Anne Laraway is the Chief Executive Officer of Happy Family Organics, a mom-founded and parent-operated premium organic food company that has changed the way we feed children by offering a complete line of nutritious foods for babies, toddlers and, kids, and their mothers, along with a comprehensive infant feeding resource center for parents.
Laraway holds a Bachelor of Arts in Finance, Management from the University of St. Thomas and a Master of Business Administration from Columbia Business School. After hearing Founder and Chairmom of the Board, Shazi Visram, speak at Columbia Business School in 2008, Laraway was inspired to reach out to her. After starting her career at General Mills and Unilever, Laraway decided to make the move to a smaller company where she felt she could make a big difference. It was in 2012 that Anne joined the Happy Family team and has since held a number of roles including Director of Marketing & Business Development (2012 – 2014) and Senior Vice President of Innovation and Business Development (2014 – 2017).
Laraway has lead Happy Family’s innovation team to deliver relevant and progressive solutions for today’s families. Happy Family has more than quadrupled in size during her time. She has overseen the launch of 153 new products – including entrance into new categories such as prenatal, infant formula, breastfeeding support and kids snacks. Additionally Anne has played an instrumental role in shaping culture and company processes during this time of exceptional growth.
Effective January 1, 2018, Anne was appointed as Happy Family’s Chief Executive Officer and General Manager. As mother to two sons [Jack (3) and Cameron (9 mo.)], Laraway is intimately connected with the challenges of parenthood – a perspective that she blends with her business acumen to serve Happy Family, a company that has always put babies before business.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role? I started my career working for two large Consumer Packaged Goods companies. The best part about these experiences is that they provided me with extremely valuable training grounds that I would not have received at a start-up (at the time I joined Happy Family it was still considered a start-up). I think I was the first employee to come to Happy with experience from a CPG company, and even the smallest improvements to processes and implementing the best practices possible made a big difference at Happy.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role? I just started my new role in January but since then, Happy has taken over the reigns as the #1 organic baby food company in the country. So while we have been on our way to overtaking this position for some time now, I have to say this has been a highlight! Another highlight for me has been the launch of our Clearly Crafted jars line. Our mission at Happy Family is to change the trajectory of children’s health through nutrition and we realized a few years ago that we could not truly accomplish our mission if we were not able to reach the nearly 2 million babies who are born directly into the WIC program each year. Our jars line takes everything that consumers loved about our Clearly Crafted pouch line – transparent sourcing, shared recipe story on pack, and premium ingredients and put it into a jar so that they can be WIC certified (pouches are not an approved format in the program). Our company is working very hard to help further the acceptance of organic in the baby food space for WIC and it is our hope that one day all states will approve organic and that all babies will have access to Happy Family products. The main challenge that I’ve had coming into my new role and taking over for our founder Shazi Visram has been developing and growing my own leadership style, while maintaining all that is great and unique about Happy Family. I am trying to lead in my own way while also not changing much of what makes our team and company who we are.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry? My two pieces of advice for women who want a career in consumer goods: 1) Make sure you work for a company that you are proud of and that makes products that you are proud of….and that your family loves! 2) Surround yourself with really motivated people who are aligned with the company mission. We have a very talented team at Happy Family. Everyone at our company is truly motivated by our mission and we all work day in and day out to accomplish just that, to change the trajectory of children’s health through nutrition. When I hire people to join our team, I look for people who are similarly motivated. It’s one of the things that makes us great.
How do you maintain a work/life balance? Work/life balance is hard. My family is my top priority and it’s important to me that I do things every day to make sure they know this. For example, I almost always drop my son off at school on my way to work. This makes it possible for me to drop in and say hi to his teachers and to see where he’s spending his time. He can show me things that he is doing in the classroom and it helps me feel connected. I also try to be home in time to have dinner with my family. Dinner time is really important and is a priority for us to sit together. Yes, I have to travel and yes I have to work long hours but I try to make sure that I manage this in a way that works for us.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace? Staying on the topic of work/life balance, I believe that one of the biggest issues for women in the workplace is how to manage being ambitious in your career and at the same time being a mom who is involved with your children. Less than 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women and while there are many factors that contribute to this low number, one of them is that women who have children feel like they can’t be both a mom and an ambitious career-focused women. They may put their career on hold in order to be home with their kids, which is ultimately hurting their trajectory. I firmly believe that we as employers can create a supportive environment that can help moms thrive in both facets of their lives. Today over 50% of our leadership team are either moms or soon-to-be moms. We are proud of this and honestly, this helps us to understand what new moms are going through in order to be able to provide products and services to help and support her.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why? There are so many female leaders that I admire that it’s really hard to name a few. I especially admire moms. Being a mom and a career-driven woman is really hard. They’re both full time jobs at times. Those people who are doing both in a way that works for their family and their company inspire me.
What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year? Just this year Happy Family became the #1 organic baby food company in the country. We are really proud of this accomplishment and for me this means continuing to push our team to grow the business and to increase our leadership position in the market. Personally, I want to continue to work on my own balancing act. With 2 little boys this is something that I constantly work on as I want them to feel that they are my top priority. Family time is really important to me and next year I hope to be able to spend as much quality time with my little guys and my husband as possible.