As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Krepcho.
Dave Krepcho is President/CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida; a member of Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger relief organization in the U.S. Second Harvest Food Bank serves a six County area in Central Florida through a network of 550 partner agencies. Last year, with the help of food and financial donors, volunteers and a caring, committed community, the food bank distributed enough food for 76 million meals to partner programs such as food pantries, soup kitchens, women’s shelters, senior centers, day care centers and Kids Cafes. In addition, Second Harvest’s 16-week culinary program teaches foodservice-based technical, life and employability skills to economically hard-pressed adults. Second Harvest is distributing enough food to feed 66,000 people a day. The organization annually receives Charity Navigator’s Four-Star rating.
Dave has 26 years’ experience in food banking, holding positions such as a national Feeding America Board member, past president of Feeding Florida, chair of the Feeding America eastern region, chaired various national task forces, member of a bi-partisan Washington, DC think tank, serves on the 4ROOTS Board as well as the Florida Nonprofit Alliance. He was the Orlando Sentinel’s Orlando Sentinel’s “2009 Central Floridian of the Year” and in 2019, Orlando Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful People: Philanthropy & Community Voices.” Prior to his role at Second Harvest, Dave was V.P. of Business Development at Feeding America. Before he reinvented himself as a food banker, he had a career in the Advertising Agency business and attended Columbus College of Art & Design.
Dave is married with two children, seven grandchildren.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
While in my original career in advertising, I hesitantly became a volunteer board member for a food bank in Miami. Little did I know how this experience would change the arc of my life! While on the board, I was able to create marketing and fundraising strategies to drive awareness about the organization, along with raising funds for it. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida and the founding director of the food bank resigned two weeks later. The board had to keep the food bank strong and responsive to the relief effort, and asked me to step in and to temporarily serve as director until we could hire a replacement. That experience showed me a potential new path for my life’s work. Twenty-six years later, I still place a major emphasis on communication and awareness of hunger, and our organization’s role in the solution.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have been fortunate to have numerous people in my life that have mentored, encouraged and counseled me along the way. Joe Sciortino, a south Florida CEO and dear friend for more than 20 years, was instrumental to how I conduct myself personally and professionally. Joe was the person who asked me to join the board of the food bank in Miami… three times! He was persistent. I learned by his example in how he conducted business, as well as how he nurtured personal relationships. One of many specific lessons he taught me was to be concise in presentations — get to the point quickly and clearly. This may seem obvious; however, often in life, this is not practiced widely. At Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, I dedicated a section along the building “Sciortino Way” as a tribute to such a special human being.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I believe you always need a goal, no matter whether it is turbulent times or not. The sense of focus helps connect people and look toward at least a short-term accomplishment. During March of this year when COVID-19 began impacting business and people’s jobs, we were doing everything we could to respond with relief on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day level. I then gathered the leadership team and we focused on a 90-day plan with specific goals. That was one of the smartest things we did because it galvanized our cause further among staff and our community partners. We have since expanded that plan to one year. The other key element of the planning is that we do it as a team and achieve a consensus, so everyone has ownership in it.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I never considered giving up. Hunger relief outweighs any thought of not continuing despite the odds. I have found over my career that the toughest, most challenging times have presented the greatest opportunity. It sounds counterintuitive; however, I believe it is true. What motivates me are the haunting images of children going without food, an embarrassed parent who is working full-time and still cannot provide for the family, or the senior citizen without family living on a low fixed-income who has to skip meals and scrimp on their medications. The other motivation is the flip side of those faces — our ability to provide millions of meals year in and year out. Volunteers, as well as food and financial donors, motivate me because of their trust in us to carry out our mission.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role for a leader during challenging times is to stay calm amidst the storm while retaining a sense of urgency. Being able to hold that tension is critical. Providing a vision. This sets the tone for everyone else. Good decisions and outcomes will follow.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale?
The best way to boost morale is to constantly thank the staff for their impact, staying visible as the leader and providing special awards in various forms whenever possible. Also, it’s important to show the team the progress that is being made as an organization. Often, staff doing the work in the trenches are not aware of the bigger picture of what is being accomplished. We also have discovered a simple, but profound way of connecting all staff. We are doing weekly virtual “mission moments.” These are 15-minute presentations of what a particular department is doing. It enlightens and inspires all.
What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The answer to this is much of what I already mentioned about setting goals, being visible, showing gratitude and so on. Additionally, at select times, a leader should show their vulnerability and be transparent when it is appropriate. We’re all human beings, nobody has super-powers. This can show a commonality and level the playing field among any level within the organization.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
We don’t accomplish our work alone. I believe in gathering my “brain trust” and getting multiple perspectives. This is not an abdication of leadership — it is just wise to do so. There are times to do things by consensus and times for you to make the call. The wisdom is knowing the difference.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
There’s irony in this answer. The food bank is actually flourishing during this tough time because we are able to show the public what the hunger problem is and what we’re doing about it. It is a very tangible story to tell. We happen to fulfill a basic human need, and that plays into our support. During these tough times, basic human needs often become priority. A key strategy is to stay visible with stories of people being helped. This is done in a variety of ways ranging from social media to traditional media.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1.) Embrace failure and fail fast — we learn twice as much from our mistakes than we do from successes. Nobody is perfect. If you can embed this thinking into your culture, you have created a safe space to operate within. It can be liberating. Discover the failure, shine a light on it, find out how it can be fixed and made better, and move on. Example: Early on in our COVID relief work, we supported a group for a major food distribution. We haven’t seen levels of this kind of need for food assistance in modern history, and ultimately, we encountered hiccups in the execution because of the overwhelming community turnout. In response, we took those learnings and have adjusted our approach.
2.) Create a vision and share it with the team and supporters. Our 90- day plan, mentioned previously, is an example.
3.) Communicate your progress, as stated above.
4.) Look for a “third way.” Often during intense times, we can rush making decisions, which can limit possible solutions. When possible, pause and consider an alternative solution. Many times, it becomes a hybrid of the two original approaches. It often results in being a better solution. Example: Partner feeding programs can only accept so much food due to their infrastructure limitations. So, we can’t overload them with food, nor would be right to simply exclude them for this reason. The “third way” is to provide a “mobile pantry.” The food bank provides food as needed then it is shared with multiple neighboring partners.
5.) Take care of your team! This cannot be emphasized enough. The team has to remain strong so we can provide a high level of service. They also are facing personal challenges, along with potential exposure while on the job. Beyond basic PPE, we are providing sessions for mental health counseling that includes stress reduction, coping tips and so much more. This support is offered at every level of the organization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Crisis reveals character.” Whether it’s a major crisis or a minor one, how we react shows what we’re made of. It can be evident in a personal situation, organizational, community or at a national level. The bigger the crisis, the more evident the reaction. When I started at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in 2004, four hurricanes crossed the state within 30 days after I started. I had a staff that I did not know thoroughly at the time. Any new leader wants to understand the capabilities of their team. I had the good fortune to find out quickly whether each staff member was prepared to step up in service or not … and how they would do so. It accelerated my learning and chemistry with the team.
How can our readers further follow your work?