Why Leadership Development is Personal Development with CEO Jason Hollinger

by Sam Beiler | Last Updated on 05.25.2021

Need something new to listen to? Check out the podcast Small Business, Big Growth to listen to our complete conversation with CEO Jason Hollinger, now available on ApplePodcasts

Today, Jason Hollinger is president and CEO of a business his father started: Four Seasons Produce, a Pennsylvania company with over 800 employees and wholesale customers across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. But when we sat down with Jason, he told us that, growing up, he never considered it a given that he’d eventually take over the family business. 

“I really like building things but then I also knew that I really liked business. I loved hearing my dad’s stories. I loved going into Four Seasons and working,” Jason said, describing the push and pull he felt as a teenager. “I remember saying to myself, I think I’m either going to be an engineer or a businessman.”

Even after Jason graduated from college and spent 7 years learning the business from the ground up, his father knew it was important for his son to be intentional with his career choices. He sought the help of a family business counselor who could guide them through the generational transition.

The counselor recommended Jason spend time working outside of the family business before deciding to lead it. After giving it some thought, Jason decided to take it one step further. Together with his wife, Jason took a leap outside of his comfort zone and moved their young family to Costa Rica.  There he pursued his MBA, learned Spanish and, since Costa Rica is the world’s third largest exporter of bananas, got to experience another side of the produce business. 

“It was just so good in so many ways,” Jason recalled about the two years his family spent there. “I just remember getting absolute clarity that, you know, my home is in Lancaster. My heart is there.” After completing his MBA, Jason and his family returned to Pennsylvania where Jason stepped into his first major leadership role at Four Seasons. 

The language skills, education, and real world experience Jason had gained abroad were invaluable as he oversaw recruitment for Four Season’s South American import division. From there, in anticipation of the planned retirement of the company’s current CEO’s, Jason continued to take on new roles that would grow his experience and expand his leadership within the company.  

“I don’t want to say orchestrated but there was a path there,” Jason said, describing the career guidance provided by his father and Ron, the CEO of Four Seasons at that time. “So each door was open for me. And I liked a phrase that the CEO said at that point that, ‘Hey, we’re going to open these doors for you, but you got to walk through them.’ And that was a nice way to say it,” Jason recalled.

This intentionality was a persistent theme throughout Jason’s journey to becoming Four Season’s CEO. He remembers being struck by a phrase the family business counselor used: “Leadership development is personal development.” This idea stayed with Jason. “I began to think about how, if I want to be a leader, I really want to make sure that I’m solid. I’m grounded. I’m not triggered by personal things.”

“Do I have my greed in check?” he continued. “Do I have my insecurities worked on? All those personal things. I began to realize that those are the most important things to be a good leader.” This inner work also helped Jason recognize different styles of leadership and define his own. 

“There’s some people that are really confident. Like, we can do it! They never hesitate. They make a decision and they move forward,” he explains. “I like to think about things a little bit more than some others, maybe. I want to be sure before I make a step.” Jason realized this grounded approach wasn’t indicative of a lack of confidence. It was merely a different style of leadership (and one that fit him well).

“I never doubt who I am and what I’m called to do and where I’m called to be,” Jason said. Despite being the son of the company’s founder, he never took it for granted that he would step into certain roles at Four Seasons. Any role he took on had to first be something he felt called to. Then, he had to commit to the personal and professional work the role required. Bringing this intentionality and commitment to each decision in his career ensured Jason was fully prepared to step into the role of President and CEO of Four Seasons Produce when the time came. 

Want to hear more of our conversation with Jason? Check out the full podcast episode here.