Cresset recently hosted a conversation with Sarah Frey, Founder and CEO of Frey Farms, as part of our virtual Founder Series. Sarah shared her experiences building her once failing family farm into one of the country’s largest produce suppliers, along with her take on the critical role grit and resiliency play for any CEO Founder to thrive.
Laura Desmond, Founder and CEO of Eagle Vista Partners and Cresset Advisory Board member, served as the host for the event. Below, she provides her perspective on the insights shared by Sarah:
A family business has a unique set of complexities. What lessons did you derive from Sarah’s experience building Frey Farms alongside her family?
Laura: Ultimately, all family businesses are about vision and soul. Sarah has both – vision to imagine what the business could be, and soul to ensure she stays true to her roots, her community, and her family. I appreciate that Sarah has worked every job at Frey Farms, and that her sons need to work outside the company for five years before they can come into the business. Diversity of experience is everything. It is essential for staying grounded and humble.
Sarah is an innovator. Take for example her foresight to turn unwanted fruit into fresh juice drinks. What is your take on her approach to innovation, how to foster it, and keep it alive over time?
Laura: What’s great about Sarah’s strategy is that she has continued to strengthen her core business and expand it through more farmland, more partnerships, and more volume. However, she then started to extend to adjacent spaces, like beverages made from unwanted fruit, to expand the business and find new purposes for her core business. Simple and brilliant at the same time. It shows Sarah is scrappy and hungry to accomplish more. A lot of people would just play it safe. Sarah does not.
Reinvention is also a big part of being an entrepreneur. It takes guts and grit, as Sarah knows well. Share your thoughts on what you learned from Sarah when it comes to being vulnerable and fiercely devoted to a vision.
Laura: The most compelling aspect of what Sarah does is that she understands that all the smarts in the world can still be undone by climate change, bad weather, bad crops, and other unforeseen events. Understanding how to put yourself into the best position to mitigate those risks is the hard part. She has a strong business vision, but she’s also focused on the basics to put her company in the best position to succeed even in bad years.
What are some surprises or unexpected lessons you heard from Sarah?
Laura: I love how she handles other executives who think she’s gone to Ivy League schools or has a pedigreed upbringing. She is self-confident enough to be herself even if others think she should be something else. I also loved hearing how she never takes risks with her land. It’s her most important asset. She’ll risk other aspects of the business but not the land. She knows what’s important.
A family farm is of course very different than many businesses out there. What are some universal truths that Sarah had to share that you believe apply to any business?
Laura: Sarah provided several pearls of wisdom that I believe apply to any business. These concepts have served me well, and I recommend them as guiding truths to any CEO Founder:
- Understand your core business.
- Prioritize your most important assets.
- Have a strategic plan, but take advantage of opportunities to innovate, invent, and “make your own luck.”
- Work hard and remember who you are.