Bigelow Tea: Steeped in Tradition, But Still Thirsty for More


Startup Grind - Bigelow2

Cindi Bigelow doesn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur. She is a third generation leader of Bigelow Tea and knew from an early age that she wanted to be part of the family business.

That said, she maintains an entrepreneurial mindset and sees herself as a “driver, non-compromiser….looking for opportunities all of the time…..never accepting the status quo.”

Bigelow talked about this and a variety of other subjects at a recent Startup Grind Greenwich event.

As leader in a “fierce,” increasingly competitive market, Bigelow Tea has to be pro-active and innovative. Its two major competitors – Lipton and Celestial Seasonings – are owned by larger companies and have significantly more resources at their disposal. But that doesn’t mean that the company cuts corners. Quite the opposite, Bigelow Tea is known for its superior products and commitment to excellence. Yes, it sounds clichéd, but this company walks the walk.

What Bigelow, her parents and grandparents have done is lay out a blueprint for every entrepreneur who faces the challenge of turning a start-up into an established, successful business and then leading that business through the subsequent transitions that all companies face.

Here are key tenets of the Bigelow Culture:

  • Quality and Integrity are the touchstones. This ranges from the ingredients that go into its products (and how they are made) to the people in the company and its partners
  • Have a “What’s best for the company?” mentality.
  • Create a culture of empowerment and communication where everyone (from management to manufacturing and everyone in between) is encouraged to participate.
  • Innovation is essential. “Some of my proudest moments are when my team pushes the envelope.”
  • Disruption and change need to be constants. You must be willing to dig deep and examine everything.
  • Failure is essential. “Failure has to be part of the process.”
  • You need to bring in and keep the right people. When Bigelow hires people, she looks for the “long-term” perspective. She wants team members who have passion and will commit to Bigelow Tea for the long haul, not just as a stepping stone to the next job. A number of families – a key distinction Ms. Bigelow made in her talk – have been with the company for 20-30 years; she herself has been there since the 1980s.
  • You need to affiliate with people and organizations who share your values. This is why Bigelow has carefully and selectively cultivated relationships with spokespeople like Joe Torre and Phil Simms.

For the entrepreneurs themselves, Bigelow’s parting remarks included:

  • Always check yourself – take a personal inventory and be brutally honest, and push yourself
  • Have passion, but harness it
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Do not compromise
  • Communicate with your team constantly

Image Credit: Sandro de Carvalho

About the author: Andy Harrison

Andy is a Product Development and Relaunch expert with extensive application and platform development expertise, strong game and gamification knowledge. He lives by the Entrepreneur’s Credo: “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”

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