Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America: "I learned that I had cancer.... I was changed after that. It forced me to say, 'Are you living what matters the most to you?'"
Cancer I went through chemo ahead surgeries etcetera I was changed after that I couldn't deny find out I was after that happened I forced me to say, are you living what matters most you? I'm Carl Sagan. I'm Danielle Weisberg welcome to skin from the couch this podcast where we go deep on career advice from women who have lifted from the good stuff like hiring and growing a team to the rough stuff like negotiating your salary and giving or getting hard feedback. We started the skin from a couch. So what better place to talk it all out than where it began on a couch? Hey everyone. This show might sound a bit different today because we're skimming from three different couches. This game is still working from home for the time being because of Kobe Ninety today, Clare, Babbit. No fonteneau joins us on skimmed from the couch. She is the CEO of feeding America. The nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization feeding America provides more than four billion meals to more than forty million people across the country Clare Thank you so much for joining us today. Welcome to skin from the couch what thank you so much for having me. We are. You've a fascinating stories. WE'RE GONNA get into it, but I gotta ask you what we ask all guests on the show skim, your resume for us. So I have a high school in my. To griped way Harrington graduate from high school. So everything I'm going to say a list of I. So I have an undergraduate degree I've that an limb in accession I'm a lawyer by training I worked in government in big for accounting in a major law firm or one that would be Walmart in northwest Arkansas and it's now Mike to be the CEO of feeding America as you just mentioned. something that we can't Google about you. that. Had My druthers by real fantasy would've been to sing background vocals for Luther Vandross. Do. You have a good voice. No. Not, really though my kids I think they seem like it but they not. So. We're GONNA talk about how you grew up and when we usually talk about people's professional story you know obviously, we're all shaped by how he grew up in our family dynamic and you know only children verses having siblings versus just different family structures, Daniela each have one sibling, and we talk a lot about that dynamic. You have more than one sibling and I would love for you. To to share a little bit worried about that. Boy Do I. Have More than one of laying. In fact unusually, ladies will use this to warm up audience what speech I'll ask them. To sue you have they never guessed one hundred and seven dams I. Say that one more time one, hundred and seven I thought it was a Typo as we were doing prep for this one, hundred seven. So your listeners will quickly say biology must not be the only thing involved fares. At birth adoption, Bostick theorem one of one hundred kids and I love that you early on asked that question because I do think it informs everything that matters about me was shaped by that fats. That is a lot of people and I cannot imagine saying that amount. If you bar blood in my family, let alone my siblings, I really want to understand. Like what that dynamic, wise and like your parents sound like extraordinary people that were able to give to so many individuals to really provide a home for so many children I mean literally just walk us through the very tactical how many people lived in the house like how many of your siblings names do you now? Okay I'm sure I, know all by siblings. Can and it's probably the reason that I remember he'll stories more than their names now because I used of all capacity. Sensitive, it's all that I've ever known. So my parents learned of two little kids neighboring town who were suffering for mcglasson abuse. My Dad was at work in bag. My mom was working from home and she got him in the Aren Ima. Ronald. So I'd never known anything this. It's through the ice of brands that I came to realize how bizarre was. So there were never more than sixteen Abbas several living at home at the same time but there were many times when there were six of us living at home at the same and what was something really unique about our family. Of course, the numbers are big but the other thing is that I love the way you talk about family because I. I've always had a sense of what it means to be family. That feel a little different than maybe some of the conventional thoughts around what it means to be family. So family for us in order mentally we were not biologically connected. So that's not what brother or sister in our household I had a lot more brothers and sisters I have a lot more. Than I have sisters. I was rough and tumble with my brothers and my sisters we engage the Lai in activities together. And often they were outside. Say Okay. It's time for you to go outside. So he went light up in Redondo outside and find ways to commune outside what are the things that really stuck out for one of my friends may be it might be something that would help you guys to have a sense of of we were so mad a Walton table. Table, we weren't. Typical in that sense that we didn't often all sit at the table at one time but just for us to eat and we ate big meal suffer not dinner but suffer in A. Rice etc. In order to cook enough for all of us we'd have to cook in. Across to burners on my wow. So imagine that we're GonNa talk about your career, but I haven't a question do you have a family group text? We do how many people are on? We have not been able to do all of them. There is no way to actually get all of us on one contact. So we've got family group tests, clusters Oh. My Gosh. How you think I mean obviously, this is not an environment that most people grow up in what do you think you took from it that you've put into your leadership style That you've noticed as different than other people, the two things that come to mind immediately. In one of MS that we had such a diverse household. So we had different races, different religions, different levels of if for one of better expression ability. If you will different challenges, not all of US started in the same place. So some things that naturally evolved from that was always had it's really really deep sense of gratitude have locked the flaws trust me hopefully, we won't. Cover most of those but among the my vices is not ingratitude because I've always had a strong sense of the fact that might fill-ins didn't earn what they were getting up before they got to our home. So I've always understood of all set this awareness of inequities. One of them another one is a power of diversity because we I grew up in a small rural town. In. Lack of things I didn't even know I was supposed to believe no society thought some of those things like I didn't know that society had certain is around ability like even something basic as I have a brother named Jonathan and he's never been very tall I did know that he wasn't supposed to be the person that I can the ball to in basketball in our family. Everybody went into the backyard and everybody I chance to play everybody. Got Them. All right. So I just learned things that just became a part of who I am and how I approached. The world's lake trying to give people opportunities working not to allow what I'm supposed to believe about people like this arson to influence how interact with that person alert all those things growing up in that family in another one. That was an invaluable invaluable thing that my mother taught me. So, well, was my mom had ranked expectations every single one of us most of my siblings and back suffered from again to become part of our family, you would have suffered from neglect abuse or some combination of neglect abuse. Many of my siblings had learning disabilities and sometimes people laugh mate. So you're a lawyer, how many of you are doctors and lawyers? And I usually I'll say something like, oh where But let me tell you something else is more important a one, hundred and eight only one of us is not self sustaining right now. Wow, that is extraordinary i. have one brother still lives at home. Wow. Wow. Expansionary exactly. That's huge. Learn about expectations in the house learn about my own privileges ellen about diversity alert about inclusion and I learned about help powerful. High expectations are, and then I went out into the world and learn about hell devastating low expectations can be too and I'm glad that I didn't know some of those things I'm glad society to get to teach me. For my parents did. My siblings it as it related to those I absolutely work really hard ash bringing each of those two but work that I do every day you end up leaving home, and as you started at the top of the show were a lot of I in your family and got your education started really making your way up the corporate ladder and you're in Arkansas and we're GIG for Walmart in two thousand fifteen became a really critical your in your life and I want you. To sort of paint a picture of kind of who you were in twenty fourteen and a who you were sixteen and what happened in the middle. Absolutely so perfect that you save twenty fourteen because Sin Twenty, fourteen that I took up running. So I never been a runner used to make fun of runners say, Oh, they say there needs from starting to give out on their forties fifties mine or like a baby's knees. I. Have some very much. But I started running. So I was in the what I believe to be the best shape of my life in twenty fourteen. And from a career perspective. I was like Baba when he won the master's and they asked him, I was going to be. To wear that that Green Blazer and said, I didn't dream that. I mean, my career had exceeded my expectations but I always was operating with an understanding that very early on about the want the world, the inequities in the world, the different cards people get dealt and also. On the side do something about that. So I'm moving along and every now pat myself on a backer for the fact that I had this full time job I was on the board of Directors or Casa, which is a fabulous national organization, but I had time I felt. So. I. Kept forgetting to go get my physical make -secutive fiscal Walmart Kmart and I could go anywhere. I wanted to get my second fiscal second forget him to get it finally decide I'm going to start getting like this go on my birthday weekend. then. I. Won't