Leadership: A Conversation with Tal Johnson and Sebastian Pole

by Ann Armbrecht

As I write this, the air quality is marked red for the state of Vermont: hazardous for our health. The sun is red. The almost full moon last night was red, too; all from the fires burning the western United States.

I’ve been thinking about leaders and leadership lately. About what makes a good one. About what inspires people to follow. And perhaps, especially, about our capacity to discern good leadership.

In the SHP ToolKit Webinar series, I spoke with Tal Johnson, CEO of Herb Pharm, and Sebastian Pole, co-founder of Pukka Herbs, about what, in their minds good leadership entails.

As Tal said, “We’re in a race to take what some of us are doing and to get it to scale for the benefit of everybody in the whole planet.” Below are some highlights and key lessons from our conversation.

Clips from Webinar

Key Takeaways

  • Define Values – Go broad and deep. Include a diversity of employees in the process not just senior people. Sebastian said that the final decision about values rests with the founders and owners of a company, but it is important to involve employees in a meaningful way, let them help create the values. Going through the process of defining them helps everyone understand and buy into the values. In an earlier conversation, Seb outlined how he and co-founder Tim Westwell developed Pukka’s core values and how they implemented them in the culture of the company.
  • Make the Vision Concrete – Supporting sustainability comes down to leadership and to having a specification/guidelines about what you want to buy, from quality/pharmaocopeial etc. to the certifications used. These specifications are the concrete ways that vision guides purchasing decisions. How does the vision of your company, your mission, translate into the specifications of the botanicals that you buy?
  • Don’t Compromise – If you start to compromise on the values which define your brand and are fundamental to who you are, you will start to lose the value of your brand, things will get tougher not easier.
  • Get Input from Experts – Seb mentioned that he wished they had hired an expert in people management early on. But he and Tim did set up a board quite early, that helped to get some outside input. They then created the Mission Council when ownership transferred into Unilever. This is an external body of experts in agriculture, environment, health, and regenerative farming to be advisors, to keep an eye on Pukka and to help them stretch.
  • Have Fun and Celebrate – Have really good parties, Seb said. Celebrate together. Create an atmosphere of fun among the hard targets and challenges. And then think about how to renew that culture especially as companies change hands and have new owners and managers.

The Complete Webinar: