Paul Sellew | Crain's Boston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Paul Sellew

Background:  

Devens, Mass.-based Little Leaf Farms is focused on providing sustainable, locally-sourced lettuce to New England year-round with what it calls "the most technologically-advanced lettuce growing greenhouse in the world."

The Mistake:

I started my first company when I was 24. And so I was young, brash, maybe a little arrogant. The name of the company was Earthgro — it was one of the first large-scale producers of natural, organic lawn and garden products.

When I first got started, it being my first company, I didn't really appreciate or understand how to work with a management team. I was a little bit too caught up in thinking that I always knew the best way. I would say that I basically tried to grow the business too quickly.

We took in organic materials such as leaves and grass and brush, and through large-scale compost operations and things like that we turned it into high-quality, organic-based lawn and garden products — soil, mulch, things like that.

We were based in Connecticut but we did a lot of business on Long Island. It was expensive to bring the material up from Long Island and then convert it into finished products at our facility in Connecticut, and then bag it and send it back to Long Island. So I became hellbent on expanding into Long Island.

My management team felt that there would have been complications in going to Long Island. It was not an area that we knew well, it's more densely populated, and so on. It turns out they were right. It ended up costing me a lot more in the end because of transportation dollars to move and expand there, and so after making an expensive decision to go there we ended up deciding to just shut it down over a period of about three years.

My team was articulating the reasons why it wouldn't work, but I was a bit arrogant thinking I knew best and not really listening to my team and valuing their advice.

It's important to have a great team ... And then you have to listen to them.

The Lesson:

First off it's important to have a great team in the first place. And then you have to listen to them. The team I have now is a whole different vibe, a different dynamic. We kick around problems, and I think I'm a better leader because I'm a better listener than I was back then. Ultimately you'll make the best decisions that way.

If you make a big decision, you need to bring the organization along with you. Be a company that has a management team that's working in a cohesive way, versus having more of an entrepreneur that is just making decisions and not bringing the team along with them on those decisions.

Follow Little Leaf Farms on Twitter at @LittleLeafFarms.

Photo courtesy of Paul Sellew

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