Bigelow Tea has been generating buzz from the very beginning – and not just from the caffeine.
Cindi Bigelow, the third-generation President and CEO of the Fairfield, CT-based company, relayed a story about how her grandmother launched the company in 1945. She developed a tea blend based on a colonial-era recipe she had found and served it to a group of women at a party. The tea was a hit – a subject of “constant comment.” That gathering sparked the idea for a marketable product, its quirky name, and a company that still thrives more than 70 years later.
Cindi shared this story along with insights on business, leadership and life at Sacred Heart University in the sixth session of a series I host called “Women Can Have It All.” The series name is designed to be provocative – can women really have it all? What does having it all mean? And why is the question never asked of men? Each of my guests offers the college students and community members who attend the lessons they learned on their own paths to success.
At a time when buzz can make or break a product, companies are striving for the positive kind of “constant comment.” Companies today use social media, blogs and advertising to get people to talk about their products and services, tracking every click, like and retweet. Yet Cindi Bigelow noted that long ago, advertising agencies had suggested the company change the name of its buzzworthy “Constant Comment” tea. “No one knows what that means, it’s just a bad name,” her family was told.
“But that’s our name. And to date it’s still one of the top-selling specialty teas.”
Cindi says she only recently learned the closely held recipe for Constant Comment. Her parents are the only ones who make it.
“They come in, put their lab coats on and go behind closed doors and Constant Comment is born. They still make Constant Comment to this day, same recipe as my grandmother.”
While the recipe developed by her grandmother is kept secret, Cindi is happy to share her recipe for success: work hard, lead by example, and build relationships with your colleagues. Here are a few of her words of wisdom and how she learned the strategies that make her a successful executive. You can also click on the links below to hear from Cindi Bigelow herself.
1. Work hard. This is the advice Cindi says she’d give her college-age self. “Never, ever, ever compromise on working hard. Give everything you do all of you."
2. Lead by example. Cindi recalls that on her third day on the job, her father – then CEO – noticed some envelopes in her outbox without stamps on them. Her father said if she didn’t put her own stamps on her envelopes, how could she expect anyone else to? “It’s the best lesson and it’s stuck with me for 30 years. You can’t do anything that you don’t expect will be the standard for everybody in the organization. It might seem like something small – a stamp – but it’s not. It’s very symbolic. Create an environment that’s fair.”
3. Build relationships with colleagues. When she first started in the family business, Cindi spent a few years working in each department. “What I didn’t realize was happening is I was building alliances along the way, which was very important. Some people were going to be skeptical: how hard was she going to work, was she getting everything on a silver platter? But I was working hard and developing alliances that were going to be important later because I had all these beautiful touch points within the organization.” When she took on a leadership role, it was seamless because she had proven herself and had a direct connection with the people she was managing. “If I’m at all good at what I do, those years are what made me that way.”
Many companies have learned that buzz comes and goes; Cindi Bigelow says lasting success comes from staying true to yourself, protecting the legacy you’re built on, and preserving that legacy for the future. And that’s something worth talking about.
Cindi Bigelow is also interviewed on the special series “Women in America” I am hosting with Burt Wolf on PBS stations. Check your local listings.