Agile CPG Innovation with Vivian Rhoads

What I’ve learned is that personal and human development is at the core of everything, so I’ve done a lot more coaching, mentoring, and focusing on individual development. I’ve found great joy in the transformations that I have experienced and seen with people on the team–life changing insights. It’s just incredible.

In this episode, Richard and Peter interview Vivian Rhoads, President of the Women’s Health business unit at Pharmavite. Vivian has adapted ideas and practices from agile software development to build highly-productive innovation teams in the vitamin and supplement space. Vivian’s work at Pharmavite reduced their cycle time for new innovations from a few years down to a few months and increased throughput from a 1 or 2 new products each year to a few dozen. This episode has great insights for anyone trying to take agile beyond the typical software context.

Additional Resources

Agile CPG Innovation: Pharmavite case study
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp
The Age of Agile by Stephen Denning
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

Episode Transcription

Peter Green

Welcome to the Humanizing Work Show. In today’s episode, Richard and I chat with Vivian Rhoads, president of the Women’s Health Business Unit at Pharmavite, the maker of Nature Made vitamins and many other vitamins and supplements. Vivian has a long and successful career in the consumer packaged goods industry with stints at Mars and PepsiCo, as well as doing consulting for several years with startups in that space.

I first met Vivian at one of our public courses, a Leading Organizational Transformation class in San Diego about four years ago. At the time, Vivian had just accepted a new role at Pharmavite as their vice president of innovation, where she had a mandate to take Pharmavite from an established leader in more traditional vitamins and supplements to being an innovation leader in that space.

In the four years since that workshop, Richard and I have worked with Vivian and her teams and several others at Pharmavite, and it’s been a pleasure to watch her lead with heart and purpose, as well as to see her absolutely knock it out of the park with her mandate to bring innovation into the company. Our conversation is wide ranging, covering tons of great topics.

In fact, as I edited the episode, I kept a list of my favorite points and there are 20 of them. I’m actually going to read them off real quick because I think it’ll give you an idea of what to expect in this episode. So, first we talk about how she first discovered Agile and why that turned out to be really important in her new position, leading innovation.

Second, she had a starting hypothesis for what roles were important to have on that first innovation team at Pharmavite, and we talk about how that went. We talk about how she approached hiring for what she describes as unicorns that are comfortable with loose role definitions and looking for purpose in their work beyond personal achievement; and how she introduced Agile to a CPG company where it had never been used while not being too preachy about it.

Also, we explore the results of her team effort, including accelerating from no new innovation in over a year to 25 innovations per year, and decreasing the lead time from an average of about 21 months between new products to their current lead time of four to nine months. We address how using a human-centric design thinking approach and a balanced innovation portfolio increased not only that speed and quantity of innovation, but the quality of it as well, leading to innovation, representing a huge part of Pharmavite’s growth– 39%– even as the pandemic created a massive demand for their traditional vitamins and supplements.

We learn how she worked to reframe failure as learning; both for the organization and for individuals; how her innovation team balanced the need for transparency in what they were testing and learning with the risk of overwhelming the rest of the business with what could feel, to an outsider of the team, like lots of chaotic churn.

We talk about the benefits she saw from bringing a designer into the team from the very beginning, leading to more T-shaped team members, which we discussed in the episode. And eventually everyone on the team, regardless of their role, began doing things like conducting user interviews in consumer homes, testing ideas on the website, and building and testing what she called “protocepts,” which was a new concept to us.. 

We also learned what a “protocept” is. Vivian shares how a cross-functional team that included both consumer insights and science and technology was the right match to lead to breakthrough innovations that serve Pharmavite’s purpose; to bring the gift of health to life. She explains how her CPG innovation teams are similar to, and how they might differ from, traditional software Scrum teams.

We discussed how she balances the benefit of autonomous teams with the need to collaborate and share information across those teams. We then go into how Vivian has grown as a leader, including how a mindfulness practice of focusing on abundance; sharing vulnerability; and her efforts at mentoring and developing; have been life changing for her and her team.

We touch on how the Leadership Circle model provided deep insights for her on how to approach her new role as she transitioned from Vice President of Innovation to president of the Women’s Health Business Unit. We discussed the importance of starting that new role with building relationships, learning the existing culture, and co-creating a vision for the organization when she took on that role, versus the all-too-common approach of coming in on day one and telling everybody the new way things are going to be. We talked about what she hoped work will look like a generation from now. She shares a great technique she used to facilitate an inclusive, focused conversation with that new team in the first week about what was changing, how people were feeling about it, what they needed from her, and what everyone’s expectations were as she stepped into the new role. 

She also shares her experience growing up outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil in a family of entrepreneurs. And how at the time she felt like there was something that needed to be fixed about her presence, her ambition, and her drive to achieve, and how working with an exemplary leader later in her career became the model for how she could make other people around her better by shifting that view of herself.  And how, on the first day of the new job in San Diego, she experienced an almost cosmic full-circle experience that helped her reflect on everything that’s happened over the last four years. 

Richard and I are super grateful for Vivian’s leadership and generosity in sharing these experiences and what she’s learned, and we hope you’ll get as much out of the conversation as we did.

We would love it if you’re interested in hearing more conversations like these, as well as the key concepts that Richard and I are learning and finding helpful to our clients, if you would subscribe to the show, rate it in your podcast app and share it with others. Okay, onto today’s episode. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Richard Lawrence

Vivian, welcome to the Humanizing Work Show. 

Vivian Rhoads

Thank you. 


