May 18

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Reaching C Suite Level with CEO of New Wave Foods, Mary McGovern

By Mimi Maclean

May 18, 2021

c-suite, CEO, executive, Food, food industry, food service industry, New Wave Foods

If you have wondered what it takes to be a C-suite level executive and how to run a startup during COVID, this week’s episode is for you. Mary McGovern is the CEO of New Wave Foods, a sustainable plant-based alternative to shrimp. New Wave is revolutionizing the food industry and Mary’s 25 years of packaged goods and consumer experience has helped her run the company and prepare them to launch in stores, restaurants, and the wider foodservice industry.

Episode Contents

Following Passion and Aligning Experience

C-suite level start up CEO quote
Mary McGovern start up CEO bring her passion and experience

Mimi: Welcome back to The Bad-Ass CEO. This is Mimi, and today we are going to talk to a C-suite consumer package executive who turned startup CEO, Mary McGovern. She is the CEO of New Wave Foods, which makes plant-based shrimp, a sustainable shrimp alternative. We dive into what it takes to be a C-suite level executive and how she uses her expertise to run this fast-paced startup, especially during COVID. Mary talks about her passion that sustains her in this rollercoaster ride and how New Wave Food is revolutionizing the food industry with their sustainable fish options. Not only is New Wave Food good for you, but it’s also good for the environment. To get your Top 10 Tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips.

Mary, thank you so much for coming on today. I’m excited to talk to you because you started out originally in corporate America, and now you’re in a startup. What I love about that is what I’m trying to get across in this podcast is only 5% of women ever reached CEO or the C-suites. Right? And only 1.7% of female entrepreneurs ever have a company that’s over a million dollars in sales. And so I would love to just kind of dissect that with you and just first start off by talking about your experience while you were working in corporate America and how you got to be in that C-suite title.

Mary: Absolutely. Thank you. It’s great to be here. I spent 25 years in corporate America. I graduated from Harvard Business School and then went into marketing and worked at General Foods, Ocean Spray, Gillette and Kraft, so leading branded businesses, both domestically and globally. These were really competitive environments and it really was performance-based, and it took a lot to be a female throughout those years to both have a voice, to make sure to be at the table and to know that I, like everyone else at the table, had a right to be there.

Mimi: Right. No, that’s great. The fact that only 5% of females ever reach that C-suite, what do you think you would attribute to? I mean, is it because it’s a male dominated industry, most companies are, or are there other things that women could be doing differently that would help them get to that point?

Mary: I think corporate America remains male-dominated. I think most industries that are still very much male-dominated, and I think getting to C-suite level, honestly, it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also for women, I think it’s about having confidence. It’s about making sure that you give voice, that you have your presence and know that you deserve to be at the table.

Mimi: No, that’s very true. I mean, I’m sure you’ve had to give up a lot to be there and to get there. And what would you say that you probably had to give up more than maybe you would want it to? Is there anything you look back and you’re like, “Well, I gave up this and I could’ve had children. I could’ve more children. I could’ve been at home more?” I don’t know. Is there anything that you look back on and you’re like, “I had to give up a lot to get there?”

Mary: There are a lot of trade-offs. I think anytime you pursue something with a lot of passion, as I’ve pursued this career with a lot of passion, there are unquestionably trade-offs. I think the biggest thing is to make mindful trade-offs. So yes, there have been trade-offs in my personal life, no question about it, but hopefully anyone who pursues something again with that kind of focus does so with a lot of heart and without regret.

Mentorship Helps Achieve C-Suite Level

Start up, New Wave Foods - Shrimp made from sustainable plant foods
Start up, New Wave Foods – Shrimp made from sustainable plant foods

Mimi: No, it’s true. And then, one thing I was reading an article about this and it kind of struck me. It was a statistic where they said that, think it was like 69% of men have mentors in corporate America, and only like 40% of women had mentors. And that struck me as surprising, but not really because I look back on my career since business school, and I’m like, “I never really found a mentor that I wanted to, whatever.” So I’m like, “That’s probably a mistake on me that I never did that.” I just wanted to see if you had any thought to that as far as mentorship, which then in turn gives you that confidence that you were talking about?

Mary: Oh, unquestionably, I benefited tremendously from mentors, both male and female, and I have mentored as well. I just think it’s a gift, was a gift to receive it. I benefited from great guidance and perspective that I couldn’t possibly have had being that much junior to these different people. They just provided wisdom and perspective and really helped me make good decisions and navigate corporate waters, which can be very choppy at times. And so mentorship, I think is something that people should seek for sure.

Mimi: There’s one article I was reading too. They had given advice for any women that was, like “Okay, I want to be a CEO in a big corporate company at some point.” They were saying you have to make sure you rotate out of positions or departments that are not profit-generating. And I just want to see if you agreed with that, because they were just saying a lot of times if you want to become a CEO, they’re going to be like, “Okay, we can’t promote her until we know she’s running a department that is generating revenue and that has a cost basis to it.”

I thought that was interesting because they were just saying women tend to just go into marketing and they go into jobs that are more add-ons that aren’t the income-producing, and that’s why they don’t tap women to be CEOs. I don’t know if that’s just an excuse or if you found that to be the case?

Mary: No, I think it might vary tremendously by industry. Because I was in consumer products, marketing was very much central to everything. We had P&L responsibility. We were setting the strategy. We were working with finance. We had full response cross-functional responsibility. So there was never this sense of you don’t have revenue-generating experience or you have been in some secondary function. It was the lead by definition. Potentially in another industry, there might be functional challenges that people come up against, but I just didn’t experience that.

Mimi: I could see that with the brand because brand, the brand is the biggest part of… Because I worked for Proctor and Gamble for a little bit as a summer job. And that was like the job you wanted to have, the brand job, because you were kind of charge of their products. That’s it. That’s where it was working.that’s true. So what ultimately made you decide to leave corporate America and go into this, like first consulting, which is obviously entrepreneurial and then go to startups?

Mary: I felt very satisfied in my career. When I started out, truthfully, I had always participated a lot in sports, and so my personal goal was to feel like I had achieved world-class athletes status in business and in marketing. And once, especially when I got to Gillette and managed a $2 billion global brand, I had a lot of career satisfaction. So I started to kind of open up the possibilities of what could be next. Consulting was particularly appealing because it was a different kind of challenge, but yet a very multifunctional challenge. And then from there, I fell in love with the idea of working with startups. As I started to do that through the consulting, I just saw that it was a whole other kind of adventure, a whole different kind of impact you could have.

Recognizing a Timely Opportunity

Cell phone image of New Wave Shrimp
Celebrating New Wave Shrimp

Mimi: What ultimately made you decide to do New Wave? I’m sure you probably had a lot of possibilities that you could’ve gone and worked with. What ultimately helped you make that decision to join them?

Mary: I was working with a number of companies, and then when I was introduced to New Wave, I just saw that there was just an amazing opportunity. At that time, I had been involved with a number of plant-based entrepreneurs and my eyes had been opened to this plant-based wave… I don’t mean that as a pun, but as this seismic change that was happening in the market and how needed it is environmentally, in terms of sustainability. So this represented something that was both a huge business opportunity, but also for me personally to have the kind of impact I was hoping to at this point in my career.

Mimi: Where you already a plant-based eater?

Mary: I was gravitating that way. But I must say that, again, in recent years, it’s just become such a compelling in so many ways in terms of sustainability, environmentally, and then certainly our options in plant-based foods have grown tremendously. I’m delighted that New Wave, we’re bringing a incredible option to seafood.

Mimi: That’s great. Now I heard that you guys raised money during COVID. Is that true? Yeah?

Mary: It was true.

Mimi: That’s very hard to do. It’s like a second job on top of your other job of running the company. Can you talk a little bit about that? And also the fact that because it’s during COVID and it’s hard for people to come and taste the food at restaurants and whatnot, how did you get around that?

Mary: I honestly can’t imagine a more challenging time to raise money then during COVID, especially with a food product, because no one’s going to invest until they taste it. So by late spring, we were hitting the road. I was hitting growth, quite frankly, with a certified master chef and reaching out to interested investors and presenting them this product as they would experience it in a restaurant, because that is the channel that we’re targeting. They loved it, as we knew they would. And once we could get out and provide that experience, we had a successful series A where we raised $18 million.

Mimi: Oh, good for you. And that’s through VC or was that more independent, like angel?

Mary: No, it was through VC. We had NEA and Evolution were lead investors, so we really had really wonderful investors. We actually had more interest than we could accommodate.

Distinguishing Between CEO of Startup Versus C-Suite Level in Corporate America

C-suite level opportunities quote from Mary McGovern

Mimi: Oh, that’s great. That’s amazing. So what other challenges that you find are different as a CEO of a startup versus the C-suite level in corporate America? Is there anything you could talk to about that?

Mary: There are many more twists and turns. Corporate America, for all its intensity and pressures, this is very different because there are just so many surprises, so many things to deal with, so many constituents. There’s a speed that actually is so much faster and greater than corporate. As much as corporate America is pressurized, I just think this entrepreneurial venture at this point is, it’s just at a different level. And it’s incredible, it’s exciting, it’s tense and it’s for a greater good with this company. So it’s [crosstalk 00:12:15]-

Mimi: It’s hold onto your seat belt, right? It’s like [crosstalk 00:12:17] you’re on a ride, on a rollercoaster ride. But it’s funny that you brought this up, because my husband and I were talking about this. My son is in college and I was like, “Okay, now looking back on it, both of us did the traditional. You got out of college and we both did investment banking like the two-year analyst program.

Mary: Yep.

Mimi: And so I’m like, “Okay, now what would I tell my son to do?” Let’s not say “son.” Let’s just stick with a woman.

If you were to recommend a female college student who’s graduating, would you recommend her going into corporate America or to try to look at more of an entrepreneurial startup situation? Is there a benefit to either one?

Mary: I still love the kind of training that you can get at some companies. So I think at the beginning of a career coming out of business school, I would still place a premium on getting that kind of training in those first few years. Our particular startup, we have a lot of experienced people. So I do think that the folks that we have coming in at more junior levels are being exposed to best practice. They’re being exposed to a lot of depth, but you just can’t guarantee that in a startup certainly, as much as you can know that certain standard bearers in industry are going to provide you some extraordinary training at the beginning. So I’m still an advocate of that.

Mimi: Especially if you can get into one of the programs like I got into where you learn to work hard. The training that we got and the expectation that you have for work, I think is just unparalleled. Right? Just knowing that there’s no, there’s no answer for no. If they’re not going to hear it, you have to be perfected everything. There’s no mistakes. [crosstalk 00:13:53] That’s true.

And then as far as somebody who is thinking about being an entrepreneur, I mean, I’m sure you didn’t reach out, start your career and be, “Okay, I’m going to be, like start my own company.” It kind of just evolved. But if someone who’s in college or starting out right now is, like “Okay, I really have this idea. I want to pursue it.” Would you recommend, because they don’t have a family or big mortgages, to do it and try to go for their idea, or would you recommend they go get a job and work for somebody?

Mary: It depends, because I look at Michelle Wolf who I work with… One of the co-founders of New Wave Foods. This was an inspired idea. She and Dominique, the co-founders of the company, just have made something. They started something now that is burgeoning and blossoming, and that was so early in a career. So there are different paths. There’s not one right path.

Mimi: Right. You got to figure out what your product is or what your business is, and if you have experience or whatever that is.

Mary: Well, I would say if you’ve got an idea that you want to pursue, then much like the mentor conversation, get with people who can advise you. I would say get with people who have perspective, who can push you and poke holes and help you pressure test what you want to do, to make sure that if you’re going to go forward with it, you really have thought it through and that you’re on a path to get the kinds of minds and resources to make you successful.