forget I'm going to get my birthday please everyone who's listening get physicals regularly so I went in to get my physical on my birthday weekend in two thousand fifteen. And what I hadn't thought about was that I might get bad nudes and I learned that I had cancer. and. I remember sitting there going. What. A runner. I'm in the best shape of my life. I'm young. What do you mean? So I had to confront my mortality in ways that were really profound for me and I'm doing so well in my career. and. A cap moving up kept getting more responsibilities and doctors told me because I'm so privileged. I had access to great medical care. Doctors told me that it had been detected early that my noces was going good and it is just five years by the way That's huge congratulations an accurate. The doctors explained that I went through chemo ahead surgeries etcetera but I was changed after that I couldn't deny a finite I was after that happened I me to say a living what matters the most you this is really the way you wanna live your life in fact I. Remember it's Selena asking myself what if The last thing that you ever get to do professionally is the last thing that you can do at Walmart. Would that be okay. Am I answering sell L. so I started leaving mark. And When I left a new that I was leaving a lot of behind and many people thought it was foolish a means to do that. But, one of my benefits throughout my career I've had this vary remarkable career always have passion for my work. I always was energized to go in. And I noticed that I lost the energy to go into Walmart and I don't think that was fair to them. And I didn't think I would ever get that energy back or that work. So as I said, I started the process I. I had very long Transition Palmer. Wasn't an anti or It was a pro be move and what I wanted to do with my life. I'm listening to you talk and obviously you had such a you know as you said, a profound encounter with your own mortality, know for those that are listening I wanna kind of takeaway that extreme situation. But I think everyone has different crossroads in in their life in career path different moments that just kind of make you go like what am I doing and I think it takes a lot of guts chilling identify be pro me how do you identify like what is pro you? What does that mean and how to find that? Yeah. I'll tell you that I think I think more often than not know they just might not like be answer. They might be afraid of the answer but more often than not people know and the people who knows them well not to. So as an example, it was from me from me to be a lawyer. How did? I know so go to my dad and I'm a little girl a daddy. A guy who didn't get frankly from high school whose whose. Parents were share. Daddy I'm going to be able you're. And he says. That makes perk accents little girl. Because, you argue all the time somebody pay to do it. I suppose to be an advocate I'm supposed to be a lawyer. So I think there's a voice inside of you the tells you what? To do. And then there's a little voice inside of you but tells you don't take a chance trying to do that so I don't think that your listeners. Are Likely to not know what? To do. I. Hope My story helps to affirm that sometimes it works out remarkably well when you listen. You obviously learned a really big lesson and taking care of yourself. To get the physical you work in hunger relief that is not A. Casual low stakes job. How to you make sure you're taking care of yourself now first context. I don't always do it well, but this mission needs me to do it. Better and better. All the time and I am getting better in back. At the beginning of this crisis, we have people out in the field who are putting their lives at risk in order to deliver to people need it and I knew that. So I didn't feel comfortable with sleeping. How can how can I be sleeping? There are people who are desperately hungry. Who are afraid they're cancer we're GONNA go to bed tonight unable. Bellies their parents were going to put their bits. Their event tonight would have been their belly and there are people on the ground trying to make sure that that doesn't happen. So it did have put in this layer of feeling responsibility that I had and I didn't notice that it was translating into me not sleeping. And keeping my phone right next to my bed. And Waking up at different points in the evening at night, jumping up and looking at by phone to make sure that no message came through that I needed to respond to win. So I had a lot of trouble. At the beginning but I am rather introspective I do know that part of my wiring is that I feel responsible but not. As a leader in my responsibility as a leader, a large part of it is to lead by example. So. As I noticed that pattern myself, I start paying attention back pattern was happening while our organization, all of the leaders around me and I referred leaders not just based upon title got a bunch of leaders, hundreds of leaders, thousands of leaders in this were. All of these leaders providing a terrible example for. An although I wasn't talking about how many hours working they could tell because I was sending out emails are I handled something and they're like, well, why don't you get a chance to do that or she must