What do I have to do to get ahead?

Ever ask yourself that question?

When I conduct searches for top talent in the food manufacturing industry, I come across seemingly successful individuals who’ve gotten “stuck” and haven’t been able to get their career out of neutral while others of equal talent are one, two, sometimes 3 steps up the ladder.  What gives?

I’m not recommending anyone sell their soul to the devil to advance their career – that can mean any number of things, but what I find consistent with successful talent in food R&D is the following:

1. Successful talent understands how their role impacts every other person internally as well as that of the consumer or the customer.  With that awareness, they talk, walk, and act accordingly.

Food scientists who do this speak in the “you” tense, not the “me” tense – every step, every action, every decision is made in accordance with how and who it impacts – “how do I have to help YOU in order to get the best, most in-demand product to market in the fastest, most cost-effective manner?”

2. A-players find ways to be successful despite obstacles.

The successful candidates don’t rationalize their delays or costs or bottlenecks with “product development expenses can’t be tracked effectively” or “there’s inherent waste in product development, you just have to accept it.” – the best talent I deal with and place are the ones who have their cake(great, new, fancy, fat-free, gluten-free, GMO free, rich, creamy, low-fat cake!) AND eat it too(and millions of others!).

3. A-players are constantly streamlining their development process, until they’ve whittled every step down to its least common denominator.

Many candidates I work with come from contract manufacturing – they deal with an inordinately high amount of specifications and requests, not all of which hit the market.  It can be frustrating, overwhelming, and exceedingly non-productive.  A-players I’ve placed find a way, whether it was sponsored by the company or not, to wade through and qualify and prioritize projects, ask qualifying questions, and develop a reference-able library from which they can access their past projects.

These A-players work on their work so they don’t have to re-work their work!

The additional time means additional projects means additional opportunities to shine.

3. A-players in R&D know their numbers, even if they don’t have ALL the facts and control.

Scientists are inherently number and fact-oriented, yet when I press mediocre talent in product development, candidates tend to shy away from quantifiable facts and figures related to their work.  They either struggle to come up with how they spend their time or shirk off success or failure of their work to sales, marketing, or senior-level staff.

The A-player takes ownership of their numbers – what went to market, how long did it take, what resources were used, and what was the return.  Even if you don’t have access to the books, you can track your efforts.  A-players find ways to be accountable and to take responsibility – it’s funny how A-players find mentors who DO have P&L responsibility when the junior candidate WANTS to be held accountable and learn the whole business.

4.  Great leaders in product development can talk to anyone at any time, in a way that makes sense to whoever they’re talking to.

You’d be hard-pressed to guess what functional discipline many of my top R&D clients come from – they sure don’t speak like scientists, PhD’s, and technical leaders.  Maybe it’s because I’m not one, and they speak to my level.

On the other hand, when listening to scientists, I often have to ask them to speak to me as if I’m a lay person, because their use of acronyms and their technical dialogue is miles away from what’s important and what makes sense or is of value to me.

If you don’t know the technical aptitude of your audience, ask them – then tailor your conversation to them in a manner that fits.  Notice the change.


That’s all for now – there’s so much more and so many ways we help talent separate themselves from the masses, but in all cases, it starts with the talent and whether we can help them extract that special-ness inside.

If you’d like help getting to the core of what makes you marketable within the food industry, contact us confidentially and we’ll help.


Bob Pudlock
Gulf Stream Search


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