One morning, almost six months to the day that the sale closed on the company his family had run since the 1920s, Skip Rosskam, the company’s chief executive, woke up with a weird feeling.
“I didn’t have anything to do,” said Rosskam, 71, former chief executive of the Northeast Philadelphia flavor company David Michael & Co., now known as Tastepoint by IFF. “Workwise, there was nothing.”
He wandered down to the kitchen and asked his wife whether she had anything for him to do. “If you want a rack of lamb for dinner tonight,” he quoted her as saying, “you better trim all the fat off of it.”
So, he picked up a knife and got to work, and when he had “trimmed that rack perfectly,” he sent a photo of his efforts to one of the people who used to report to him when he ran the show. “I trimmed a rack of lamb and I sent a photo to her. It’s sad, but I felt a great deal of accomplishment.”
Lots of people talk about reinvention, but most people who reinvent themselves don’t have to leave behind the 24/7 sense of responsibility and excitement that a chief executive and entrepreneur feels at the helm of a business.
For years, Rosskam, his brother, and their two cousins delayed selling, hoping one of their children would be inspired, as they were, to join, then lead, the business their grandfather, a chemist, took over in the 1920s.
That never happened. So, in October 2015, they hired a broker and a lawyer and set out to sell in a way that would best protect their culture, their flavor formulas, and most important, their people.
In September, 2016, they found a buyer, International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and by October 2016, the deal had closed. IFF asked Rosskam to stay on, but last month, he finally packed up his office and moved the boxes to his summer home in Vermont.
What was it like right after the deal closed?
I had reporting to me, strategic business development, two young ladies I had spent a lot of my life mentoring. I had the entire R&D team. I had marketing. I had international business that reported to me, Those were all gone [moved to other parts of the merged company]. The two people in strategic business development both got great jobs, but I lost. The strategic group was my playpen, where I would go to exercise my ideas. I had none of my normal day-to-day interactions. By March it was all gone.
Must have been really odd.
It was weird. I didn’t expect to have any authority, but it was hard. Before, when I had an idea and I wanted to get something done, it would get done right away. Then I felt like a gladiator in the coliseum, sword in hand, but no lions. I felt a sense of loss and a sense of gain at the same time.
Any reinvention advice, bottom-line?
Find a good shrink. I started to get depressed after March. I tried to find stuff on the web about how people deal with this, and I couldn’t find anything. With [the shrink’s] help, I was able to distill it down to loss of purpose, loss of community, and loss of structure of time. I always had a purpose. I always had a community of my business family, my customers, and my contacts. And the structure of time, which for an entrepreneur is 24/7. She was another set of eyes and ears. I went probably 10 times and felt better. There was no magic.
Does your reinvention have a name?
WhiteSpace — The Right Place LLC. What has motivated me in my career is to find new products and new processes — you tend to be the most successful in areas where others are not. White Space is a marketing term. You draw four squares and you plot where the competition is and the one where you have the least activity is the white space.
And that’s where the opportunity is? What kind of work have you done? You said you still have contracts with IFF.
I’ve been engaged with a dozen different private equity companies who own food and beverage companies. I’m a mentor to a CEO in a start-up company. I’ve given advice to a minority-owned business, how they might put their business up for sale.
Before: Chief executive, David Michael & Co, a Northeast Philadelphia flavor manufacturer, now known as Tastepoint by IFF.
Now: Founder, White Space - The Right Place LLC, a business-consulting firm.
Homes: Stowe, Vt.; Palm Desert, Calif. He sold his local home.
Family: Wife, Marilyn; sons, Andrew, 42, Jules, 38.
Diploma: Southern Illinois University, communications.
Favorite flavor ice cream at Penn State (where he teaches): Keeney Beany Chocolate.