Episode 11: Growing Companies with People with James Biro
James Biro is the Vice President of Supply Chain of Perfetti Van Melle North America and has worked with such brands as P&G, Kellogg’s, and Mead Johnson. James’s passion lies in change, or more specifically, change through growth, which he spearheads through creating a clear strategic intent and an inherent sense of trust, transparency, and empowerment.
James and Mike talk about his career being a people leader rather than a business leader.
- James believes that a lot of what makes or breaks you as a leader starts very early in life. James grew up in Mexico City in a multicultural household: his mother is Irish-American, and his father is Hungarian-Mexican. Multiculturalism has been present all his life, as well as a spectrum of friends in different economic situations. Through this, James developed a great interest in learning who people really are. As you can imagine, this makes for a great leader – a deep interest in people combined with James’s natural analytical nature.
- Beginning in college, James was recruited into P&G and it opened his eyes to a much wider world. After his time there, James was ready to try something different, something that would become a hallmark in who he is: jumping in and figuring it out after the jump. This landed him in the US working with Mead Johnson, and James expected that in a few years, he’d go back to Mexico City, but that isn’t what happened.
- Surprisingly, James’s choice to stay wasn’t based on next steps and positions in the corporate ladder. It came down to something else: how are we going to grow as a family, as individuals, and how can we contribute here? The answer led him to stay in the States, and eventually landed him his current role at Perfetti.
- What is it like working at a heritage business that is nearly two centuries old? James worked at Keebler – yes, the little elves – and he shares the story of how Keebler came to exist, how it grew, and how he landed in the most awesome, wood-paneled office with a fireplace. And he talks about the change that happened in the company when it was acquired by Kellogg’s.
- One of the major changes that James focused on during the transition was how it affected people who had been with Keebler for decades, through its many leadership changes and the eventual buyout by Kellogg’s. It wasn’t an easy transition for them, especially when Kellogg’s changed some very key things that had made Keebler (and the company it had been before) different and successful. First among those was the counter-intuitive practice of hiring family members.
- Not all of the changes diminished the company, though, and James shares how the unions and Kellogg’s HR department worked together to create one of the most comprehensive onboarding programs with the help of the generation that had been there for more than 40 years. There was a lot of time spent working through differences, but the effort was worth it.
- When James left Keebler, he reached out to his old friend Mike. James and Mike had crossed paths many times before and had become good friends. They worked together to find James’s next career change: working at one of the fastest growing, coolest confection companies out there: Perfetti. Often, recruitment is a dry process that’s focused on landing someone. But James and Mike strove for something very different.
- Making the change from Kellogg’s to Perfetti started in tears with his young daughter, who is one of the biggest Kellogg’s fans there is, and James shares one of the most heart-warming, funniest stories that define his fatherhood/leadership career. Also, having candy before it's officially released to the public is quite the hot commodity for a grade-schooler, as James learned. James’s son's reaction was quite different and James still tears up thinking about what he said.
- James spent so much time working with huge corporations, inside their ‘bubble,’ that he found himself lacking a very special skill when he decided to try to cross over and make positive change and growth in his community. Wisely, James asked for help and perspective. He shares how those learning conversations changed his approach completely, and how he’s become as invested in community as he is in company. James makes impact through Prospanica and St. Vincent de Paul.
- James has most recently become a part of Disrupt HR as emcee, speaker, and general advocate. So why did he ‘sell out’ to that organization? It all goes back to James’s passion for growing organizations through the people in them, and he talks about how Disrupt HR inspires those in the HR department to do just that.
- James didn’t believe that he’d actually be able to speak at Disrupt HR; he didn’t have a single day’s experience in that field. But he learned quickly that the organization isn’t about what roles you have held. It’s about the ideas you have, and James has a wealth of them, all stemming back to his love of diversity and his abiding interest in who people are.
- When you think about HR, do you see them as ‘naked and afraid?’ James does, and it was the subject of his latest talk. James shares the ideas he covered, and make sure you check the links below – you’ll find videos of his talks at Disrupt HR. You’ll also find links to some of the articles that James has written about leadership. He might speak some truths that are hard to hear, but true to his character, they will help you grow.
- James leaves us with one big takeaway, one thing you need to ask yourself: Why do you really want to lead? The answer to that question matters less than the honesty you have when answering it. James explains why, and it’s something you, as a leader, need to hear.
We hope you enjoyed the show!
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Perfetti Van Melle USA
Disrupt HR: The Rebellious Future of HR
Richness and Entropy
The Secret to Leadership
How Netflix Reinvented HR
I believe that leadership is about:
Leading Can Be a Laughing Matter
St. Vincent de Paul
Diverse by Design