have done it overnight so the big thing that drove me to start working on self care. was actually not self as much. As the about what the implications were for this mission that suggest for the people that get to work with that I bronze love the people that I work with. So now with that revelation with that, slap in the face I, then had to start doing something about what have I done first off at feeding America we came together talk about whether I was the only one who ceiling. And I learn. Now we were all feeling like that. So we acknowledge where we were. Tried to be honest and transparent about where I am animal time. To make room retailer to be where they where we were and we actually got some experts amen and talk to us about self care about the meditative arts. If you will and people some people get to prayer and others. Young guys in different ways but this challenge that we need to by saying that works for us where do I find stillness whether give myself room to not be active? To be still so I'm a calendar center kind of person. On my calendar. Engage in self care I, mix it up or be different things at the time but I have to do something I took off and I had not taken off. I've worked at least sixty five consecutive days I stopped and I said, Okay No. And I unplugged completely for the weekend and. I had been so snarky on that Friday. My. Life these. Fat that person and yet I must be ruinous snarky like west non. Full decompression when I got back on the Monday I had returned to be. Hey Yeah. So I think I'm glad it happened that way. Sorry for the person that I was smoking on the Friday but I was Kinda glad it happened in such stark terms. that it was hugely different and my day was different and might impact was different on the people around me so. That's what I'm doing one day at a time one step at a time. Obviously, we're going a as a country and one of the big things we've been going through is food insecurity I. Think is being thought of in it in a much different way given the moment that we're in with Kobe. I cannot imagine how difficult your job has been. Being at the helm of feeding America, tackling these issues through a pandemic imminent ask this question, but it's such a misnomer. What do you think good leadership looks like at this time. Because, we've never had a time like this. So I feel. It's unfair to ask you but also everyone's trying to figure out a way through it and what you guys do is so directly linked to this moment a horse I start with a disclaimer I don't have all the answers. Would, actually say in response to that is leader aren't threatened by great leaders they surround themselves with a I have aspiration to be a great leader I have worked in the two years before this endemic. Eating year when it had ears I have been successful in recruiting and retaining some remarkable people. and. I believe that in these moments that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to try to do it all ourselves heaven, the fifty, three, fifty, four, million people that we expect to be endemic. They're not gonNA just be counting on this one lady with a French name from China right? They don't have to. So I think surrounding yourself by really hard working dedicated readers, powerful people helping them, see their our empowering them to extend the An. That's one of the biggest things. I. In do so that moment of crisis even all together and. Eggs together, then emission gets the benefit of that collective instead of just one person. So I think that's a really big art of it and I believe it's been sustaining for us. You gave some statistics at the beginning. And I thought about the first time, I heard of statistics that we're feeding about forty million people that are about thirty, seven, million people in the country who will lead insecure that providing somewhere between four and five, billion a year. And when I heard those shocked by those numbers and that was what I join feeding. America, those represent. The first time that we return to premium session needs food insecurity in since the last session, those are not the numbers anymore I didn't think I look back and. All. Those who better days? When there were nearly or a million people were convinced your now we're looking at fifty four million by think about actually like what that looks like what that means it's like you can't believe that that is happening in the United States. What can our listeners do? How can people help people who are listening to this right now there's obviously you know we invited you on this podcast because you have an amazing career story and we wanted to hear it. But also like what you do every day is incredible and what can people do to Help Bay hand certainly help so let me go through a quick list of things that people can do on the first one is to choose to have your eyes open so educate yourself on what Looks like in this country, but it will fight what it looks like. Now decide it's unacceptable once we get we can do they're beating America artem network that includes two hundred sixty, thousand agency partners in two million volunteers around the United States if they went to feeding America Dot Org, you can be educated inside of that website I you can certainly make