Steve Rothschild: Finding His Calling

Steve Rothschild
Courtesy: Star Tribune

Sometimes in your career you will find that your work does not align with your leadership purpose. At this point, you have to make a choice: Either you find ways to bring your work into alignment with your purpose, or you shift direction to find the opportunity that enables you to fulfill your purpose through your work. That’s the choice Steve Rothschild had to make.

Steve was a rising star at General Mills. He created the Yoplait yogurt business in the United States and put it on course to become a $1 billion business. Promoted to executive vice president while still in his thirties, he faced many new challenges, but after eight years in this role, he became restless. He felt like a person in the middle, missing the satisfaction of leading his own team. He also disagreed with the company’s direction, judging it had to become more global.

His frustration came to a head when he was asked to present the company’s international business strategy to its board of directors. “I concluded we ought to be doing more internationally, because we couldn’t rely solely on domestic growth,” he explains. While in Spain on business, he got a frantic phone call from the company president, who told him the CEO wanted to pull the recommendation to expand internationally. Steve replied, “I can’t do that because I don’t believe it.” He explains, “The CEO wanted me to heel, but never talked to me directly.”

Shortly after that incident, Steve faced the reality that he was marching to a different drummer and wasn’t enjoying his work. After some reflection, he decided to leave General Mills. “I was stuck in a job I no longer enjoyed. I needed to feel alive again,” he says.

Leaving General Mills was a godsend for me. It allowed me to explore things that were underneath my skin and in my soul and gave me the opportunity to refocus on my marriage and family. Since leaving, my relationships with my family have become much closer and deeper. Making this move has made me a more complete person, happier and fulfilled.

Having made the decision to get out of the frying pan at General Mills, Steve decided not to jump back into the fire. Instead, he gave himself the time and freedom to understand his passions and to recognize he wanted to work on issues that meant something to him. In the process, he shifted his priorities to helping underprivileged people get back on their feet.

When you’re focused on something professionally for so long, you’re afraid to let go. It’s like standing inside a giant hoop. When you let go a little bit, you do so with one arm. You’re afraid to let go with two arms and fall out of the hoop altogether, because you could fall flat on your face. In my case, I had to let go of the hoop altogether.

He realized his passion was in helping underprivileged people become financially self-sufficient and develop stronger families. Using his own money, he founded Twin Cities RISE! Its mission is to provide employers skilled workers by training unemployed adults for skilled jobs paying fair wages.

My decision to start Twin Cities RISE! evolved out of the recognition that I like solving meaningful problems. The challenges faced by underprivileged people of color, many of whom have been incarcerated, weren’t being adequately addressed. The nature of the problem shifted from building a business to building lives.