How a work detox led Jones Soda CEO to a path of business enlightenment
After serving as the brand's VP of business development, CFO and COO, Jennifer Cue took a work sabbatical in Paris before accepting the role of CEO.
Jennifer Cue’s path the CEO role at Jones Soda reads like a best-selling memoir. She began with the craft soda brand in 1990 as a board member, and then transitioned to vice president of business development, CFO, and eventually COO during her first 11 years — and then she left.
“The company was profitable. It was growing in revenues, and we achieved a NASDAQ listing,” says Cue. But in the middle of all of its success, the executive says she had become a workaholic along the way.
“My personality was so used to do, do, do — as a lot of people’s are, we’re conditioned that doing, doing, doing is better.”
At the time, Cue says she was also at odds with the new strategic direction of the company. She felt she needed to get away and began considering a work detox.
“I said okay, it’s time for me to take a break — and I moved to Paris.”
The Work Detox
The CEO says she knew she had to rethink the work patterns she had created, but that it was her close friend who helped her decide that what she needed to do was move to Paris and take time for herself.
“She had been my sounding board along the way, going through building Jones [Soda] the first time, and she knew how taxing it was and how much of a workaholic I was,” says Cue.
While in Paris, Cue spent her mornings in a French class, learning the language, and spent her days visiting museums.
“I learned to be with myself, and instead of doing, I was just being,” says Cue, “When I talk about a detox — it was really difficult because my whole identity was work.”
At first, Cue says she went through a rough period, but she finally learned how to enjoy herself.
“I started to travel around Europe and enjoy life again.”
She says she was able to see something beyond her work and ended up spending two years abroad.
“I thought I’d meet a Frenchman, I met an Italian,” says Cue, “Long story short, we had a daughter, so I had a brand-new baby — the [Jones Soda] board reached out to me four months after she was born.”
Returning to Jone’s Soda
Cue says the first time Jones Soda board members asked her to fulfill the role of CEO, she told them no because she had a newborn. They asked her again when her daughter was two years old, and Cue still wasn’t ready to consider returning to the company. But then, as her daughter was about to start kindergarten, they reached out again.
“I was already starting to look at opportunities where I could invest my own money and come in as a CEO,” says Cue, who had kept in touch with the board. “They had gone through another CEO that hadn’t worked, so I said okay, maybe this is the time — and that’s how it all came back around.”
In the time Cue had been gone from Jones Soda, the brand had been through four different CEOs. According to Cue, company revenue had significantly declined, with losses of $10 to $15 million a year, and was near bankruptcy.
Cue was named CEO of Jones Soda in June of 2012. She says her aim since returning to the brand has been to create an entrepreneurial environment, building a team of people who are just as passionate about the brand as she is and willing to do whatever it takes to build the company.
Drinking Up the Success
When asked what has been the most memorable part of her career so far, Cue says bringing Jones Soda back to profitability has been hugely satisfying.
“It took us about four years because our company was losing close to $10 million a year when I came back.”
She says at first, her job was stopping the nose-dive the company had taken, which included changing the expense structure. She says that she took approximately a third of the salary that the previous CEO had been earning, and made the board of directors take a pay cut as well.
Part of her strategy was hiring executives who shared her ideas of how a business should work.
“Bringing in people who think like I do in terms of being very entrepreneurial and street smart, and just go get it done — as opposed to the corporate ‘I need my big salary and my paycheck, and I need a lot of resources to get anything done.’”
Cue believes that what businesses really need are people who simply get the job done no matter the task — what she calls a “Joneser.”
“A Joneser is somebody that gets down and gets it done and is very entrepreneurial.”
Bringing Something New to the Mix
Under Cue’s direction, the brand has found its footing once again. In January of 2016, Jones Soda launched an entirely new product line called Lemoncocco.
“I took everything I knew from beverages over the last 15 years and tried to create something perfect,” says Cue. “We’ve created something that’s a completely new category, and it’s connecting with consumers.”
According to Cue, launching the Lemoncocco brand has shown her that anybody can be innovative.
“We are passionate about what we’re doing — that’s been a pretty memorable part of this last go-round,” says Cue.
Ever since her start with Jones Soda, Cue says she has wanted to be a part of building something. She had earned her CFA and an MBA and had been completely dedicated to her career in finance working for an investment firm.
“I lived in Montreal and did my MBA in Montreal, and I started to appreciate fashion and design, and that’s what I saw in this brand,” says Cue.
“It was unique to take this path outside of the path that I thought I was going down. It wasn’t easy — had I known then what I know now in terms of how difficult it was, I may not have, but I’m glad I did. It became a much more exciting and satisfying career path then just doing deals and investment banking.”