These all may be true, but as the creator of the new protein drink Jacked Rabbit demonstrates, successful leaders don’t need decades of knowledge or a proven track record if they are willing to learn from others, able to adapt quickly, and yet, are confident enough to hold the line when necessary.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food, Mark Suslik shares how he learned to be a better leader by working with industry veterans at Nestlé USA to bring to market his new protein drink as part of the company’s unique initiative to crowdsource innovative ideas from employees.
Pitching to the pros
Suslik’s career at Nestlé didn’t begin in marketing or even on the company’s beverage team, rather he divided his time as a financial analyst and a legal intern while also pursuing a law degree in the evenings.
Suslik’s hectic schedule didn’t leave much time for cooking, which meant he fueled himself with protein drinks – many of which he said were lacking in flavor and texture.
When he learned about Nestlé’s initiative to crowdsource innovative projects from employees across the company, Suslik said he saw a potential solution to his protein drink conundrum by pitching his own version that he said not only delivered nutrition but also tasted better than the competition.
After winning the support of his fellow employees in an open vote, Suslik said he pitched the executive leadership team who saw “then genuine passion I had behind the idea, and they said go! What do you need from us to make it happen? Yes! Yes! Yes!”
With their help, Suslik worked with experts across Nestlé to create a better-tasting, nutrient-dense protein drink that also offered an added layer of fun in the form of a muscle-bound cartoon rabbit that Suslik said he hopes will help the product hop off store shelves.
“Jacked Rabbit is all about flavor, fitness and fun, and it is about delivering flavor to our consumers,” he said, adding the beverage is “low calorie, we are low fat, we are low carb, low sugar, but we are also high in protein and fun because we have this amazing caricature on pack that embodies the spirit of just getting in shape and bringing a personality to the brand.”
He added the muscly rabbit is “kind of the older cousin” of Nestlé’s Nesquik Quicky bunny, and will allow consumers who drank Nesquik as kids to “evolve and advance and take that next step” as they grow up to drink Jacked Rabbit.
Discovering what it takes to lead
The experience of developing and bringing Jacked Rabbit to market taught Suslik that being a good leader doesn’t mean having all the answers or being dictatorial. Rather, it is about balancing the advice of others with the courage of your convictions.
“Speed, agility, courage and collaboration – I have learned that all of those make you a better leader,” Suslik said.
He acknowledged that ‘courage’ was one of the hardest characteristics for him to master, especially when working with experts who had years of experience on him.
“I wasn’t always the most courageous about speaking out at the beginning. I gave great deference to some of our leaders who were helping me on the project. But then I realized, wait a minute, I am the consumer in this space and while our leaders [are] great … there is still a level of passion that I have in this space that I should bring to the table and voice my opinion a little bit more strongly to help us ultimately come to that best solution, not just necessarily the solution or the way we have always done things,” he said.
Remain optimistic in the face of criticism
Suslik said he also learned that a fundamental element of being a successful entrepreneur is remaining optimistic and true to yourself in the face of adversity.
“There are going to be a lot of people who come to the table and tell you how you can’t do something,” he said. But, he added, “you always have to keep that genuine passion and belief in yourself that will override all the naysayers.”
He explained it is important to listen to feedback – especially if it is negative – but not to let it get you down. Rather, he says, entrepreneurs need to “take it to heart and then figure out how do we come up with a solution to some of the problems that were present or how do we work around and be scrappy and stay true to the spirit and intent of [having an] open channel and innovation and being entrepreneurial.”
Laughing, he added, “it is kind of a roundabout way of saying, continue to believe in yourself, be passionate about what you are doing, and know that there is always a solution.”