Patrick and Craig discuss innovation, whether your company really needs policies, and the importance of integrating culture and brand for a seamless experience both internally and externally. Breakthrough Fuel is the industry’s first supply chain fuel management company that helps companies lower their fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions with patented technology and fuel recovery services.

5:49

PH: Craig Dickman, welcome to Coffee & CEOS.
CD: Culture is one of those things that I think if you don’t pay attention to it, and nurture it, and make conscience decisions about it, it will evolve, but may evolve in a way that detaches from what the company really is.
PH: So, you have a really fascinating company and you’ve had an incredible growth curve. Can you just walk people through where you started and where you guys are today?
CD: Sure, I’d be happy to. So the company is called Breakthrough Fuel and what we do is we manage the energy companies use to move products to market. When you look at, about a third of the cost of moving products is the underlying energy, and we really saw an opportunity to manage that in a way that could create a competitive advantage. We tend to work with large companies that have a lot of product so companies like Proctor and Gamble, and Unilever, and John Deere … companies like that. And we focus on reducing the cost consumption and emissions associated with those movements.
PH: So what do you contribute your success to? Obviously innovation. You guys are consistently innovative. But what do you contribute your success to?
CD: Well the innovation is an important part, and so when you think about we started, I started the company in 2004 and it really was an idea. And it was 17 months from the time we started Breakthrough Fuel to the point that anyone became a customer. So we spent time thinking about what’s the culture we want. We started thinking about as we become successful what do we want to do? And it was interesting in that timeframe we set an objective that we wanted to make sure we always would have a new product every 14 months. The 14 months at the time was somewhat arbitrary, but what was more important was the idea that we couldn’t have a big idea go to the marketplace and that was going to be good enough, but that we were going to have to build a culture, process, the organization around the idea that we want to constantly generate new ideas and bring them out to the market. And that’s really been a key part of our growth because sometimes people look at growth of how much you can add from a customer base, ours is just important by retaining the customer base. So when I think about it our first 15 customers that were Breakthrough Fuel customers are still clients today.
PH: Last time you and I talked, you mentioned that you don’t have typical HR at your place. In fact, you never wanted it. Tell me a little about that.
CD: Yes, two things we don’t have—we don’t have HR and we don’t have policies. I fundamentally don’t believe in HR. I fundamentally don’t believe in policies. Because most of the time what they do is they constrict individuals’ abilities to work, and it creates rules, and it creates boxes, and job descriptions. And the whole thing is about limiting, and compliance, and conformity. And with organizations like us, that’s not what you want. You want them to play to their strengths.

So there’s really two reasons. So, that’s one. The second thing is for us, I always found it fascinating and frustrating that you would see organizations that would talk about themselves in the marketplace one way and would try to represent who they were, and then behave very, very differently inside of the organization. And here is huge disconnect.
PH: A misaligned experience … right.
CD: Absolutely. And there’s so many times even that I’ve walked into another company, and it could’ve been that I was selling them, and you’d walk in and you’d could tell just by the look and the feel, and the way people act, and the way people dress, and the way people behaved, and the way the environment was, that they weren’t who they were saying they were. And so for us, having that exact same feel, whether you’re outside looking at the company, whether you’re a customer in the marketplace, or whether you’re inside assessing you want to be a part of our team, we wanted to have a very constant and continual and consistent feel. So we created something that we call the Breakthrough Experience. So the Breakthrough Experience for us is what does it mean to interact with Breakthough at any level—from the market back to the core of the company. And so we have one team that does the go to market, marketing work, anything that we’re doing in the marketplace around the brand. And that same team brings the brand into the people process and kind of who we are, and creates a real continual feel of who we are.
PH: So forward thinking, absolutely.
CD: And so alignment is so important and one of the reasons why it’s easy to connect the people with the work.
PH: So, one of the unique things I’ve seen with your company, that I don’t see it with a lot of our clients is you have someone specifically dedicated to culture. Why did you do that and what realm do they oversee?
CD: Well, I think the thing we recognized is a culture is just an important part of who we are and what we offer the marketplace as our technology is, as our data science team is, as any other area. And culture is one of those things that I think if you don’t pay attention to it, and nurture it, and make conscience decisions about it, it will evolve, but may evolve in a way that detaches from what the company really is. And so by keeping actively working and actively managing the culture, I think what it does is give us a chance to both maintain the strong core of who we are, and at the same time it gives us the chance to recognize that, you know, culture has to evolve because you can’t be doing the exact same things you were doing in 48 countries that you were doing in one.
PH: Culture is not a policy.
CD: Culture is not a policy, it’s not static. And so if you don’t have somebody thinking about where does this take us next and what are the implications, then you’re likely at some point to evolve into something that you look back at and may not like.