Xavier Unkovic is global president of Amy’s Kitchen, Santa Rosa-based producer of frozen organic meals, with estimated revenue of nearly $500 million. Unkovic, a former executive for Mars Drinks, assumed the Amy’s position in May 2017. Mars is a global company with sales of about $35 billion.

These are highlights of Unkovic’s remarks at North Bay Business Journal's North Coast Specialty Food and Beverage Conference on Jan. 31.

“One of the defining moments of my life was at a business conference in Japan. I am a big fan of martial arts, especially karate. I went to see a dojo on the main island. A sign there said there are two critical moments in a man’s life — the day he is born, and when he discovers why he was born.

“It’s massively difficult to answer that question. All your life you go to school, train and learn. You’re proud of what you do. The answer to the why is located in a part of your brain — the limbic zone, associated with emotions. I wanted to determine why I do what I do.

“Doing a similar exercise for your company is as difficult as it is for a person. But it is worth it. The day you understand why you do what you do — it is massively powerful. Many companies know what they do and how they do it, but not why, which will show them how to interact with consumers.

“I asked Andy (Berliner) why Amy’s existed. (Named after daughter Amy, started with pot pies in Petaluma then organic pizzas and soups, made by hand by Andy and Rachel Berliner. ‘Goodness is our guiding principle. We choose what’s best for our customers, our farmers, our employees and our planet.’)

“The purpose he created for his company makes me willing to quit a company I had been working for 25 years (Mars). It is massively engaging, massively exciting and massively authentic. Authenticity is what people are looking for today, critical for people I am working with. We are part of this community and we’re proud of it.


“We are all competing with each other, even when we are not making the same products, especially for the resource of people. It is difficult in the marketplace to recruit and attract talent. At Amy’s, it’s on top. By 2020, it will be even more difficult to hire talent. Employees have choices, and will have multiple offers by companies. Of course they will be looking at their paycheck and the people and managers (they will work with). But they will be looking for how connected, how they feel about the company they work for. That emotion is all about the purpose, engagement.

“The purpose of a company is going to be (even more) critical. Why should they work there? Why does the company exist? Not about being an accountant, in marketing, in sales. Attracting and retaining talent is going to be critical. We all know our processes, but do we know why we do it?

“How do we associate a purpose with our vision. How do we attract people to go the extra mile. It’s all about the emotional connection. Managing vision and purpose becomes critical for leaders and managers in the business. Telling people what to do is not enough — engaging and inspiring people becomes critical. The old management style, telling people what they have to do, is not going to work especially with young people.

“In the organic industry, we are doing good for people of this world. We have amazing power to bring people with us on our journey to build a better world. Use that power. Invite people to come and work with you. Make sure your managers and leaders can engage others and express the vision and purpose. Have artifacts everywhere you can to remind everyone why you do what you do — behind the execution of a plan. It’s not easy.

“My kids are 17 and 15. I didn’t ask my parents why we did what we did. Now my kids look at me and ask why. More and more, people will look at their managers and ask us why we are doing what we do. We are in a world where authenticity matters, where doing the right thing matters. That doesn’t mean getting away from a business plan, transactions and execution, but how we do it is critical.