donations and we certainly need help in that department student funds can also find a food bank in the community that you care the most about when national and local. So you can go in and we've got a little food bank locator. Zip Code in it'll sell them. This is the Food Bank and serve your community air so much about and you can go the food you outreach to help in that community but the other thing is right now there's so many things that the been arguing about as a country there are certain things that just shouldn't be subject to debate. We should expect Congress brand since to prioritize whole communities, we should use our voices to ask that they do beating America's nonpartisan organization. When I say nonpartisan, this is what I mean. It's different than bipartisan. Nonpartisan for US maids. We have data informed way of understanding what tools are. That would be helpful to people facing hunger in this country, and we stand with them and their moments in time when people who suffer identify his breakfast and with ensue and when they do they stand with us because we stand with them and in time would be identify exit serving stand with them when they extend with us because we stand with them. So we are cells focus on the interventions that will help. Facing a number and that should be something that we can all agree on. So asking Congress to go to the table and talk together about how do come up with interventions that are going to be held things like snap, which often stance two quick data points about stand one for every one meal that are remarkable. Bank network and provide snack him provide nine or everyone dollar investments now according to the last recession or every one dollar invested. The return of the economy is doubt seventy cents. And you really think about it if you make if you give someone something. And it's only bound number one they're desperately. And it's only value is in its use, you can't put it in the bank stored away. Invested. Differently if it's berthoud economic, use it to get it creates jobs. So there's so many good reasons why we ought to be really really energized around interventions that we know are help those those are two quick one. So feeding America Org absolutely educate yourself aside hunger in America is simply not acceptable. In, go out there and do something about it. Last round favorite round our lightning round are you a morning person or night out? More versa. Was Do you wake up. For thirty am no UTA. Why Don't you don't had. I am wired to I married in my husband is not a morning person yet thirty two years were still together go figure. Or thirty in the morning rain shine were holiday with the last show you binge watched. I just finished binging eliciting. It's on the. Top of the lake is the name of it epic. See Them. One was awesome. Okay. What percentage of your siblings names does your husband now? All. Really going to have to go test them. I say there are about forty five of us get together regularly. So he knows they're right. There are some that. I haven't even gotten to see in a very long time. So. He wouldn't know them and on the forty five or so of us he knows them but it doesn't necessarily know every name. And around Christmas get together with something and and I know he wants to act like those all the names. So if I want something special for Christmas, maybe at what? We. Actually I have another I have a question from that Hammond Nieces or nephews do you have Omegas Brits? Hundreds and hundreds I do not have found. Oh you need to find that I didn't figure that out. I do not have account. I did not have account but on average also have kids and I'd say most of us who had if you have at least two does anyone have like a crazy number? Well, I know has the most grandkids I have a sincere who has like about thirty rapists feels the most we have nobody comes close Oh sunny. Okay. Ebony my brother. Anthony. Has. As of the last count he had twelve children. Wow. All biological children. As last count because every time he he and his wife, advocate. So you guys about done. and. One of the most mile and I like. I don't think they're done. Okay that is a great place Jan cleared. Thank you so. Being on the show. Thank you guys so much for having. Thanks giving me a chance to talk to you by the way on. Thanks especially for giving me a chance to talk about the work that we're doing his eating America. I everyone we're trying something new. During this time of economic date, we WANNA take a moment to spotlight some new female founded companies. We've heard from many incredible skimmers leading small businesses, and we will be introducing them to you each week on skin the couch see the Lincoln are episode description for how to submit yourself or print. Hi I'm Julie Bornstein. I. Am the founder and CEO of the Yes. The yes. Is a new shopping platform right now it's only for IOS and it is a store built around each person. So what happens is you take a quick Q. and A., and then basically you have your own feed and that feed is tied to the things. You've told us about the styles in your sizes and things like that and brands of and then as you shop you. Yes and no items you like don't like and it gets smarter over time the best. Analogy