Leadership Lessons from the Sugar Shack
Leadership-Lessons-from-the-Sugar-Shack

 

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Kuzio stands next to his sugar shack.

Every March, LDG president and CEO Keith Kuzio takes a week’s vacation to indulge in a unique pastime—making maple syrup from the sap of the trees on his 4-acre property. The syrup-making process is known as “sugaring” and Kuzio has been doing it for so long that his maple syrup has its own brand, logo, and production center, also known as a sugar shack.

Kuzio’s interest in maple syrup boiling began when a friend visited his home, noticed the abundance of maple trees on the land, and gave him some sugaring equipment. The first boil took place in 2003. “We had a St. Patrick’s Day party, and we had all these little kids over who had come with their parents. We had tapped some trees and we had a big pot full of sap, which we boiled on a turkey fryer outside,” said Kuzio. “It boiled all afternoon, and everybody was getting antsy. From several gallons of sap, we only ended up with about a half a cup of syrup.”

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Kuzio tending to the evaporator, where maple sap is boiled into syrup.

Despite the low output, the quality was great, and Kuzio was hooked. Every year since then, he has tapped more trees, collected more sap and, true to the engineer in him, tried to make the process more efficient. Within a few years, he had moved from collecting sap with buckets and boiling it over an open fire to installing lines and creating a gravity-fed system that carries the sap directly into his sugar shack. “I’ve maximized the opportunity by tapping all the trees on the property that I can, which is 37 trees. Making the operation as efficient as possible has made enjoyment the primary focus of making the syrup. It’s not hard to boil water, which is basically what you’re doing. Tending to the evaporator fire and the sap as it boils gives me time to sit back, relax, and think about life, work, family, and friends.”

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Raw sap in the pre-heater reservoir of the evaporator.

Kuzio uses his time in the sugar shack as an opportunity for what he calls a “self check-in” to tweak his leadership style to fit LDG’s current needs. “Situational leadership requires you to look at every opportunity and challenge uniquely, then apply your best insights and company resources to take advantage of the opportunity or to solve the issue,” said Kuzio. “The sugaring season takes place at a time of year when nature is renewing itself; it’s great stimulation that keeps my mind sharp for unexpected situations that often come up in the life of a CEO.”

He credits his time spent making syrup with making him a better leader. “When I go back to work after making syrup, I have a better attitude. I’m more creative and a better listener, because my mind is more still than it might otherwise be.”

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Blue lateral and main lines bring the sap from the trees to the tank.

Why maple syrup-making instead of a more traditional CEO pastime like golf or running? “I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Williamsport. I could stretch my arms and touch our house and the house next to us at the same time; we were that close to our neighbors. So, we really enjoyed getting out into the woods while I was growing up,” he said. “People always ask me, ‘Why don’t you buy a cabin?’ I don’t need to because I’m lucky to have a primary residence in the woods. I have the chance to slow down and enjoy it whenever I want.”

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Kuzio reads the journal in which he keeps notes from previous sugar seasons.

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Kuzio points out how much sap he has harvested so far this year—60 gallons, or enough to make 1 gallon of syrup.

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