- The moment that led Bethany Andell—President of Savage Brands—to trade in financial security for vitality.
It’s one thing to be changed in this life. Metamorphosis takes courage and vulnerability and a willingness to break yourself wide open. But the unfolding doesn’t end when you put down the chisel. Something more is required to convert that personal willingness into an organizational cyclone of transformation. That something more is a reckoning.
Bethany Andell knew she was in the claws of a reckoning when the ground shifted beneath her feet. Her business was grabbed by the neck and shaken, the foundation splintering.
When, five years ago, she took over from her mother the fierce legacy that is Savage Brands, Bethany had been with the company for 14 of its nearly 40 years in existence. While business was booming at the design firm in their stomping grounds of Houston, Texas, their industry and their clients’ industries were becoming commoditized, corporate mistrust was abundant, loyalty appeared to be a thing of the past, and everyone was trying to figure out how to balance baby boomers and millennials in the workplace.
Harder still, Bethany was facing internal criticism as her desire to be liked prevented her from engaging in the harder conversations that were necessary. She worked to find her voice as the new leader of Savage Brands, while the company found itself at an unexpected crossroads that would leave them breaking or rebuilding. It seemed the Universe was requiring the kind of internal transformation of her that is generally reserved for behind-the-scenes and off the clock, but she stood her ground and made a declaration: this wasn’t going to be like any other internal transformation. If the walls were cracking, she wanted to grab a headlamp and light up the dark.
Bethany chose to take her leadership team of seven to a three-day off-site to work with trained Gestalt facilitators from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. By the end of those three days, the team—many of whom had worked together for 20 years or more—had learned a new way of relating, of truth-telling about the pain they felt at work and the pain they carried from home. They wept, they were triggered, and they got angry. But they could see and admire each other’s humanity in ways that had been previously inaccessible. Bethany remarked upon leaving that experience that she had finally met her leadership team for the first time.
That weekend, blue became Savage’s signature color (not a political statement). It defined the type of people they wanted to be and the kinds of relationships they wanted to nurture. This is what they wrote as their calling toward a Savage that was blue.
When I put on my blue air mask first and breathe in the blue,
I become the fertile soil and lush green grass
that feeds the thick blue bark and deep blue buds
of our Savage Tree.
When I slow down,
do myself differently,
and open my heart to connection by sharing what is happening within me,
I become Blue air for the world.
I am Blue air for others when I am calm but not to the point of boring;
passionate, without falling toward frantic;
intense without spilling into overwhelm.
Breathing blue, I awaken myself,
becoming my own rebirth,
my own regeneration,
the source of my own vitality.
When WE are blue—standing side by side, a community of blue trees—
we create blue breezes that stir up Blue Ahas:
sparkling, tingling, buzzing with blue,
our color and love whipping into a current of blue light,
shooting up into the air,
parting the clouds;
a beacon of blue possibility inviting others to join us as blue stars in the sky.
To become blue stars, we must first become blue light.
To become blue light, we must first live as a community of blue trees.
To become blue trees, we must breathe blue air.
To breathe blue air, I must be blue air. I must be blue air.
Before leaving the Gestalt off-site, the team committed to solving challenges from this place of deeper communion. Part of that commitment was a decision that Savage Brands would no longer be held hostage to its old way of doing things. Savage would be built upon a new foundation of authentic relationships, values-aligned relationships, and “blue” relationships. Together, they recognized that this shift would require a massive change, replacing as much as 85 percent of their existing revenue.
They also acknowledged that such a drastic goal was scary as hell.
Bethany considered looking her clients, her friends, and her business partners in the face and telling them that she was changing Savage’s direction and that she felt terrified; doing so could result in key life and business relationships turning away from her. Meanwhile, if they took these steps, the entire industry would be watching as she risked prioritizing her company’s vitality over its bottom line. Going all-in to honor their purpose created an immense weight on Bethany’s shoulders, yet with reckoning in one hand and courage in the other, she followed her truth.
It’s been several years now since Bethany’s reckoning made its first appearance, and Savage Brands now finds itself in what they call the messy middle—that beautiful place of discomfort and possibility, of both letting go and reaching out. Up from 15 percent two years ago, Savage Brands has shifted their percentage of “blue” clients to 40 percent. They have also increased their per-client average yearly revenue contribution by 70 percent.
Some of this progress is due to a process they are betting their future on called Savage Thinking. Before Savages engage in branding work, the company now uses Savage Thinking to help other organizations uncover their own purpose and articulate their values. Then they walk these clients through their own trenches of transition—through their own reckoning—while they lend their design talents to help rebrand the new organization that is emerging amidst that transformation.
But it isn’t all roses. As Bethany admits, transformation is messy. Changing the business so significantly and so quickly also put pressure on the company’s budget, at times forcing them to cut down leadership’s pay, downsize staff, and consolidate office space. The messy middle, indeed. However, these moves also allowed the company to deliberately make room for ideal clients, profound work, and the new types of talent that would help propel them into a new future.
There is nothing easy about letting a community witness an organization’s reckoning and rebuilding process. Vulnerability like this is seldom seen in the scope of business, which is why it is worth celebrating.
The only thing scarier than breaking apart is never cracking at all.Bethany
*The poem “Be Blue Air” was written by Corey Blake. Corey supported Savage’s leadership team in their initial two Gestalt workshops.
Bethany Andell wishes to express gratitude for her leadership team, who remains committed to continually reaching for courage, and to the Savage staff—willing to walk through the mess together in pursuit of the beautiful blue on the other side. Read more about Savage Brands and Savage Thinking at SavageBrands.com.