You’ve done some impressive things, applying Agile software development way outside of software in the CPG consumer product space. Tell us about how that happened


When working with entrepreneurs, I needed to get a lot done in a very short timeframe because budgets were different, right?

So I was doing marketing strategy and innovation strategy, and I came across the concept of Sprints from the Google Ventures book Sprint and really got fascinated with that idea of a kind of a structured, focused team approach. I really went into a spiral of learning about lean startup, Scrum, and what design thinking is. I started with that exploration– but really, I knew there was something about the power of small teams against a very focused goal, and people who care about the purpose.

So I started exploring that– and when I started actually interviewing for Pharmavite and heard from our CEO the purpose of transforming and the need to transform innovation (and he tapped into me for that), I knew that I needed to draw upon my corporate experience with PepsiCo and Mars. But a lot of the five years that I had spent working with entrepreneurs was in designing something that was small, nimble, and based on “test and learn;” so I had a conviction of that, but didn’t quite know what it was.

I got a hold of the book Age of Agile, and started learning a lot about it, but didn’t know how to get started.  For instance, “Who do I select to be in that team? How do I go about the process to start?”  So Googled “Agile training near me,” and came across the course that Peter was teaching, Certified Agile Leadership.

It was a week and a half away and I thought, “You know what? I need to go talk to someone.” That seems like an investment for me to take the training down there and learn. And through that training I found a connection with a lot of the concepts that I’ve been personally developing about leadership, about purpose-driven organizations, human-driven organizations that gave me case studies. It still didn’t give me the answer to  “Who should be on your team?” but it gave me at least a lot of the big vision of how to do it. I also went to a Lean Startup conference, which gave me other methods about how you test and learn, and I started that exploration. But the really funny thing is that when I was coming back from the Lean Startup Conference ( I think I met you in September and the conference was in November), and I came back, met my brother who was coming from an IT conference (he is in IT). We met at LAX and he was going to spend a couple days here.

I said, “You won’t believe I’ve just discovered this thing. And you won’t believe it comes from software. It’s Agile.”

He said, “Vivian, I’ve been a Product Owner for the last seven years of my life.” I said  “Why did I never talk about this?” It was really funny, but when I understood the principles and the values of Agile, I thought, “You know what, let’s take a stab at that.”


You mentioned hiring as a challenge there, figuring out the composition of your teams. How did you come to think about that as you experimented with what makes the right Agile team in this space?


I started with thinking about a startup and the startups that I work with. Who do you have? Usually you start with a founder. There’s someone who has a vision, and then the first hire is an operations person.

I concluded, “Okay, I need an operations person. What else do I need? I do need a marketer that’s going to set some of the vision strategy. We’re a human-centric, consumer-centric organization. I do need consumer insights into it. Science is huge for product development. Okay. I need a scientist for that.”

And I would say the biggest hypothesis, which came a lot from design thinking, is bringing a designer to the very beginning of the discovery of innovation. So that was the wild card of the team, but I knew that we had to have a cross-functional team that could operate independently from the machine and could still know enough to get stuff done.

That was the beginning of the structure and that was the very first team. And as we expanded into other teams, the makeup could change a little bit depending on the purpose and the vision I  had. 


What was challenging about being this island of an Agile way of working in the middle of a large organization that doesn’t work that way?


I think the hardest thing, first of all, is in recruiting. The type of profile and people that you need is different. The roles and responsibilities are not very well defined on purpose. There’s overlap between people. You have to build some of that redundancy within the team, and I was looking for unicorns.  I didn’t know I was looking for that, but I started seeing a pattern of people who came to the realization in life that there’s more than achievement.

There’s a sense of discovery, a personal aha moment that happened that made me feel, “I want to work with purpose. I want to work in a team that I care about and they care about me. I don’t want just a title. I don’t want just progression. I want to feel great about what I’m doing,” and this is difficult to put in a job description that that’s what you look for.

And certainly it’s like, yeah, this person has the qualifications, but I haven’t seen that thing. So recruiting is that; and I would say that I take longer to recruit than most.


If you put that in the job description, you’re not likely to find somebody who reads that and says, “No, I don’t want purpose in my work. That’s not for me.”


Exactly. Yeah!


So it’s really easier for people to say yes to it.


Yes, exactly. “ I want to work in health and wellness.”


Of course. I want that. 


Great. You know, and a team that cares. Sure. But it’s through the behaviors and through conversation. I like the level questions; and we do complete integration of the team as part of the recruitment process, which is also another one, especially nowadays in this market that exists.

The speed of recruitment is very important. So you don’t want to have rounds and rounds and rounds. But at the same time, I do want to make sure that the people meet the team, and the team get to meet the person. That’s another thing. But the major part is a lot of technicalities that we come across in Agile.

Like, “What’s a Backlog? What’s a Sprint? What’s a Sprint Review? And a Retrospective?” When the organization doesn’t have the language around Agile, it can sound cultish. And so how do you make sure that you are approachable? It’s the organ rejection type of situation, right? You want to be different, but you don’t want to be rejected for it.

So building those bridges is difficult, but you start seeing results–and there are different ways of achieving results, right? We have one way of achieving. Other teams have different ways of achieving. What can we learn from each other? Great. But I’m not trying to preach to anybody that that’s the only way of working.

There’s kind of a fine line between being proud about what you do and the results and how you’re achieving, but not sounding preachy and know- it- all: that type of situation. So that’s challenging; because I’m really proud, I’m passionate, but I don’t want to be perceived as being the one that has the answer. 


