Growing up in a big family where his mom didn't allow overly processed and supersized food, Luke Saunders has always been a mindful, healthy brown-bagger. After college, he started a sales job that took him on the road, where he found that maintaining a healthy lifestyle was challenging. Refusing to indulge in gas station hot dogs, Saunders began to visit local grocery stores to create fresh, healthy meals. This is how his idea for Framer's Fridge came to be.

Without any culinary experience, Farmer’s Fridge has grown to include more than 300 machines, offering healthy alternatives to vending machine staples with meals such as Southwest Quinoa Bowls and Asian Chopped Salads. Saunders, the Founder and CEO, credits his success to the team, noting that those around him make him smarter every day.

Saunders has created a culture built on honesty, transparency, caring and direct feedback, where everyone is encouraged to show up as their authentic selves. This transparency begins in the interview process, where he brings candidates not only to the office, but inside the kitchen to show them how crazy, fast-paced and unpredictable the business can be.

He also believes that failure is inevitable and a learning moment. “For people to be effective, you have to empower them to fail; and they will fail,” he says. “If they are doing their jobs correctly there will be failure. They should have failure as part of their experience in order for them to grow.”

In reflecting on his own leadership strengths, Saunders is most proud to model humility, hard work, continuous learning, and treating others with respect. He recently began work with an executive coach, who has helped him understand the nuances of when to manage, lead, or let go.

“Leadership is a naturally learned ability, but you have to be able to understand the different types of leadership and managing styles. You can develop these skills because it’s an ongoing process,” he says.

At the core of Saunders’s success is his work ethic and dedication. He recalls how he would make salads at home, in the early days of Farmer’s Fridge, working without a recipe until he found what ingredients worked best together. He would wake up at 4 a.m. to visit the company kitchen, help source ingredients, oversee marketing, and assist with morning deliveries—all on top of his responsibilities as a husband and dad. Years later, this hands-on, working-alongside-your-team mindset has not wavered.

Saunders has created a flourishing business, while staying true to who he is. His values are lived every day through his team, who brings this culture to life. They are a group of humble, compassionate and hardworking individuals who come together to deliver on their mission to make wholesome, delicious food accessible so people can live a little happier.

Fast Facts

Current position: CEO & Founder, Farmer’s Fridge
Number of years in current role: 6
Location: Chicago, IL
Number of employees: 200
Previous experience: Regional Sales Manager
Most admired leader: Warren Buffett
5 things you can’t live without: • Family (wife and two sons) • Friends • Farmer’s Fridge • Exercising • Great restaurants
Guilty pleasure: Eating homemade bread with butter (as a dessert)

Interviewed by Danisha Moore and Kelli Bell.