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Under fire? Stop defending and listen

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

In early 2011, Ofra Strauss was enjoying life at the top. She ran Israeli food maker Strauss Group, a global company with revenues of $1.8 billion.

But then an unemployed young man started criticizing the company on Facebook for pricing its chocolates too high. He felt Strauss Group was gouging Israelis while selling its products for less in other countries.

Ofra Strauss didn’t take notice of his complaints at first. But other consumers chimed in about the company’s steep prices. As thousands of Israelis joined the anti-Strauss movement, politicians and the media climbed aboard. Boycotts spread and Strauss Group executives even received death threats.

Strauss, 55, fought back and defended the company’s pricing strategies. She worked with her executive team to educate consumers about the privately held firm’s financial challenges, explaining that production costs, distribution and marketing contributed to the price that shoppers pay.

But the public didn’t accept her explanation. Protests grew, with some angry consumers demanding to know the salaries for Strauss and her senior team.

Acknowledging the protesters’ fury, Strauss regrouped. She stopped defending the status quo and shifted to listening mode.

When people protested outside her home, she spent seven hours talking with them. Then she acted on their concerns, lowering prices on many items. To pay for the cuts, she scaled back television advertising by 80%.

By heeding the protesters’ message, she eventually won them over. The company is now stronger than ever, earning $2.23 billion in revenues in 2013.

— Adapted from Leadership for a Fractured World, Dean Williams, Berrett-Koehler.

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