Mm-hmm. Tell us a little bit about what was your charter, what was your mandate when you were brought into Pharmavite? How did it go? Where are you at right now with that?


Yes. Pharmavite and Nature Made is the big legacy brand in the industry. You know, Nature Made was one of the ones that’s celebrating 51 years now.

It started at the beginning of supplementation and it has had great success over the years. But with that, it created, I would say, a steady- state culture. And when Jeff came, regarding his grounding on purpose and values, part of the observation was that we haven’t been able to innovate.

There were some innovation initiatives, but often they will hit the market and fail right away. And there was a lot of focus on renovation, just making sure the business is steady, but in a category where really innovation is the name of the game, you have to change. So the need for change was there.

What I had to do is to figure out how we’re going to innovate to drive growth for the organization, right? The goal is growth. So when looking at that, I found that there were a lot of– wow– well-intentioned people who tried to do innovation, who had great talent. But what I saw is that the systems of work were not there.

Systems of work and organizing people and how to make decisions: Those are super, super important. And so when I came here, an important part of it all was to identify the team, build the culture of the team, but also build the governance that would propel transformation. And not just consumer test results using traditional methods, but rather using a test and learn approach.

We had to build the intuition to spend time in the homes of real people– real consumers. You know, at the time that I arrived here, there was a national sales meeting. So the national sales meeting happens around July, and that’s when we announced innovation. I started the second week of July, four years ago, two weeks after the national sales meeting; and no innovation was announced in that sales meeting.

So that needed to change. But I started here in 2018 and I remember my charter was, okay, you’re going to focus on 2021 and beyond. And I said, great. What’s the pipeline of 2020? Like we have none. I thought,  “Wow! I’m not going to hold any job if I start working three years from now.” And we have not. So literally in four months we dug up things that research and development was working on– things that we could just put together.

And in that year, just five months later, we launched four pieces of innovation. And then, from zero to four, we picked up the pace. Now we’re in the 25 range per year. At the time I arrived, 21 months was the amount of time to take an innovation from idea to shelf. At that rate, by the time you get to shelf, the category has changed.

The thing is, they’re great ideas except that you are late. So we cut that significantly. The shortest that we did, we actually launched innovation in four months. Usually nine months is the time, but then we know when we need to pull, we can; we have the confidence that we can do it.


You’ve talked about this astounding increase in the quantity of innovation that you’re able to produce now. Tell us about how the quality of innovation has changed during that time.


Using human-centric design and design thinking has been critical for us to really understand the needs, and to use jobs to be done as a framework for that, to really understand what consumers are going through, the progress they’re trying to make, and what are all the substitutes or the workarounds.

This has been critical for us to understand and develop more holistic innovation. Rather than just, “What’s the next vitamin D?” 

What we also realize is that winning in the marketplace in innovation is about taking a portfolio approach. You don’t know exactly how an innovation is going to perform until you hit the market. So,how do you take a portfolio approach? We need to have the holistic amazement that we are proud that it’s the first to market, but we also need the next strength of vitamin D because together they will balance out. It’s creating your functionalities. And the following year, you build upon the ones that do well.

But you are constantly learning in the market. What I’m super proud of is that last year, innovation was responsible for 39% of the growth of Pharmavite. And this was in a time of incredible growth behind the Covid pandemic. The pandemic made people think about health differently.  Proactive health became super important.

So the supplement industry has experienced really good growth. When you look at that and you’re able to still contribute not only due to the pandemic– it’s really innovation that drove the growth– it’s pretty amazing.


I’m curious how the perception of failure or falsification of a hypothesis has changed as you’ve increased the frequency and decreased the cycle time on innovation.


So what we learned by speeding things up is that there’s certain activities that absolutely must happen. We’ll never compromise in quality and safety. However, there are a lot of other things that are questionable where you need it. Looking into a tool that I absolutely love is “What’s the biggest unknown from known to unknown and from high impact to low impact?” and really look into those things that you do not know, which also cause the biggest impact.

This transformed the organization due to a discovery of innovation, which is where incubation on my team has created the focus. It required what I call a reprogramming of our brains; because it’s not complicated. So you don’t start with a situational analysis, you’re going to jump right away on the highest risk hypothesis; and sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

So, for everybody that joined the team, that was the biggest thing that I told interviewees, and that I try to probe during interviews: Are you capable of letting go? Letting go on what made you successful until today? And also from a commercialization team, once the business canvas was complete, among the people who would be taking it to market, we started doing an exercise of the highest risk hypothesis and questioning parts of the timeline to see if they’re really needed or things that need to be re reframed.

So what matters is reframing from failure to learning. What matters is ensuring that, at every opportunity, you reinforce that message and send signals to the organization and how important that learning is.  So we spend quite a bit of time and energy to make sure that within our leaders, when they’re talking about examples of things that have failed, they understand the importance of the learning. With hindsight being 2020, you could have done things differently, but, you know, that was the right action at the time. It’s really important to send that message to the organization. But ultimately I do think that failure is a reframe that each person needs to get used to. Yeah, there might be some cases that it was something that was in your control and you chose something that didn’t go the way you wanted. You have to be able to live with that.

Because I find that sometimes it’s not even the organization, it’s the person. Can the person live with that discomfort?


So what I’m hearing is that before you came here, when we were on this kind of 21, 24 a month cycle from, “we’ve got an idea” to it hits the market, that the organization built out these structures, these processes, like the timeline for how we take an idea to market.

