Jeff George is the Senior Vice President of Research and Development for Hain Celestial Group, a natural food and personal care company consisting of over fifty brands and distributing their products worldwide. In his role, George oversees R&D, quality, food safety, and regulation. We spoke with him as part of our IL Member Spotlight Series.
Do you have a big project that your team has been working on recently that you can share with us?
One innovation project that I think is really interesting is our child and infant snack project. We’ve launched a number of new snack products under the Earth’s Best brand, targeted to children [by adapting] products that we produce for adults under other brands. We’ve done a child’s version of veggie straws, we’ve launched a new version of peanut butter and jelly bites for kids, and all of them are healthy options. They’re organic, they’re high in whole grains…and [they have] modest levels of sugar and sodium. So they’re kind of our regular snacks, but we’ve made them even healthier and more appropriate for kids. And they’re doing great – they’ve really helped to re-energize and rejuvenate that brand. And now we’re actually the number one brand when it comes to [toddlers] and kids.
What is your advice on making sure innovation activities get the right attention from senior leadership?
It’s important when it comes to innovation — frankly, any sort of project where you’re trying to influence others — to make sure that we’re telling stories, and stories that are relevant for the different constituents. Different things are going to be relevant for different people, not only as they are as individuals, but also the hat they wear.
It’s important to meet the needs of all constituents, and then sell it to them in a way that’s relevant and meaningful for them, through storytelling.
For example, [with] new products like these children’s [snacks], there [are] lots of positive attributes. But for our sales team…what’s relevant for the customers, and what’s going to bring more shoppers into their stores – that’s what’s important. For the financial folks, they’re interested in the profitability and the top line results for different groups. For supply chain, they want to hear about the simplicity of the item. Will it run in our factories well? Is it going to be efficient for us to produce? When we developed that product, we thought about all of those things, and had positive stories to tell. But depending on who we’re talking to, people care about different things, so it’s important to meet the needs of all constituents, and then sell it to them in a way that’s relevant and meaningful for them, through storytelling.
What I’ve learned is in innovation, you have to fail. There’s not a lot of room for perfectionists, when it comes to innovation.
Looking back to the beginning of your career, is there anything that you wish you’d known earlier?
I’m an engineer by degree, and I began in a corporate engineering role. In the role, it was extremely important that things be done right perfectly the first time. It had to be on schedule; it had to be on budget; it had to be perfect.
As I began to work more [in] innovation, I was quite a perfectionist, thinking that everything had to be right and had to be perfect the first time.
What I’ve learned is in innovation, you have to fail. There’s not a lot of room for perfectionists, when it comes to innovation. You have to be nimble. You have to be adaptive. You have to be agile. You have to accept failures, learn, take it, adapt, and build. That was a big transition for me early in my career, but it’s definitely one that I’ve embraced. It’s a lot more fun to work on a project where it’s okay to fail, as long as we learn from it, and we get better.
When you’re not at work, what are three things you spend time doing?
I like to sail, and I live in Florida. I live right by Tampa Bay, so it’s a great sailing background. We live just a block off the beach, so we like to go to the beach.
Innovation is really hard. Sometimes it can take a long time, it can be frustrating, [and] there can be setbacks. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back, and it takes a lot of energy. So on the weekends, one thing I like to do is to putter around the house and do little projects. I’m not building additions on the house, but just little things, [like] fixing little things that are broken, or making little improvements on the house that I can start and stop and have a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes in innovation, you can work for a long time and have a tremendous sense of accomplishment at the end. But week after week, it’s hard because it feels like sometimes, you’re going sideways rather than forward. So on the weekend, I like to have those small wins, little projects around the house.