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The gamble: Overhaul a culture

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

When Jennifer Cue left as CEO of Jones Soda Co. in 2006, she figured she could raise a family with the satisfaction of knowing she had positioned the beverage firm for years of steady growth. She was wrong.

Six years later, the board of directors asked Cue to return as CEO. Its revenues had plummeted and its organizational culture had deteriorated.

To reset the company in the right direction, Cue took these steps:

She set an example. In Cue’s absence, a string of four CEOs enjoyed hefty pay packages while failing to engage employees with the same startup fervor that she once generated. So Cue modeled the kind of unwavering belief in the brand that she sought to instill in her team.

She invested $700,000 of her own money into the Seattle-based company and accepted a salary roughly one-third of what the previous CEO earned. She even convinced the board to cut their own pay; in exchange, they received more stock so that their interests were aligned with the company’s performance.

She brought in fresh blood. To improve the culture, Cue targeted the company’s hiring efforts to attract individuals in their 20s and 30s. Today, about 70% of the workforce is millennials. To retain these younger employees, Cue gave them more autonomy. They can now test ideas for new products with a minimum of bureaucracy.

Millennials like to bond with their peers, so Cue hosts backyard barbeques and other informal gatherings. She says that these “little things” have a big impact in creating a more driven, committed staff.

— Adapted from “On Cue: How the Jones Soda CEO Navigated Her Own and the Company’s Comeback,” Dale Buss, www.chiefexecutive.net.

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