James White, Former CEO, Jamba Juice

Date: Thursday, March 10, 2016
Location: Santa Clara

It was a telling moment. Before James White, the recently retired Chairman & CEO of Jamba Juice, launched into his fireside talk at the Alliance Regional Meeting on March 10th in Santa Clara, he gave a simple piece of advice: prioritize your personal life, and then let your work flow around that. This recommendation underscored James’ key message that success comes when we approach challenges from myriad perspectives and dimensions. He was reminding the gathered Alliance members that to succeed in the challenge of life, the personal dimension must never be neglected.

In the office, James had impressive success at senior executive roles with iconic companies such as Safeway, Gillette, Nestle Purina and Coca-Cola, prior to joining Jamba Juice. When he accepted the CEO position in 2008, Jamba Juice was reeling from a post-IPO downturn and was nearly out of cash. He brought on new investors, sold the company-owned stores to franchisees and changed menus and in-store operations. And critically, he leveraged the power of cross-functional teams by doubling down on building the most diverse teams possible, while promoting transparency and accountability with public performance reviews.

Diversity, he stressed at the Alliance meeting, is critical. Effective managers create cross-functional teams with a host of abilities and perspectives to solve problems from multiple vantage points. Diversity in every dimension does not solely pertain to race or gender. A diverse team also encompasses individuals of different industries, skill sets, age, and interests. James conceded that starting a diverse team is messy because everyone is coming from different places. Yet, once the machine is humming, James contended that cross-functional, diverse teams always outperform more homogenous teams. Beyond operational team building, James also advocated that corporate boards should reflect the roots of its customer base. For example, a company that sells to mostly women, needs women well represented at the board level.

Did this strategic emphasis on diversity and cross-functional teams work? With Jamba Juice’s current stock value nearly six times what it was during the crisis James was brought in to manage, it’s hard to argue to the contrary.

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