ZICO Beverages’ former CFO and COO Candace Crawford believes the best executives embody a little of both.
By Stephanie Harris
Having worked alongside some of the most successful entrepreneurs to help grow emerging brands into thriving, multimillion-dollar businesses, Candace Crawford, former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Operations Officer (COO) of ZICO Beverages, understands what it takes to make a new business flourish.
“You have to know what the big picture is, and you have to make sure all the pieces are communicating effectively,” she said. “And you have to be ahead of the game because things move way too fast with emerging brands. When you are going from good to great, you cannot miss.”
Whether she was working with Bruce Corwin at Metropolitan Theaters, Richard Branson at Virgin Entertainment or Lynda and Stewart Resnick at POM Wonderful, Crawford has always played a strategic financial role within an emerging brand. By staying on top of the cash forecasting, acting as a mediator between the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and investors, and ensuring all of the moving parts were working together to achieve the same goals, she has played a crucial role in the success of these emerging businesses.
From Unknown to Well-Known
Crawford began her career working for large companies, such as Price Waterhouse Cooper, focusing on technical finance, mergers and acquisitions, financial analyses, and comptroller work. She then moved into emerging brands and began working with entrepreneurs in the early 1990s, starting with Corwin, CEO of Metropolitan Theaters. She credits much of her success with emerging brands to her background and early experiences with large corporations.
“If you start your career working for big corporations, you understand how to be strategic and continue to have that strong mindset throughout your career,” she said. “It has been an unbelievable benefit to go from big to small, because if you have seen big, you know what the expectations are and you know what success looks like. Large corporations, by definition, have already achieved unbelievable success.”
By applying the knowledge and skills she acquired while working for large companies to the emerging brands she has been a part of, Crawford has developed an impressive track record of success stories to add to her resume.
After working with Corwin, and then Branson of Virgin Entertainment, Crawford moved into the consumer product industry—in particular, healthy beverage brands. She joined the Resnicks and worked with the POM Wonderful team from an early-stage brand to one at more than $100 million in revenue when she left the company.
After POM Wonderful, Crawford joined another emerging natural beverage company called Bossa Nova, which eventually was sold to Sunny Delight. Once the sale of Bossa Nova was complete, she joined ZICO Beverage. At that time a small producer of coconut water. ZICO was sold to the The Coca-Cola Co. this past November, after it exploded in the U.S. and was on its way to becoming a billion-dollar brand.
“In consumer products, and specifically the natural food industry, only 2 percent of all health brands that are launched make it past $30 million in annual revenue,” Crawford noted. “Yet all three of the brands I’ve worked with were able to successfully grow a $100-million brand in less than five years while helping consumers incorporate a healthy, good tasting, good-for-you product into their lifestyle.”
Navigating Toward Success
Considering that most emerging brands will not succeed, there are several challenges Crawford overcame with each blossoming group she worked for.
“There is the ‘gross’ challenge and the ‘protecting-your-downside-risk’ challenge,” she said. The gross challenge, according to Crawford, is dependent on how well you manage your relationships with your CEO and interface with other business partners, such as the Head of Sales and Marketing.
“You need to give them the right data to navigate the waters, and you always need to be out in front of that ship so you can tell them what’s coming. You are not reporting after the fact—you are navigating through what is going on in the business and industry and moving forward in that direction.”
To do this, you need to first earn and maintain the respect of your team, said Crawford. You also need to utilize predictive financial models to navigate the forward waters. The predictive models should address all disciplines in the organization and include cash-flow projections, which will help keep the business from going bankrupt by ensuring you are not spending cash in the wrong direction or overspending.
“One bad decision can bankrupt an emerging brand,” Crawford said. “Decisions are made everyday that will enable the brand to either succeed or fail, and those decisions need to be made quickly. Every decision is an important decision.”
Crawford often found herself in new territories and industries with no historical precedents, such as the healthy beverage industry, which she joined in its early years.
“I wasn’t just working on an emerging brand. I was working in an emerging industry where we were creating a new market space,” she said. “There was no simple historical model to fall back on. I had to learn the beverage business inside and out—supply chains, distribution, bottling, fillers, international expansion, sales channels, marketing, research and development—then create a financial model that worked for our team.”
Crawford prides herself on constantly maintaining a strategic mindset and always thinking forward with a clear idea of what the company is trying to achieve.
“My role with ZICO, for instance, was both COO and CFO,” she said. “I was in charge of everything in the back office—legal contracts, IT, HR, finance, accounting and the entire supply chain. In an emerging brand, you have to understand every portion of the business and every contract in order to understand what the financial ramifications are.”
And with such an all-encompassing role, Crawford was able to position herself to be a more strategic partner to the CEO. “The CEO is the visionary,” she said. “They are looking for the trends, where your competition is coming from and what’s coming up in the future. The sales team is trying to react to those things. Somebody has to take care of looking in house and making sure everything is going smoothly, as these new concepts and ideas come in on a daily basis.”
Visionary CEOs, according to Crawford will come to you five times a week with new ideas. “That’s why the big brands are successful—they are constantly looking at trends and navigating those seas. You have to be able to take that information and pull it all together.”
It’s About the People
One common trend among the all of entrepreneurs Crawford has worked with is philanthropy and giving back to the community.
“What [Corwin] taught me in my first six months on the job is that it’s about the people,” she said. “When you went into a Metropolitan Theater, the level of service, concern for the employees and loyalty the employees and customers had for the business was unbelievable. The amount of giving back in each community where he built a theater, the amount of human capital was amazing, and it allowed the business to flourish. I’d never seen that in corporate America.”
Crawford noted that Branson held similar ideologies: “Richard, like Bruce, is a people person. The corporate culture in his organizations dictated that you think about the needs of the consumers and the employees first, above all else.”
The idea behind these emerging brands was if you took care of the people first, success would follow. “When you are dealing with the real world, these are the things that matter,” Crawford said. “It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about the processes, the community and doing the right thing. When going to emerging brands, the first element everybody misses is the people.
Inspired by her former CEOs, Crawford and her husband founded the Art & Living Charitable Foundation. Its programs bring art education, a frequent casualty of school budget cuts, back to classrooms. The foundation’s programs are geared to enhance the lives of the young generations in the classroom through a 21st century model that will make it easy for teachers to introduce kids to art, an experience that Crawford believes is essential to a balanced life.
“Family and work are essential for me. But it’s our connection to others that completes the picture,” Crawford said. “It’s a huge gift to be able to give back. Whether you’re a small startup or a billion-dollar brand, you can’t forget about what’s going on behind the scenes with your customers, employees and communities. It all matters.”
Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
Candace's Key Partners:Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (Legal Partner) | Rose Snyder & Jacobs LLP (CPA / Audit Firm) | POMS & Associates Insurance Brokers, Inc. (Insurance Brokerage & Consulting) | Citizens Business Bank (Commercial Banking) | Gumbiner Savett Inc. (Accounting and Tax Services)
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