And they were probably built with a goal of not innovate, renovate. And so you have these blocks of time that have been built in to really allow for safety, stability, everything to be predictable as much as possible. And people are really used to going “step one is this, then step two is that, then step three, et cetera, all the way till we hit market.”

What I’m hearing you say is that a big part of the transformation was recognizing that step one might not be where the risk is. And so we need to not worry about step one right now, we’re going to go all the way to step seven because that’s where there might be some risk or some uncertainty, and let’s just do that piece because we might get into step seven and realize, “Oh, our hypothesis is wrong.”

People don’t want that. Or “This is the wrong way to sell it, or to market it or to package it,” or whatever that thing is. And that was really uncomfortable for an organization that was very used to going one thing at a time in order. And so a big part of it was getting comfortable with saying, we’re going to start in the middle because that’s where the risk is.

And that allowed you to learn much faster and to start shrinking that timeline.


Yeah, and it’s interesting, because we kill so many ideas really early on. Sometimes there’s no visibility of the organization on how many things we don’t do. And oh, one day there was some sort of learning shared and people are like, “We don’t kill ideas.”

And I was like, “What does that mean?” Like, yeah, we don’t, we don’t kill it. And I realized that we’re not giving visibility to all the things that got killed completely before we hit the point in which a lot of the organization sees a project. By the time that they see the project, we have desirability, validated feasibility, viability.

We are looking for that sweet spot. And until we hit that, there’s no need to involve and distract the organization. And some subject matter experts help us throughout the way filling in expertise. But really this combination is hard to get. And I thought it was very funny and like, how can we be more purposeful about showing, actually, we’ve kind of been at the, “clean out,” based on the hypotheses that we learned. 


It’s the risk of being on an island, which is that nobody else sees what goes on in the island. And so the way that things work on this island don’t spread out because you’re intentionally building some walls around it so that you can do that type of work and move quickly within the bubble of your teams.

Now, the other teams don’t see what’s going on in the bubble, and so the ideas don’t spread. It’s a hard balance there.


It is, really. And what I realize is that in this team, there’s so many pivots. Pivots are daily. You find information and you have to rethink. It’s a balance on how much transparency you give, because if you give transparency and you pivot, first of all, it’s like, “Oh, but I thought that that’s what you were doing.”

I’m like, “No. Now we’re doing this.” For people who are not used to that, it feels like you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re just changing constantly what you’re doing. And so the balance of giving transparency, but also inspiring confidence in the organization that you know what you are doing is a very tricky one.

And I don’t know that we have it right. We have built ways that we send out to the organization. Our Sprints right now vary between one group, which is a learning. One group has two week Sprints, the other pod has a three week Sprint. But every three weeks we send to the organization our backlog. Okay.

These are the ideas in the hopper with traffic light, or what should you expect? How ready are they? You know, how close are they to finding that sweet spot between desirability, viability, and feasibility? So we do that. It’s sometimes confusing, but sometimes you have to accept that there is ambiguity in there; you have to have some visibility to people, but not too much.


When you were talking about the team structure, you mentioned that bringing design in early was unusual, at least in the industry, and you said that that was a hypothesis– that you should have design in earlier. How did you test the hypothesis? What did you learn?


The testing of the hypothesis was saying, do we see better thinking coming from the team? Novel thinking? Innovative thinking? What I realized is that by having a designer there, there are a couple things. First of all, a lot of cross-training, meaning everybody in the team now knows about design thinking; and that was super important. So be able to carry a user interview. Every single person, from a supply chain to a science and technology person, they can cary an interview. They go into homes and they’re the ones conducting an interview.

So that was–wow– great. Because I’ve never seen that before. So know enough. You’re not the expert, but you don’t need to be the expert for that. That was mind-changing. And we talk a lot about that concept of the I versus the T, meaning the people within the team. They’re tees, meaning they have the area of expertise that they brought in.

But what’s important in the tee is the breadth, and in finding the people who own that tee. The designer in the team was able to stretch the tee of the other people in the team in a way that is unusual: User-centricity. So that was fantastic. But ultimately the other part of design is the doing, being able to protocept things really quickly and be able to have consumer interviews and have something to be seen.

The designer helped the team a lot to bring things to life and test the website towards mockups, allow us to learn really early on and kill ideas sooner, or find nuggets of insights that we wouldn’t otherwise. So it’s not only approved now that I’m moving to a different role, a designer’s coming with me,

I know I can do it another way. 


Did you say “protocept”? That’s a new term for me. I got some new lingo. So prototypes– is this like prototype and concept mixed together?


Protocepts are, I would say, in the realm of prototypes, but it is rougher, I guess even more rough than a prototype. I think what’s the magic of design thinking through an artifact like a protocept is you find the insight and the need and the driver behind people who are not reacting necessarily to what’s in front of them.

But what we want to hear is the why, the perception. So, while an artifact is rarely the thing that makes it to market, it’s a tool for you to learn more about pains, gains, and jobs to be done.


Cool.  It strikes me that most people would probably imagine that innovation in the supplement industry is driven by science and technology and that kind of research and everything you’re talking about is really understanding the customer in the market.


Yeah, so I think the aha actually came from Tobe Cohen. He’s our Chief Growth Officer who was in the supplier side of the nutraceuticals company. So he actually had insights about the industry from the view of what innovation is looking like, and the aha for him was that nobody was bringing scientific insights and consumer insights at the same time.

