Embrace being an underdog. Don't get rid of that chip on your shoulder.

That was among food for thought offered by Brad Dickerson, the CEO of meal-kit delivery company Blue Apron, to University of Akron students and others at a talk Thursday at UA.

Dickerson, a 1987 UA graduate, told the students that, like him, they aren’t going to be able to rely on having Ivy League credentials. Rather, they are going to have to be the underdogs who work harder, he said.

Take advantage of "having a chip on your shoulder, being an underdog … the word here is humility," Dickerson said at the 2018 Goodyear Executive Leadership Forum.

Humility is one of “the top five attributes,” he said, that he has come across in great leaders in his 31-year career, including 11 as a top executive at fast-growing apparel company Under Armour.

“The Top 5” was the title of his talk at at UA's Jean Hower Taber Student Union. The other five attributes: self-awareness, passion, empathy and accountability.

“The really great leaders … they don’t take themselves too seriously. Yet, at the same time, they have this chip on their shoulder that they know they’ve got to work hard," he said. "They’ve got to drive results, they’ve got to be something extra.”

Dickerson, a native of Strongsville, has been working hard to turn around the fortunes of Blue Apron. Headquartered in New York City, the company has faced a healthy portion of challenges, including a stock price that has dropped sharply. Competitors — including grocery chains — are taking bites out of the market for boxed kits containing fresh ingredients and recipes.

Dickerson told the students that the five attributes “are not just important for you 10 years down the road. These are the important building blocks to differentiate yourself, to put yourself to be in a position to be a great leader down the road.”

Self-awareness, he said, can lead to success when you have “the ability to recognize what you’re good at versus what others are good at around you … take advantage of that, because the sum is definitely greater than the parts.”

He told the students, “It is OK to have weaknesses … I am telling you, the great leaders I’ve seen all along their careers had no problem admitting what they weren’t good at.”

Have passion for your company, its products, customers and your company team and “your own individual role,” he said.

Passion breeds positive energy, Dickerson said, telling the students that when they join the workforce, company leaders "are going to recognize whether you’re bringing positive energy or negative energy to the table.”

Recalling his days at Under Armour, he told the students about a group of company executives, many of whom didn’t like each other. ”Yet their passion for the company allowed them to focus on achieving goals and succeed.

“Don’t assume you know what others have been through,” he said, introducing the attribute of empathy.

“Appreciate where others have been. Appreciate where you have been. Anticipate the impact of your words and actions,” he said.

This doesn’t mean you have to avoid having “challenging conversations,” he said, adding they should be approached with empathy and understanding.

“Commit to results, drive after results, achieve results,” Dickerson said, discussing the attribute of accountability.

“The phrase I use here is under-promise and over-deliver,” he said, echoing a popular phrase used in the service industry.

Dickerson, during a question-and-answer period that followed his talk, told students that Blue Apron has suffered from being “a victim of its own success.”

The company, which began in 2012 and went public last year, was a pioneer in the online meal-kit delivery sector.

“We didn’t have the infrastructure. We didn’t have all the talent we needed. And it [fast growth] also drove a little bit of complacency,” Dickerson said.

He said the company is innovating, citing a pilot program with Costco that began earlier this year. Blue Apron meal kits are at some 80 locations.

Dickerson received a bachelor's degree in accounting from UA and an MBA from Loyola University in Maryland.

The Goodyear Executive Forum, which began in 1981, is sponsored by the Institute for Global Business in conjunction with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.