Several years ago I met Ibeth Echepetelecu when we were conducting a search for an HR leader in LA. It didn’t take long to see that she was a down to earth, uniquely talented, left-and-right brained entrepreneurial leader who understood strategy, operations and culture. We have stayed in touch, sharing great food from time to time, and now she is leading the people charge for an “essential” food technology company, Cadence Kitchen. I caught up with Ibeth to hear what it has been like to be on the front line of an essential business during this pandemic.
Sherry: What was the vision of “revolutionize the way people prepare and enjoy food” that Bryan Wynn, Owner & Chairman, imagined when he started the company in 2017?
Ibeth: At the core, it’s about enjoying restaurant quality food at home, without having to spend all that time in the kitchen. How can we empower people to do the other things that they love, while we do the leg work? We’ll do the shopping, thinking, and prep work. It’s about letting our customers live their busy lives, while still having a chef-inspired meal at the table that only takes 5 to 15 minutes. That’s the core of what we offer.
We also want to disrupt the frozen food category and transform the way people perceive it. Our food does not taste like traditional frozen stuff, which is due to our flash-freezing technology that uses liquid nitrogen and enrobing. These methods maintain textures and flavors, while retaining nutritional benefits. It does it in a way that you just don’t get with traditional freezing. I was shocked when I first tried it! When you taste most traditional frozen foods, the texture and bite are gone, the flavors are bland. That is not the case with Cadence Kitchen and I needed to taste it to truly believe the difference. We are creating the "new frozen" that genuinely mimics a restaurant meal by merging creativity, technology, and the highest quality ingredients.
SB: We know you are prioritized as an essential business but how have you been able to maintain innovation at this time?
IE: This environment is an opportunity for us because people are looking for a quick meal solutions at home more than ever. The frozen food segment sales have gone sky high. In many grocery stores, frozen aisles are empty. People are gravitating to frozen food for the first time. Now consumers are looking at the value of frozen food and stocking up. We are all missing going out to restaurants and experiencing a great meal, so the team is determined to offering that new "dining out experience" consumers are craving but in a controlled and safe environment, their own homes.
We are maintaining our engagement in innovation because we are not only keeping the food supply chain going but bringing creative solutions that ignite everybody.
SB: The demands have remained high then?
IE: Absolutely. Our production facility, warehouse, and R&D remain open. Our VP of Culinary Innovation, Food Scientist and Technicians are still coming into the office. They need the kitchen and a shared space to work as a team. Everyone else is working remotely, marketing, HR, and other support functions.
SB: Tell us about your “foodie” culture and the kind of talent you have brought into the firm since you started as Chief Human Resources Officer?
IE: I’ve hired our VP of Culinary and Innovation, VP of Operations, Director of Safety and Quality, Director of Marketing and Food Scientist. And the entire field operations team. We have built, from the ground up, the leaders in all departments. I’m so proud of having done it quickly and with quality. We have a very impressive team of new leaders with 10-20 years of food experience. It’s not only that they have the industry experience, but they are entrepreneurial. It’s key behavioral attribute for us. We need to have people that understand their role is broad and at times outside their comfort zone.
Importantly, our relationship to food is at the heart of what we do. It’s why most of us chose to work at Cadence. Food is nostalgic to us. It holds emotions and vivid memories. Food is all around us at work! You have the chef that is making food, showing us latest recipes. We are tasting it and sharing childhood memories. That’s part of the culture. Also for us, it’s a requirement that you love food. If you don't you stand out! We are not food snobs. It might be typical to know the trendiest chef or restaurant, and we may nerd out on that, but for us, to be a foodie is to have love and respect and passion for the art, and our food memories. That passion is what I look for when recruiting new talent.
SB: Tell me about one of your core values – we respect the food.
IE: We care about what we put in our bodies. We want to make sure that what we’re eating is good for us and the environment. We aim to capture these two aspects and become a better company from it.
SB: Let’s shift to you. Tell me, what are you learning about yourself during this time?
IE: I’m learning that during these tough times, I need to simply lead. I’ve needed to adapt to the changes and get over any personal anxieties. There was no time to hesitate and create the perfect project plan. COVID required that I keep people safe at work. Since we were part of the critical infrastructure to remain operational, I needed to come up with an effective plan. I tapped into my networks to help create an infectious disease protocol, which is now on its 8th revision. What I learned is that I didn’t have the time to assign or choose a best person. I needed to drive this.
Usually, I do this work with other people, like the CEO. But this time it was in my court. Later, it was rewarding to hear from other people, thanking me for stepping up and getting it done so fast.
I also learned that I am more creative, productive, and happier when working remotely. The old model of working 9 to 5 in an office is now replaced with a more flexible approach and I feel better about it. I am not the only one that felt the weight of commuting and returning home physically and mentally drained. Now I find myself more focused and effective. I have time left in the evening to create art and enjoy the family. I am returning to drawing using digital tools and also making rock art.
SB: As you look to 2021, what is on the top of your list?
IE: I want to continue to focus on cultivating a culture of innovation. I truly believe that everyone has the ability to contribute at a much deeper level than where they are today. I want to bring that out in people individually and collectively.
I imagine a place where our people can share new ideas, learn from each other, and be truly authentic at work. I hope to help them find their creative confidence. I’ve started doing this already with coaching several leaders. We have undiscovered talents in our teams that some may not even realize yet. It is my goal to move them from a singular train of tactical work to something they see brings deeper satisfaction and personal growth. There will be plenty of opportunity for future growth in our company and in our teams.
SB: What changes do you see coming?
IE: If you don’t have an innovation culture that welcomes new ideas, then we will not survive. Rather than limit the potential of our teams, we want to expand that for all of us. If you look at the companies that are surviving and thriving, you see innovation and investment in talent. We know the importance of helping others stretch and develop their skills. Rules thinking will be replaced with possibility thinking. That will inspire all of us to be our best self at work and invest in our teams for an exciting future.