There are a lot of companies that come from a science perspective, and I say it’s beautiful science that solves the needs for five people or that have a consumer-centric way but cannot get to the uniqueness in the science and making things better. So we live in the intersection of consumer insights and scientific insights.

That’s the magic. And so what it changed for me, having a CPG background– a lot of food, a lot of beverage– that I’ve developed in the past, was starting with everything at the same time. Meaning the scientist is in the room when we are doing ethnographies and we are doing interviews, and we have nutrition scientists that are fabulous, that understand the science, but are not necessarily close to the consumer.

So bringing those together has gotten us to come up with novel ways of thinking about solving problems. And that’s exciting because of building that bridge; and the amount that I’ve learned in the four years here about science is amazing. As a non-scientific person with no scientific background, I’m a business person.

Going all the way to helping to bring the gift of health to the lives of people in a true way, not just in a marketing position way, is amazing. It feels really amazing. It’s a team unification and that’s what really gets me to be energized about what we do.


Can you share an example of a time when having the scientist in the room while doing the consumer research led to a breakthrough?


Yes. A great example is in the area of sleep. So sleep is a key area of focus for us, and we hear over and over again, from people who suffer from bad sleep that, you know, nothing works. Everyday I try one thing, I try the other thing, open my cupboard. I have special pillows and sound machines and supplements and lighting, but nothing seems to work over time.

And so there’s a high degree of frustration, a high degree of hopelessness and confusion. So as we listen to that, knowing that melatonin has been the number one supplement used, we conclude that the science is solid. But the scientist in the room said, “Hey, the reason that you don’t fall asleep tonight is not the same that you didn’t fall asleep last night.”

Hold on. Why? So, there’s not one solution, there are different reasons for sleeplessness. So I asked, “Okay, what are the reasons?” It got us to ask, and that’s how we discovered there are actually 12 consumer jobs around sleep. Some are because your mind is racing, you can’t calm your mind, right? That’s a whole different thing. For some it’s actually that you’re waking up in the middle of the night. You have no problem falling asleep, but you’re waking up in the middle of the night. It started opening up a lot of opportunities for us to think about sleep differently and create a portfolio around it, but one in which personalization makes sense. So for us, the innovation there is how consumers realize that, and how to navigate an industry or solutions outside of the industry.


 A large portion of our audience comes from some expertise in how Agile software development teams work and kind of traditional Agile techniques.

And I’m curious: For those listeners, if they were to walk into your team room now that we’re coming back in person, what would look different about how you use an Agile approach from what kind of a standard Agile approach is like?


Yeah, I think they would have heart palpitations.


Do you have supplements for that?


Exactly. It’s very different. So we had to adapt not only to being CPG, not only because it’s innovation, we’re not like the delivery of software every week, you know, to our needs, to our headcounts, the number of people we have, and the job to be done, right? And so what is going to look similar is the fact that we are structuring Scrum in Scrum teams, that we have the ceremonies, we have daily standups, we have reviews, planning reviews, retrospectives that look the same.

We have a Product Backlog, we have a Sprint backlog. Great. You know, until now, great. We also have a working agreement for the team. Awesome. We have stakeholders. Great. Then that’s where things get really muddy.  We learned that we needed the Product Owners to sit within the delivery team. So right now, that person wears multiple hats..

And why did we need to do that? First of all, the unique needs of the team. So, to have a Product Owner that is going across, it was diluted.They’re not as close to the work, and things change really quickly. So we saw the benefits of actually having someone sitting there, who understands what’s happening there, to be able to develop great backlogs.

We also saw that we could not have a flat organization. At one time, I had 15 direct reports or 14 direct reports.  You might say, “Okay, in a self-managing organization you can manage.”  I agree, absolutely. I could manage a lot more people reporting to me than normal, than in a regular organization.

They usually have a maximum of five and right now I have eight and it’s fine. But there are certain things about coaching and mentoring that are just not possible; there are not enough hours in the day to be able to do that. So within the delivery team, we have reporting lines. We have seen the benefits to the people who are focused on their development. They feel like their managers are closer and they can set the direction in a faster way.

So I would say that that’s the biggest thing. We still have a Scrum Master that goes across the pods. I would say that’s the biggest difference.


So you have, depending on the timing, two or three different teams that are working on innovation; and they focus on different parts of it. And the Scrum Master spans all of those teams?




Okay, got it.


Yeah, so rather than having the Scrum of Scrums, we have the Product Owners that get together with the Scrum Master to discuss– because there’s some collaboration across the pods. And I would say that the biggest learning has been that when the teams were too close, it was hard to understand what team you belong to, and it’s something that we really discussed.  You need to be clear on what team you belong to. So then we created more separation, which helped from an autonomy perspective. But then I think we realized in the last 12 months that it was too siloed, that we needed to somehow bring a little bit more cross pollination.

We realized that from the external stakeholders, people we work with, who said, “Why does this team or this pod ask me for this information this way? And the other one’s asking for the same information, but in a different way. Now I’m sitting here trying to work, and I have two templates. I have two timelines.”

It’s confusing, right? So we need to have some synergies where it makes sense, or if there are differences, then we are more able to communicate what the differences are versus just being like, that’s how I do it, you know? 


How have you grown as a leader over the years?


Next question…


Yeah.  A lot.

So there are a lot of things that happened in my life prior to coming here that are good context about who I am and how I came here when working with entrepreneurs. It came to a point of my life that I started realizing that there were people, especially one entrepreneur, Claudia Maia, that led her team very differently.

She absolutely believes in abundance. She believes in giving. She believes in the development of her team as humans. Observing that and being part of that, (and to be honest, failing some of that), having some hard conversations and candid conversations about how I was acting versus what she expected, made me realize that, first of all, there are certain things about my previous corporate life that were carrying with me that were not serving me. And mainly it’s believing in scarcity, and in a consulting company relationship. You know:  “You’re paying me– I want to make you happy,” but ultimately it is a consulting relationship.

And I started seeing that that was not something that I wanted, I was proud of, that I really wanted to feel I was in for the purpose, no matter what. And there are good days and bad days, but ultimately that we are in this together. She also exposed me to mindfulness and I really got deeply into that and into observing myself, my beliefs or traumas that I was carrying that were not serving me.

And so I came to a point that I really needed to ground myself in who I am and my purpose in life. And I went through a time that I studied personal branding; but personal branding is part of discovering your beliefs.  What are your fundamental values? I read a book that she gave to me, the Big Leap and learned about this idea of “zone of genius” and what’s really your genius. I started discovering what really drove me at the same time. It was when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism and my life, the life that I thought I was going to have, everything was questioned. It was questioning how I feel. It’s not about how I feel. It’s about being here for him and being here in the present, not five years from now, the day I want to become a CEO.

And all of that brought me back. So there are a lot of things about believing abundance, believing in the power in the now, and really grounding yourself on who you are. So when this opportunity came at Pharmavite, my biggest thing (and I talked about the hypothesis of bringing a designer); but the true, true hypothesis, my view, is that I want to see if I can build a team in an organization that can achieve success by really being good. Focused on the good and the people, and focused on not clearing the mind, not acting from a reactive state, and focused on the purpose that we have in a very expressive and creative way. And so I came in with that feeling and that was, I would say, the magic of my life that I was discovering and seeing unfold.

When I look back now, I’m still very much grounded in that concept, but what I’ve learned is how in business, personal and human development is at the core of everything. So I’ve done a lot more coaching, mentoring, and focusing on individual development than I thought I was going to have. So I find great joy in the transformations that I have experienced, but that I have seen within people in the team.

Life changing, life changing things, life changing insights. And this is just incredible. It doesn’t happen with everybody. But being part of that, sharing your vulnerabilities created the transformation.  Because that’s the part of me, the biggest thing I found, was summarized by the quote from Oscar Wild “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

That’s exactly it. And I realize I feel much more comfortable in my own skin through these experiences and I trust that I’m going to use my intentions the best that I can, to be there for the people, and be candid; to embrace radical candor. That’s something that we discussed–a concept that I heard, I think, from you guys– and the different types of listening and I have been able to have more candid and really scary conversations the last four years than I’ve ever had before and just having the confidence that I can go there is very powerful.


What’s the next evolution that’s starting to emerge for you as a leader?


Yeah. I think the challenge that I have in my new role as the president of a business unit is a big jump. You are acting in the now and in the future, so it’s that balance for the business results to be there. When faced with a challenge, when am I going to be able to let go of control and trust that the organization is going to find a way to deal with that challenge? That is the question. I’m going to a new organization and I’m meeting people at this stage in my leadership circle. My reactive tendency is to drive. And so I do want to make sure that as I go into a new organization, that I’m still keeping in line with how I want it to be and not just falling back into the reactive tendencies.

So that’s really top of mind for me. But at the same time, it’s different from working in an innovation organization in which you do have time; meaning, you are speeding, but you can pivot time to make a decision. And especially in the space of direct to consumer business where your sales are hitting every hour.

You can track how you’re doing.  So it’s very in the now and very immediate. And so how am I going to learn and adjust to that scenario? So that’s what’s top of mind for me.


You mentioned the leadership circle and not wanting to go back into the reactive. I notice that if I just try to avoid doing a thing, I’m less successful at it than if I try to move toward a different thing.

And so I’m wondering if it could be through the lens of the creative half of the leadership circle. It could be something else. There’s almost a scarcity in “don’t do this, don’t do this.” What’s the abundance? What are you trying to lean into that naturally causes you to not go to that driven reactive stage?


I think it’s ultimately getting to know the people and do something really scary sometimes, which is not being too close to things. Let the people who are closest to it make the decisions and setting the purpose of where we’re going to go. So that’s my vision and that’s what I learned that works for me.

It works, it feels good. But when you’re learning, when you’re getting up to speed where everything is new, I need to be a little bit close because I need to learn to understand the business, but I don’t want to be too close. That gives the impression that I’m breathing down your neck. You are still the expert.

So that’s something that it’s in my mind. It’s interesting because it’s very important to vocalize your belief in abundance. When you are in that situation, there is work to go around and there’s growth opportunity for every single person. What I’m trying to do is to understand, first of all, what are the growth opportunities that you want, what your zone of genius is, or what are the opportunities and the growth that you want to do that you haven’t done yet, but not feel that I’m kind of crowding, I guess.


Mm-hmm. Through that lens of the leadership circle, I hear, “purposeful and visionary,” for sure, but then really leaning into caring, connection to mentoring and developing, collaborating, being selfless and all of that. Like the relationship side of it. The more human side of it is the path through and purposeful and visionary you have no problem with in a transition like this, I think we all are at risk of saying, well, just for now, I’ll be a little driven because it’s a new role and I have to do that in order to be successful, instead of relying on kind of the newer muscles we’ve created around. “I don’t have to be that way to be successful.” This human centric approach works– it just takes longer because you have to develop relationships. Until you have those relationships, it’s not going to be that effective. So yeah. How do you bridge that gap over time?


