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7 Questions on Leadership with Deborah L. Walliser

Name: Deborah L. Walliser

Title: CEO

Organisation: Got Produce Global Brands

Ms. Walliser is a global visionary and agricultural entrepreneur beginning her career over 25 years ago to change how the world produces and distributes food. Guiding the company from start-up to a Billion dollar global pipeline and United Nations World Food Program partner.

Over 20 years ago she founded her first hydroponic technology company and began selling produce under her Got Produce Brand. In 2010, Walliser founded a global franchising company for clients worldwide and was selected to embark on the first Obama administration executive led trade mission to sub-Saharan Africa during where she met with leaders from across west and Southern Africa showcasing water saving applications on the continent.

In 2014 she was selected as a global leader in Agriculture, meeting with President of Uzbekistan and the FAO at the International Conference for Implementing the Food Program. Subsequently, she met with the President of the Republic of Ghana to understand food challenges and opportunities in western Africa that were seeking a new way to grow food.

She is currently WBAF Senator of Namibia, Advisory Board Member to numerous companies, AgriTech Country Chair of Namibia ,Namibia Chairman G100 group of Global Women Leaders, Board Member of WBAF Global Women Leaders Committee, and international mentor for Jamaica Development Bank. She is also a mentor at Plug and play tech Center, Silicon Valley, creating 30 Unicorn Startups since 2006; Education chair and instructor for the GPFI Hydroponic short course; Member of the Cornell CEA Advisory Board, Education and Training Committee; Member of the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and the East Africa Chamber of Commerce.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Deborah's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

The biggest head shaker for me was accepting the term leader. In the start-up community, the term entrepreneur is used, or some other title. Then a magazine article came out about my company, and they referred to me as a leader. I remember looking at that and thinking- that’s odd- leaders are politicians or activists or something else. But I soon realized that our own definitions of ourselves are the most critical. Whatever we think internally reflects on the outside and so I took a good hard look at how I defined myself to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently shutting out opportunity for growth.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I have often been described as authentic, and to me that is the best place to be- always following your purpose no matter the ups and downs, or details that follow. I started out with a simple purpose; to be better at producing food and forage crops so that we can save our finite natural resources. The details of how, were secondary and changed over time with the growth of the company.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Mornings are always my time; coffee in bed, quiet reflection, exercise and stillness. Each day I have a list of 7 things I need to accomplish (no more than 7 goes on a list). Anything else gets delegated or rescheduled. My time is my most precious asset and I make it a rule to never take unscheduled phone calls. That way I don’t have interruptions and my scheduled calls are always clear and actionable. I do make an exception for family with my no-calling rule though.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Always ask for what you want! It is in people’s nature to offer what they want, and you must be very clear with yourself about the desired outcomes from the negotiation or conversation. Otherwise, you will end up taking whatever is on the table or settling for less than what you desire.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Hands down, the book with the biggest impact was Good to Great by Jim Collins. In it, he delves into an autopsy of iconic business, in an attempt to distinguish what separates good companies from great and enduring companies. I was inspired by the stories of the great leaders and primarily by something he calls the flywheel effect. In essence, this is the phenomenon of putting energy into something over time until it reaches critical mass and takes on a life of its own. There were a number of times I thought nothing I was doing mattered, and then I would recall the flywheel effect and think to myself, its ok, it’s all worth it and at some point, this momentum I’m building will take on a life of its own.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Find your purpose and a way to articulate it. I often mentor other entrepreneurs, and many of them try to describe what they do in very specific detail. My advice is to ‘scroll out’ and see how you fit into the bigger picture of the world. Many times, what they are doing has a broader purpose than what they originally stated.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

There was a recent project summary that came out by the United Nations World Food Program. It contained an overview of the work we were doing on food security and sustainability and then it listed the impact it had on the population. Seeing that we were impacting hundreds of thousands of people with each project was really a poignant moment for me. It felt like ok, maybe what we are doing does matter.

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