we use is it's kind of like spotify or Pandora for shopping for clothes. The problems we were looking to solve on the consumer side where for kind of the overwhelm of shopping online and so as we all know, we've spent lots of time on websites going through twelve pages of midi-dresses to try and find a one or two that are interesting to us, and you know whether you see it on page two or page twelve you sort of feel like I have to. Absolutely. See everything to find that right thing. So that is sort of the first problem we're trying to solve is why can't the shopping experience adapt to me and as it starts to learn the things that I like can't the mini dresses that I like show up on page one the second problem we're trying to solve is that the department stores are shrinking and the brands are looking for new ways to find customers and estimates are sort of WanNa. Make sure they know what's New and interesting, but it's exhausting to go to a million sites and you don't necessarily know all the new cool brands. So the idea of giving a brand new outlet to meet customers and vice versa was really the second problem we're trying to solve I have been thinking about starting a company for a long time and I had many different moments where I wanted to. So right after college went to work for Donna Karan, I was always really interested in fashion and when I was. Leaving I really wanted to start addenda bar, but it was nine, hundred, ninety three, and there were truly no capital markets for young founders female or male It just didn't exist and it was pre internet then I went back to business school I worked briefly in banking, and then I joined Nordstrom as Nordstrom was just launching ecommerce it took me about. Six months of begging dinners from the hire me but he did and it was a really fun couple of years when I left after five years I thought I had an idea to start something and Dan talk me out of it He said I l see I think I was pregnant with my second kid at that time and he said he is definitely. Do, not want to start a company. It's the chance of it working is so low and it's a horrible lifestyle. So we ended up instead moving to Philadelphia for urban outfitters where I have them building grow ecommerce? We found our way back to San Francisco when I went to join Sephora, and after I left Sephora I joined stitch fix and at that time I was at first a board member on an advisor and investor and then I joined full time for a few years as coo in I felt like when I started there Part of my hypothesis was I, wanted to start a business. So many times I'm going to work in a startup and see how it feels and learn what I needed to learn and decide if I actually wanted to do it myself and I would say that was a very confirming experience. We started the company in the beginning of two, thousand and eighteen. So we basically plan we raised money closed our funding in. February started hiring hiring the team and March and April. So we been working on this for two years and I knew that we needed to raise enough money to really build this highly complex technology product and also sign up hundreds of brands, and so I assumed, it would take eighteen months ended up taking two years. So we had planned to launch after all this work with a twenty engineers and four brand partnerships. in March and then Cova, has and we really we were ready but the world was not ready and the time was so clearly not right. So we made the call I was probably the last one to fall I just. To do this, we had put so much into this to hold off on launching. The truth is it allowed us to improve the product as you're never ready of course with your product, and so we ended up deciding to wait and watch. We decided that we needed to get out there. Even if it felt more like a soft launch, you know it was what it was. We needed to get people on this APP. We needed to get their feedback and we felt like Gosh. There's so much heavy news right now, and there are people a lot of people at home scrolling. On their phones and so you know it may not be sort of the right moment to be thinking about fashion as it relates to sort of the world at large but it certainly would get a lot of feedback and it was a a nice distraction in otherwise heavy times, and so we launched in May on May Twentieth. We know that business today is not like it will be post covid. Dressing for work and they're not dressing to go out because they're not going out but we are getting a lot of great feedback and we're selling a lot of. t shirts and shorts and comfortable dresses the skin community can find the yes. On the apple APP store and right now we're only we will be building web and android in the future and we would love everyone to try it and so to give feedback, and also maybe by one thing from your a brand, you love our brand you don't know because these brands need it and you can find us on Instagram at the. Thanks for hanging out with US join US next week for another episode of skin from the couch, and if you can't wait until, then subscribe to our daily email newsletter that gives you all the important news and information you need to start your day sign up at the Skim Dot Com. That's the S. K. I. M. M. dot com Xu m's for a little something extra.