Right. And, there is some expectation that people have, that you’re going to come on day one and you’re going to have a vision for the business.That you’re going to have an org chart to explain what the transformation is. And I need to know at the core of me that I will get to that. We are going to get to that together. Not now. Now it’s the time for us to get to know each other, and for me to understand who you are and the culture. How do you guys relate?

How do you make decisions? What do you value? Because that’s so core. I need to make sure that I’m not coming with, “Hey, I’ve just had a really successful four years. I know exactly how it’s supposed to be done,” because I don’t, and so I do talk in broad terms. We’re here to drive growth, but I had success in the last four years in transformation.

I’m not there to transform. The business is doing great. I’m here to accelerate growth. So it’s a different goal and I find that that is clarifying to people. There’s not a major reshuffle that is going to happen that they just want to be aware of. It was finding the time and finding the grace to myself in knowing that, yes, there are times that people are going to feel uncomfortable and I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, but if I try to fill in the void and just say something, I might be getting ahead of myself.

So, what’s that balance? Right? I’m just finding that there’s certain things about me that I feel really strongly about to be able to build that connection. So I will bring some of that level of safety differently, not by giving you a vision in an org chart, but by giving you the confidence that you are part of this, you are part of what this future is going to be like.

It’s, “I don’t have everything figured out every day in a new role.” It’s dealing again with your own vulnerability and your own imposter syndrome. Maybe I shouldn’t know. No, I don’t. It’s that conflict and that voice. It’s responding that this is not helping right now. I’m just going to be me.


Right back to the mindfulness practice, right? 


I’m gonna be me.  That’s the best that I have.


When you think about your own kids, that generation, our kids, when they get into the workforce, say a generation from now, what do you hope work looks like for them?


Human. And what I mean by that is kind of that it leverages diversity in every single way to make a difference in the world.

And I am really blown away. I have a third grader who’s in the public school system, L A U S D, and comes with concepts that I have never thought about when I was at that age. The meaning of things. When you go to work, what does it mean to you? I get those questions; and from a nine year old– what does it mean?

Does it mean you don’t value me or value that more? And like having those conversations about what or who you are, what drives me, you know, what I believe and what does she believe and so forth. I do have a lot of hope of having those conversations and having conversations about mental health and mental wellness.

That’s transformative. I do think that that is one of the gifts that we learned in the last couple years. First of all to recognize when you are not well and be able to talk about it. But I was talking to my brother the other day and his is one of the companies that have unlimited pto and the issue is that people don’t take pto. That was the realization. So the company declares holidays. So, “tomorrow’s going to be a holiday. Everybody’s out.” We are trying to figure out why there’s so much of that burnout and so much is happening. And if you are led by people who are not well, they’re suffering, they are in the reactive state, what would you expect from organizations?

What would you expect? So unfortunately, I think we are not yet looking back to see all the beauty that is going to come out of this period of us having more awareness or experiencing anxiety or depression. But I do see that that’s a conversation that’s happening at schools. You know, how are you feeling, being able to use words or emojis, to talk about your feelings.

So I do hope that when they come to the workforce, that it’s one that’s much more in touch with who you are and how you’re feeling and your wellbeing. So that you can be your best self so that you can make a difference in the world. 


You were promoted to be a president of a business unit. Congratulations.

We’re so happy for you. And a lot of us have gone through these transitions in our career where we’re promoted or we move into a different role. And I’m curious how you thought about the transition and what have you done, like tactically, what have you done as you got into the role when it was announced?

What have you done on the first day? The first week?


Yeah. The beginning of it was literally like, is this really happening? So this role did come from a bold declaration, to my boss. I’m like, I really want it, and I wanted you to take a chance on me. And this is scary, but I’ve been looking for the butterflies in the stomach.

And through the conversation he was positive about it. Not only that,he got a lot of people behind me, who were supportive of it. So I think the first feeling from me was “Oh my God, this is actually happening.” I went through a lot of emotions and feelings about that.  A feeling of Hhold on, but I really love what I have right now.”

Is it really, really, really the right time? And how is it going to be? That was in the moment.  And then you start a job, right? You start a job before anybody knows about the job because you start figuring out all of the other shifts that are going to happen in the organization.

How do you make sure that communication is mindful and respectful in the timelines of it and how we’re going to operate? So you jump right in. So I do think that now, when I’m reading a lot of books about it, it has a lot of the preparation, the before– and I wish I had read those books right in that moment when I was starting.

I’m like, is this really happening? So I do feel like lessons learned, you know, like that was already the time to be studying those things and thinking about those things, because it’s not the first hundred days– the minus time that you have from the day of the announcement. You know,  I had a conversation with you guys prior to this, and I think that the insight that I got from that is that you had the time to get used to that idea.

People are going to have the feelings that you had in that first day, which is, “This is really happening.” So I needed to make sure that I didn’t jump in and saying, “Oh, this is me and this is all about me. That’s what you should know about me,” when it’s not about me. I’m just one part of the transition.

There are a lot of other transitions that are going to happen. The announcement was that the original founders of the business were leaving at some point, and I would be coming in. So I had to make sure, especially in this condition, to be  really mindful and respectful of that moment when they learned the news.

I have  a great overlap. But I do think that I was so mindful that perhaps I didn’t share thoughts that I should have shared. And so I left there feeling a little bit like “Who am I?” So I did send an email a few days later just saying, okay, this is probably what you are curious about regarding who I am. The team uses Slack. I posted a photo of me and my family. So I think it is important to strike the balance. I don’t know the right balance, but you know, ultimately you are a human being and people want to know who you are. And then the first week I was still like one leg here, one leg there, because now the team that I was leaving knew I was leaving.