Mimi: Going back to Michelle Wolf that you mentioned, she was the co-founder. I don’t even know if she was the CEO before you. But if she was, hats off to co-founders that recognize that their company is growing faster than the expertise that they have and to bring in somebody who’s seasoned in the industry. Right? I assume that’s what happened in your story.

Mary: Yes, exactly. I give great credit to the two co-founders, because they saw a real opportunity and a real need. I give them credit for having folks come in with a lot more experience, including myself, to be able to bring this dream to fruition.

Knowing Your Leadership Style For Success

Mimi: How would you describe your leadership style?

Mary: My leadership style is to help others be their very best. I want to enable people to bring their passion, bring their expertise and let it flourish at work. So I really hope to enable those who work with me to strive, achieve, and be able to do their very best, be recognized for it and take the next challenge on.

Mimi: No, that’s true. The question I wanted to ask you is, what do you think it takes to be a CEO? But I kind of want to tie it back to what you were talking about before about self-confidence because I feel like you’re probably, and maybe not… But I would think that as a CEO of a startup, you’re always in territory that’s not familiar to you and you always feel like you’re out of your element or you’re like, “Wait, I don’t know what I’m doing.” I think a lot of people take that as being like not competent, but really, it should just be like, that’s the job, is being uncomfortable at all times.

Mary: I would honestly say it’s real mix. There are parts of this that are absolutely new to me, and then there are other parts where I am really dipping into deep experience, and then there are other parts still where I bring in other expertise. So it is a very much of a mix, but you can’t assume that it’s going to be all comfortable. It’s just not going to be.

Mimi: Right. And so what quality would you say is the most important to be a good successful CEO (via the corporate C-suite level route)?

Mary: I think you have to be resilient and you have to feel that passion. You have to be inspired. I think it’s the only way you could have that kind of energy and bring that forward to others, but also to just continually go and go after this on a daily and be willing to go through all the twists and turns that are inevitably at hand.

Practices and Tools To Support a Busy CEO

Mimi: And last question I just wanted to ask. Everyone loves to dissect people’s morning routines and what they do to keep their life, at least I do. Everyone’s trying to balance their life, right? Do you have any kind of tricks that you could say “This app I use and it saves me three hours a day?” I don’t know. I’m just throwing something out there. Anything that you would give us as far as advice to make us more successful?

Mary: In terms of a morning routine, I definitely have coffee, and I actually have a morning meditation every morning. It’s a group meditation that I really enjoy, and then it’s followed by more coffee. In terms of other things that I think are essential, so I rollerblade pretty [crosstalk 00:18:37] five days a week, about nine or 10 miles each time, and it’s in lieu of-

Mimi: Is there a path by your house?

Mary: Absolutely. There is a beautiful three mile path around a lake and a beautiful state park. I’m able to get there and get that exercise and experience those endorphins and be with nature, and it makes an enormous difference.

Mimi: What do you do when it’s snowing?

Mary: An elliptical.

Mimi: And just, to close it out, is there any other advice that you would give to females to empower them or lessons that you might’ve learned you wish you knew in the beginning of your career that you now wish you knew or anything that you would just kind of tips or wisdom?

Mary: The deep advice, and I mean, just from the heart advice that I’d give to any young women who are entering a career is just know that you’re worthy. Know that you deserve that seat at the table and have the confidence to give voice, because you belong there. You have every right to be there and move forward as you find right for you.

Mimi: That’s great. I love that. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for your time. I loved talking with you, and I’m so [crosstalk 00:19:51] impressed in how you’ve navigated the corporate world and now have transitioned into some new, great, exciting, and as you help this company grow to the next level.

Mary: Thank you so much. Great to see you.

Mimi: Thank you for joining us on The Bad-Ass CEO. To get your copy of the Top 10 tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips. Also, please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me at mimi@thebadassceo.com. See you next week and thank you for listening.

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Mimi Maclean

About the author

Entrepreneur and Angel Investor Mimi MacLean brings you business strategies, life experiences, lessons learned, inspiration, and advice for you to be your best Badass Entrepreneur Self.

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