Smoothing Over Company Operations

UPDATED: April 5, 2011
PUBLISHED: April 5, 2011

Think of the last time you devoted significant time to a project without interruptions from your phone, distractions from social media or demands of co-workers. How long did your concentration last? Ten minutes? Fifteen? We’re a short attention span society, and for many of us focus, patience and planning are things of the past.

James White, the president, CEO and chairman of Jamba Juice, has tractor-beam focus, which is why he’s renowned for his role in turning around multimillion-dollar companies such as Coca-Cola, Safeway and Gillette.

“I have experience being able to solve complex problems, so that leads me into turnaround kind of operations. But I also have a capacity to build things and to grow companies and businesses,” White tells SUCCESS.

In December 2008, White took over Jamba Juice, an Emeryville, Calif.-based juice and smoothie company that, due to mismanagement and a schizophrenic growth strategy, saw a rapid decline in performance. Jamba Juice reported a third-quarter net income of $22.4 million in 2007 and a $12.4 million net loss in the third quarter of 2008.

White, who has a reputation for being a visionary who sticks to long-term goals, knew that if he wanted to get the company on track, he would have to close seven stores and refranchise a number of company-owned stores.

“I like to have a framework, a strategic agenda,” says White, who is methodical and proven to be effective at developing turnaround strategies. “I will refine it over time, but the idea is to have no more than fi ve strategy properties.

” White works with his executive team to create umbrella strategies—three to five core components that are critical to change—and then outlines tactics for implementation that include quarterly, monthly and often weekly objectives. It’s a lengthy process, but according to White, effective plans must be developed slowly. Once they’re developed, they need to be closely followed.

“We may have to amplify some components or have to focus on one strategy in one quarter over another,” he says. “But we’re diligent to stay on this path because it’s helpful from an employee perspective because they know what they’re working on.”

In two years, White and his team have successfully restored the overall health of the company by eliminating debt, strengthening the brand and assembling a strong team.

In the spring of 2010, Jamba Juice had 745 restaurant locations, with more than 35 percent of them as franchise operations, and they announced an agreement with Paris Croissant to develop 200 Jamba Juice locations in South Korea. The first South Korea-based location opened early this year.

White also expanded Jamba Juice’s menu to include food items, such as wraps, and formed partnerships with schools and national organizations to promote healthy eating habits among the nation’s youth, increasing the visibility and reputation of the brand.

“One of the things I want to do very quickly is gain control of the overall messaging in and outside of the company,” White says. “We need discipline with what we message and what we’re trying to get accomplished in the business.”

Before White draws up the focused, organized strategies he’s known for, he corrals his employees so everyone, from sales staff to the executive team, works as a unit. And he does it without running them over.

“One comment I often make is that if I had 10 people— any 10 people—I truly believe I could get more out of them than any other leader because I start understanding them from an individual perspective and can get more out of their effort because I care,” he says.

White may be one of the only people outside of the political arena who hosts “town hall” meetings. Politicians host them to sway constituents; White uses them as homework for his three-to-five strategy outline. “I ask for feedback and a thing or two they hope I’ll do as the new CEO and one or two things they view as core to the success the company’s had that I shouldn’t touch,” he says.

Then White hosts roundtables within different departments, getting as deep into the organization as he can, so when he does create his strategy, he lays a foundation as an insider, rather than an outsider. “It’s a combination of town halls, cross-functional roundtables and communication sessions,” he says.

It’s also a well-trained ear. White tries to have one-on-ones with each of his employees to get a sense of what they value about the company and what they want to get out of their careers. He’s been known to reposition employees who work in a department that falls in line with their résumés but deviates from their passions.

In talking to his employees, White realized Jamba Juice had a management issue but that the company culture and the brand were, in fact, doing quite well. “From a leadership perspective we try to address the challenges or problems and the recourse required to address them, while making sure we continually stay in line cross-functionally,” he says.

White focuses on the successes he’s had to lay the groundwork for the challenges he faces today. “As a leader, I’m driven by the culture of the company and the places where I’ve had the most success; the employees were the most engaged and felt they were the most empowered and best understood. My overall strategy is to develop a company where we have highly engaged employees. You’ll get much better results, and we’re seeing that here as we work through the turnaround of Jamba Juice.”