So I still had transitions to do. And that’s super uncomfortable when you feel like you are nowhere, when you’re transitioning to an internal job.  If you come into a new company, that’s not the case. But they want to make sure that the people who you are leaving feel respected and taken care of.

Right now it’s like, “Hey, I’m ready to go.” So it’s that mixed feeling. The leaders within the organization came together and leveraged the tools– put a mural board together and did a lot of the things that I learned a lot about  from you guys about how to facilitate a session. You know, “What is the transition?  My eyes of the transition: This is what’s transitioning– what else is transitioning that I’m not seeing?” There were stickies that were added, of other transitions in the business that surfaced great points. “How are you feeling about it? How is the team feeling?” “Let’s talk about those emotions and what people need to progress.”

Let’s discuss. So they provided ideas on certain things that I highlighted the next time I saw the team and then during my 30, 60, and 90 days meetings, I asked, “What do you guys see? What do you want to see?” so I can post check where they are. And then we had a highest risk hypothesis exercise. And so that gave me their view.

And then also we set expectations. Expectations are the name of the game. That’s what you are expecting from me. This is what you can expect from me. These are the things I can accomplish, but those things I’m going to push out. So like negotiating on expectations, checking on expectations. I thought that was the most valuable thing.

And again, it’s really core to me. It’s not only just go down, lay out what my 90 days plan is going to be;, but really build that together.


What’s your favorite mistake you’ve made in the new role?


The mistake is there are people who are ready for candor, but it’s not everybody yet. So I do think that I have to make sure that I prime a little bit to not get knee-jerk reactions to really direct and connect conversation.

Not everybody’s ready for it. I think I got a couple reactions. That’s not good.I really value that person so much, and the things that that person can bring to the table. It’s really being more mindful. I would say that it’s the speed of trust, right? The concept of the speed of trust.

I assume perhaps that we are at a higher level because my intentions are that I see opportunity, but if I don’t establish that, it can sound like criticism of the person who just wants to shake things up, really, really quickly. I feel bad about that and I sensed it right away.You can do what you can to recognize the body language that you get and want to hear more, but again, you’re there.  You kind of come back from minus– a minus state. I wish that were not the case, because I wouldn’t want to have that feeling if I were in that spot.


I hear how seriously you take what you mentioned you want; kindness and taking care of people and making sure that people are well; and I know that that takes effort and it’s hard.

Why is it worth it to you?


I want to be a better person. I want to make people around me better people too. And ultimately it’s my drive for results. And I like to see our market leadership and all of that, you know, I’m excited about that. But that’s not something that happens every day. There needs to be something else that motivates and keeps you going.

And I grew up feeling that there was something that needed to be fixed about my presence. I grew up in the situation that  I was more driven than people around me. I was more ambitious. I grew up in Sao Paulo and a neighborhood outside of it, in a family of entrepreneurs. We struggled.

They gave everything they could for our education. But the thought of living in a different country, my dream growing up, was “I want to be an international executive who goes on planes and sees the world– sees different cultures. Those dreams seemed like, “What world are you in?”

I felt it was it was good to dream, but sometimes it felt  like I was just out of touch–like I was out of touch with people. Like I wasn’t grateful and appreciative for what I had, because I always wanted the next thing. So I grew up thinking about that and kind of having an arrogance when something was out of reach.

So I’m grateful for the support, but that was my journey. So I think, coming with that and coming to the realization that it’s not a presence that a lot of people want around, that I want to make sure that my presence is positive, that the experience of talking to me is positive.

That enriches all of us. And again, going back to the entrepreneur I mentioned, whose presence is magnetic, I want to be like that. So it was a different way of seeing the world. So for me, the experience of this person was important to me because that’s how we’re going to grow together and make the world a better place.


Well, we certainly feel that way whenever we interact with you.


The same, the same. I couldn’t get enough of talking to you guys.


We see the difference you make on your teams. So thank you for what you’ve done for your teams and for what you’re going to do in the new role. And just for you being you.

We love your presence.


Thank you. Thank you. Same. And I’m forever grateful for that Google search. Thank you for spending some money on Google search or that your training went up there so I could find it. I could have found a lot of other trainers and they knock my door now to want to talk about Agile.

But you guys, your presence and your knowledge and your generosity in always sharing and being there and challenging me and kicking my behind when needed, really believing in me. You guys are never going anywhere. 


It’s kind of full circle now that you’re back to San Diego. Because that’s where we had that first class.


Oh my gosh. So the day of the announcement, I wasn’t planning everything, so I said, “I don’t have a hotel,” like the day before. I needed a hotel. So I asked someone here at Pharmavite. I just said, “Any hotel that’s close by, I’m fine.” So I didn’t even know the name of the hotel. So here I am after this announcement, I’m driving to the hotel and I thought, “Okay, I’m familiar with San Diego but not super familiar.”

And then I pull up in the parking lot. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is the very hotel where I met Peter for the training.  I’m like–


The courtyard on Hotel Circle.




I know the hotel. 


And I paused in the moment. I thought, “Wow. I could have never imagined when I went into the training where I would be in four years,” and I just felt so grateful.

But walking in was like, “Oh my God.”

 Sometimes you have those moments  like, what? That’s so cool. So that was super cool.


Anyway, thanks.


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