CEO Nexus – Norman Love Confections

Economic Development Council Naples, Norman Love

I was fortunate enough to have recently attended one of the most interesting EDC-related events yet; the CEO Nexus Forum hosted by Norman Love Confections.  The Economic Development Council in cooperation with GrowFL (www.growfl.com) coordinated this event with Norman Love, and engaged him to speak at the event to share some of his business wisdom and experience with other CEO’s of local companies.  The best part was that the event was hosted at the Norman Love Salon on Daniels Pkwy, and that complimentary chocolates and wine were part of the program!

For those of you who were unable to attend, I wanted to take this opportunity to paint a picture of what you missed.  Even if you were at the event, you might still find some good takeaways in the article, so read on!

We began with a brief tour of the facility, stepping through both the production facility, and the packing line; what Norman joking called the “I Love Lucy Room.”  I had never met Norman before, and was struck by how he was charismatic and laid-back, yet what a decisive and articulate speaker he was when put on the spot.  He then shared the story of his entry into the world of entrepreneurship, and the beginnings of his chocolate business.

Like most of us, Norman’s lifelong dream was not to be a CEO, but as a child, he dreamt of being a professional hockey player.  He ended up working as the corporate executive pastry chef at Ritz-Carlton, an impressive accomplishment in its own right.  In 1999, he led the U.S. team to a bronze medal in the biennial Coup du Monde de la Patisserie (World Cup of Pastry) competition in Lyons, France, which featured the top pastry chefs from 18 nations.  This was a major ordeal, requiring years of practice, training, and careful selection of a team.  I can’t begin to do the story justice, but the pressure he faced at this competition was incredible. (The televising of this event may well have been a precursor to the Food Network’s now profuse coverage of bake-off reality shows.  They really do get that intense!) After realizing that this accomplishment meant he had reached the top of his field, he decided to leave the Ritz-Carlton to pursue his own interests.  He decided to start a production business, but to keep making chocolates “on the side” in order to supplement his income.

Gift Box Chocolate

One of the things I am always interested to hear is at what point the growing business becomes something more than the owner imagined.  This is a really pivotal point in the life-cycle of a business, and it can be one of the most exciting or perilous times for the owner, depending on how they react to the rapidly-changing circumstances.  I was pleased that Norman spent quite a bit of time describing this “ah-ha” moment in detail.  While he was still working out of his part-time, 700 square foot chocolate-making facility, with little more than a refrigerator, a table, and three chocolate warmers, he got a call from Godiva chocolates.  The chocolate giant was thinking of introducing an artisan line of chocolates, because they feared they were losing market share in that department.  They had seen Norman’s work, and wondered if he would be interested in producing a “small” batch of 300,000 pieces of chocolate for them to sell under their new brand, “G”.  In addition, the CEO of Godiva, as well as a few other executives, wanted an official tour of his production facility.  Imagine their faces when they saw Norman’s humble workspace!

After Norman somehow got the 300,000 piece order fulfilled, he shipped them off to Godiva, and didn’t expect to hear much back from them, chalking up the entire experience up to an interesting anomaly.  Imagine his surprise when he got another call from Godiva almost immediately.  They said they were very pleased with the chocolates, and would like to place another order; this time for 1.2 million pieces of chocolate!  It was at this point that Norman started shopping for a larger facility, eventually settling on the current location on Daniels Pkwy.  He was able to fill the order, and the next, and the next, and had a long-running relationship with Godiva for over 10 years!  Of course, he forgot all about the production business, and went into chocolate-making full-time…and the rest is history.

Norman Love is well-known locally, not just for his exceptional chocolates, but for being a philanthropist on a grandiose scale.  Every year, he donates to nearly 300 separate charities!  In fact, he has a staff member whose only job is to manage his charitable contributions.  His commitment to give back to the community that supported him is unmatched.  He even shared a story about how an idea of his wife’s allowed him to raise enough money to buy over 2,000 turkeys for a local soup kitchen when they were short for Thanksgiving.EDC forum in Naples, FL

During the Q&A, an interesting question was raised about employee selection and retention.  Norman’s response struck me, and I thought it was interesting enough to bear repeating here:

“If you don’t give your employees the ability to be creative when they are working for you, they will find a way to be creative working for someone else.”

This, to me, is a fundamental tenet of employee retention.  Truly great talent needs to be recognized and put into an environment where it can thrive.  Employees need to be rewarded not only monetarily, but by allowing their talents to be harnessed in a way that legitimately impacts the company and its output.  The sagacity of these words is evident in practice:  several of Norman’s employees have been with him from the very start, and he even stated at one point that only 2 professional employees have ever left the company in that time.

The event was a wonderful experience for all in attendance. If Norman Love or any of his employees is reading this, thank you again for opening your doors to us, and allowing us to peek in on your operation and for sharing some of your business principals. As a fellow entrepreneur, I think I speak for the group in saying that it was both inspiring and informative. The business community at large could learn a lot from Norman’s business acumen and commitment to excellence.

Paul Nicodemi

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