Q&A: New president of Nature’s Path Organic Foods Arjan Stephens talks succession in the family business

Ratana Stephens has retired as CEO of the organic food company, and is joining her husband and fellow co-founder Arran Stephens on the board.

Stephens takes over from his mother, Ratana Stephens, who has retired as CEO of the organic food company. She joins her husband and fellow co-founder Arran Stephens on the board

You’ve been general manager of Nature’s Path Organic Foods for almost five years. Congratulations on your new role as president. How are you feeling about it?  

I’m super excited. It’s a time of change in our company, but also one of continuity. The foundation that the company was founded on—that vision to always leave the Earth or the soil better than you found it—that’s something that I’m super excited to continue on with our team that we have across North America.  

Did you always know that you were going to join the family business?  

No, I wanted to explore different things. I did my Bachelor of Arts in History [from Queen’s University], I got accepted into a program which was a joint JD/MBA in Chicago [at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business]. Eventually I just focused on the MBA and I got some great advice from a mentor who said, You should really consider learning more about the family business. And I did.  

Now that you’re stepping up as president, do you have any specific plans to grow the company moving forward?  

We’re going to be focusing a lot of attention on growing our brand and getting into more households…I’d say another focus is going to be acquisitions: acquiring smaller, organic food brands that could benefit from the scale of Nature’s Path.  

We’re putting a lot of focus behind our Que Pasa brand right now, there’s a lot of great innovations that we’re working on, a lot of capital investment. And then we acquired [Ontario-based] Love Child Organics, just a few weeks ago. And that’s been a tremendous opportunity for us to expand our portfolio of products into the baby food category. We know that consumers have really changed their habits over the last few years, so we want to be at the forefront of those changing habits and make sure that we’re offering lower sugar items, items that are nutritious, but still taste great. And always staying true to our promise of being organic. 

Do you usually discuss business with your parents [Arran and Ratana Stephens] outside of work?  

It’s something that we talk about all the time. That focus allows us to go to a restaurant and eat dinner and say, Oh, wow, that tasted amazing, I wonder what flavors they’re using there? Is that something that we might be able to put into our products?  

Is your leadership style different from your parents’? 

My mom and dad have complemented each other very well. My dad was very much a visionary who saw the future of organic foods, and my mom was always very fantastic with people and numbers and finances. So I think I’ve been able to absorb a lot of both of their inherent skills.  

We’re all here to serve. So I’m here to serve our team members, our customers. Definitely the servant leadership philosophy is something that I really resonate with. And as a family business, we’re able to do that in unique ways that maybe other companies can’t.  

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.