to learn to tolerate, even encourage, some amount of inefficiency in order for the company to thrive.

On Monday, MNB will be off for the Labor Day observance. On Tuesday, MNB returns with its usual mix of news in context and analysis with attitude.
KC's View: