Elon University / Today in Elon / Blue Apron CEO Linda Findley ’95 teaches leadership lessons during Elon’s visit
Findley gave a “Lessons from Leaders” presentation to a packed LaRose Digital Theater at the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business on Tuesday, September 14.
Along with sharing her favorite deal from Blue Apron, the meal kit company she runs as president and CEO, Linda Findley ’95 on Wednesday offered a recipe for building a successful career and overcoming challenges in as a business leader.
This career took her from specializing in journalism and communications at Elon to succeeding in the world of public relations and marketing before setting her sights on taking on the challenges of running a business operationally. In 2019, she achieved this goal when she was named CEO of Blue Apron after holding leadership positions at Etsy, Inc., Evernote Corp. and Alibaba.com.
She took the reins at a time when the company was looking to turn itself around and was refining its business model. Then the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was a time when Findley and Blue Apron doubled down on focusing on quality and providing a safe and supportive environment for its employees rather than capitalizing on growing consumer demand for meal prep kits to the detriment of both.
“I was able to experiment and do things in this role that some people don’t see in 10 to 15 years of work,” Findley said to the crowded room at the LaRose Digital Theater. “Not all of them were fun, but each time you experience one of these things you learn something that gives you more confidence and gives you the ability to deal with whatever is to come. “
During the hour-long program, Findley answered questions from students in the audience, along with Rob Moorman, the FRank S. Holt, Jr. Professor of Business Leadership and Professor of Organizational Behavior, serving as moderator.
As part of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business’s “Lessons from Leaders” series, her visit offered the public the opportunity to learn more about her approach to managing Blue Apron, how she raised personal and professional challenges and how she has charted her career. path.
At Elon, Findley strove to graduate early and embraced the opportunity to take a diverse course load while working multiple jobs. According to her, this approach has served her well since her roles and responsibilities have evolved throughout her career. Her work to earn her journalism degree prepared her well by advancing her communication and analytical skills, but Findley pointed to three religious studies classes she took with professor emeritus Jeffrey Pugh as having the most impact on its trajectory.
“These have completely changed my life because they taught me to think critically,” Findley said. “Thinking about different cultures, societies, and religions, and balancing those types of classes has completely changed my world.”
For 15 years she worked in public relations and crisis communications before realizing she wanted to move into the operational side of business. “I had this moment where I realized I want to stop trying to clean up the mess and want to try and fix the problem and stop it from happening,” Findley said. “That’s when I said I wanted to be CEO eventually.”
On this path, Findley would take risks to achieve what she wanted. She left public relations to move to Asia without a job, then landed at e-commerce giant Alibaba.com when it was still little known in the United States. His move to Etsy, the online marketplace focused on handmade and vintage goods, came as many wondered if he could survive the challenges of Amazon and other e-commerce giants. Although she was successful during her time at Etsy, she left the company to seek a CEO position and chose Blue Apron from four job offers.
“I took this one even though it was probably the hardest because it was the deepest turnaround, but it was the one I cared about the most, and I think that’s important” , Findley said. “I put my heart and soul into everything I do, and you can’t do that if you don’t really love what you do.”
A cook since the age of five, Findley said her life and her family have always revolved around food – sharing meals with others and integrating the enjoyment of food deeply into travel plans. It’s a passion that now has a professional element in his role as head of Blue Apron. The company’s success as the meal kit space became more crowded and many faced supply chain, sourcing and other issues resulting from the pandemic was based on a commitment to quality ingredients and customer satisfaction, Findley said. When it started, customers had 17 meal choices and now enjoy 67.
“My intention was to turn it into something where we could keep all the quality, keep everything that made Blue Apron special, keep the unique ingredients but make it easier and give a lot more variety,” Findley said. “And then the pandemic hit, and I had to make a choice. Meanwhile, everyone in space was just looking for more customers.
Findley said she chose to continue developing a better product rather than just pursuing increased customer volume. While that meant not performing as well as competitors during increased demand for meal kit services during the pandemic, Findley said, it was a path she believes would leave the company healthier at the ready. out of the pandemic. And that’s exactly what happened, she says.
Findley serves on the boards of Ralph Lauren Corp., Styleseat, Inc., which is an online platform for beauty and wellness professionals, and Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization focused on the empowerment of women. These are opportunities to learn from these different environments and bring those lessons back to Blue Apron as well as share with these three organizations the elements that have made Blue Apron successful.
Findley has enjoyed success in a variety of corporate and business environments, and recalls the skills she learned at Elon helping him over the years. “Liberal arts education actually creates a very comprehensive way of approaching the world,” Findley said. “I think the ability to look at things from multiple angles came from here and helped me tremendously in my career.”
So what’s Findley’s favorite Blue Apron meal? She was quick to point to the black bean flautas, which are a unique spin on the Mexican dish thanks to the inclusion of smoked gouda.
“It’s such a simple dish, yet the flavor is so intense and so good that I keep coming back to it over and over and over again,” Findley said.