Carmen Del Guercio | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Carmen Del Guercio

Background:  

The Maryland Food Bank is the leading anti-hunger organization in Maryland. It currently distributes more than 112,000 meals per day to children and adults who are food insecure. The Maryland Food Bank’s Summer Club program provides 80,000 meals for children who traditionally rely on their school’s free and reduced-price meal program. Carmen Del Guercio joined the Maryland Food Bank in December after spending 26 years with M&T Bank, where he served in a variety of leadership roles.

The Mistake:

In trying to generate new ideas, I inadvertently created more confusion and lack of direction.

Early on in my career in banking I was fortunate to take on a new responsibility replacing someone who had been there for a long time. As an eager beaver and in an effort to make a real impression and differentiate myself from my predecessor, I created an environment within the team around new idea generation.

We had a lot of good ideas and we were throwing a lot of things up against the wall, but as a team we floundered a little bit in terms of what we were going to focus on, who we wanted to be, and what we wanted to do. In the end that started to create more confusion and lack of direction.

We had a tendency to try to develop new products and new services that in the end, in terms of our core business client, there wasn’t a lot of relevance for. We were modeling new types of banking services for business owners, and we kept trying to customize them to smaller segments to differentiate ourselves more in the market. We just started watering ourselves down and there were too many customized services that we really couldn’t leverage.

It took us a while to course correct and realize we were taking on too many things. We really needed to take a step back and think about what we were as a team, what our strengths were, and where we wanted to go. We needed to begin to focus our attention on ideas and initiatives that were closer to the core mission and core objective of our team.

We acted on too many ideas, and in my haste to take action and show movement, we didn’t think through the ideas enough and create more of a business model type of approach to really assess each idea at a deeper level. Trying to foster this idea of the entrepreneurial spirit and this notion of trying new things ended up working against me a little bit.

Trying to foster this idea of the entrepreneurial spirit and this notion of trying new things ended up working against me a little bit.

The Lesson:

The leadership author Jim Collins talks about the courage to say no. This notion of having the courage to say no, instead of the constant desire to say yes to everything, is the lesson.

Before you undertake this exercise of uncovering new initiatives and new approaches, take the time to get a feel for the culture of the organization, find out what are its core strengths, and set a vision and direction for the organization.

Make sure you understand who your audience is, and decide whether you should be more broad or more narrow depending on the target segment. Even though someone comes to you with a good idea, as good as it might be, you may just have to walk away from it and focus your attention on the stuff that you’re going to be the best at and draw the biggest value out of.

As I’ve gone into new opportunities I try to really take some time to assess the situation before jumping in. I still want to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit, and we certainly want to build that at the Maryland Food Bank, but we want to make sure we’re doing that within the context of our mission.

The Maryland Food Bank is on Twitter at @MDFoodBank.

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