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A Mandate to Innovate: Yankee Candle's Rick Ruffolo

By: Karen A. Newman
Posted: May 3, 2007, from the May 2007 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Because Yankee’s CEO, president, and board of directors were responsible for creating Ruffolo’s position, innovation has a “critical and well-accepted role in helping drive total company performance,” Ruffolo told GCI magazine. True to his previous statements, it is innovation as part of a larger strategic plan. He noted that his team has generated some early wins, as well as delivering what appear to be some sustainable, positive business results.

Key Innovation Functions

Ruffolo’s first step toward establishing a more disciplined way to evaluate and execute ideas was to initiate a re-organization of his team with a focus on key innovation functions—including package design, new products, market research, marketing, brand management and product/fragrance development. That was followed by the development and subsequent board approval of both short- and long-range business plans that defined the role and expected contribution of newness and innovation. Finally, a five-step process was initiated to guide concepts through ideation, commercialization and launch. “This process involves several executive committee members, and ensures senior level debate and alignment on major project milestones,” said Ruffolo. He believes the process is a positive one because it:

  • establishes clear criteria for success for each project
  • provides a forum for the project teams to gain the input of senior management at critical milestones when the input is most helpful
  • minimizes the chances for surprises
  • creates transparency of decision making that encourages a shared continuous learning environment across all project teams and removes the taboo of canceling projects when criteria have not been met

The operations business team leaders have a dotted-line reporting relationship to Ruffolo’s position, ensuring open communication and a high degree of collaboration in key operations decisions. A viable operations/supply chain strategy is fundamental to new products success, and Ruffolo holds weekly cross-functional meetings to discuss and review key operational issues.

Collaboration and open communication are critical elements in today’s successful businesses. “I saw an article featuring A.G. Lafley from P&G where he was quoted as saying the biggest challenge he faces is the ‘not invented here’ mindset, which he has tried to shift to ‘reapplied with pride.’” Ruffolo thinks that is an issue facing all of business. “It’s recognizing that value-creation can happen in many different ways, and we should be open to exploring each one on its own merits.”

Strong communication also is critical to building good relationships that become part of a company’s supply chain strategy. In Ruffolo’s mind, honest communication and a willingness to try new things are critical to productive and long-lasting supplier relationships. “I have taken to heart the philosophy I learned from a consultant who said ‘always assume best intentions’ when working with others. If you do, it will completely change the way you perceive and handle issues—conflicts, disparate points-of-view, etc.—and how you communicate with others.”

A Czar is Born