PHILADELPHIA – Emaciated and delirious from cold, fatigue and hunger, Todd Carmichael nearly froze to death in Antarctica on a 39-day, seven-hour trek from the coast to the South Pole. He’s been shot at and knifed in the ribs in his pursuit of the best beans around the globe.
But there’s something else that terrifies Carmichael, 53, chief executive and co-founder of La Colombe Torrefaction Inc., the Philadelphia-based coffee roaster with national ambitions and a line of cold-draft lattes soon to be available in 7,000 stores.
“I have this sense that there are a lot of people who fall asleep,” he said.
“They have 20 years’ experience being a CEO or they have one experience but experience it over and over for 20 years. … They’re going through the motions, because they’re really good at them. I don’t want that.”
Q: But how do you avoid falling asleep?
A: You do something outside of your normal. Misbehave. Don’t compromise alliances and allegiances, but do something unexpected that your heroes would do.
Q: You talk about climbing a mountain, metaphorically.
A: If you’re lucky, your mountain is lying in the road, right on your journey.
Q: You just bought a factory in Michigan to mass-produce the cold draft lattes. Not everyone has the challenge of running one.
A: Sometimes you need a mountain and you’ve got to go find it. It could be learning how to surf. It doesn’t make sense, but it scares … you and it gets your heart pounding.
Q: Not too many people, let alone CEOs, trek to the South Pole, solo and without support. How did that 2008 experience affect your leadership?
A: I know how to be the last man standing. I know the depth of my ability to endure obstacles, and just keep going.
Q: You grew up working on farms, picking crops. What did you learn that helps you in the coffee business?
A: That’s straight up applicable to what I do, which is it teaches me about agriculture. So I have a certain insight as to how it should be done. Ultimately and far more important, it teaches you endurance. Have you ever hoed strawberries for 12 straight hours?
Q: Do you have a good interview question?
A: I ask (candidates) to tell me about one or two people they’ve helped in their careers and how they did that, because internally, we don’t compete against each other. We help each other.
Q: I saw you, your wife and daughters at the Women’s March on Philadelphia. How will the Trump team affect La Colombe?
A: Since my mission is to help change the world, it’s going to hurt it. I want to make coffee for America. But there’s a really difficult rift in America now. America is like throwing up in a toilet right now. It’s hard to really make (people) happy. But, financially, we’ll be all right.