What's Stifling the Creativity at CoolBurst?
With the competition getting hot, a beverage company must learn how to fire up its creative juices. Suzy Wetlaufer is a senior editor at HBR. Luisa Reboredo had never been one to count her hours in the office, let alone take all the vacation days she had accumulated in her z5 years with CoolBurst, a Miami-based fruit-juice company. Now, as the newly appointed CEO, she seemed to live at work. The job exhilarated her, and she had big plans for the company's future-if she could just get performance on track first. It took a great deal of pleading, therefore, for Reboredo's 18-year-old son, Alfonse, to get her to attend Miami's popular outdoor art festival with him one Saturday in May. She had regularly been working weekends, using the time to pore over CoolBurst's books in an effort to figure out why annual revenues were stuck at $3o million and why profits hadn't risen for four years straight. Finally, the two struck a deal: Luisa would attend the art festival in the morning and spend the rest of the day at the office. They arrived at 1o, and already the sun was baking the festival grounds. Alfonse, almost a full foot taller than Luisa and a basketball star at Southwest Miami High, put his arm around his mother. "Mom, this is great you’ve got to get out more often," he practically sang. "You're missing the action stuck inside that office." Luisa sighed. Raising Alfonse by herself hadn't been easy, and now that she had reached the top of her career and could comfortably afford his college tuition, the last thing she wanted was to have the company she'd helped to build collapse beneath her. Just the thought of CoolBurst's stagnant performance suddenly made her tense. Why was it, she wondered, that CoolBurst wasn't growing anymore? For over a decade, it had been the most successful juice maker in the Southeast. Practically every school in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina had a CoolBurst vending machine in its cafeteria, and thousands of restaurants listed CoolBurst's apple, grape, and cranberry drinks by brand name on their menus. In fact, CoolBurst had grown so steadily over the years that its parent company, a Chicago based conglomerate, rarely interfered with operations. Lately, however, Luisa had been receiving weekly phone calls from the higher-ups in Chicago inquiring about budget projections, expenses, and personnel changes. "Morn, stop thinking about work!" Alfonse shouted, interrupting Luisa's thoughts. "You should see the expression on your face!" Luisa tried to smile but shrugged instead. "I'm sorry, Alfonse," she said. "Let's look around." Her son readily agreed, steering her toward a row of paintings by a local artist they both liked. Then Alfonse stopped for a moment. "Wait a second, Mom," he said, "let me grab a drink first. I'm burning up." Alfonse dashed over to a man selling drinks from a cart a few yards away. The cart was topped by a large red umbrella emblazoned with the words Destroy Your Thirst! Drink a Thirst Smasher. A moment later, he was back, unscrewing the cap of a red glass bottle shaped like a rocket. "Alfonse!" Luisa practically gasped. "How could you?"
"How could I what?" Alfonse replied, somewhat irritated. "I couldn't get a CoolBurst around here if I tried, More. I suppose I could sprint over to the high school, but that wouldn't exactly be convenient. "Besides," Alfonse added, "everyone knows CoolBurst is for kids. These Thirst Smashers are something new. Get a load of this flavor-Mango Tango. It tastes fabulous." Luisa cringed-she knew all about Mango Tango. In fact, the flavor had been invented in CoolBurst's own labs, a collaboration between chief scientist Carol Velez and CoolBurst's then marketing director, Sam Jenkins. The two had concocted Mango Tango and four other exotic drinks on the sly about a year earlier. But when they presented them to the company's then CEO, Garth LaRoue, he had been so angry about their unauthorized...
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