Title: President and CEO
Company: China Mist Tea Brands
Describe your very first job and what lessons you learned from it.
At 12 years old, a friend and I got together a bucket, soap and a sponge, then went door to door asking if we could wash our neighbors’ cars. When they would ask “how much,” we would say “whatever you want to pay us.” I quickly learned my first business lesson, which is have an idea of what your service is worth before heading out. This job was short lived after we knocked on the door of Vern and Claudia Lipp, who bred and showed Himalayan cats. When we asked if we could wash her car she replied, “No, but I have a bunch of litter boxes that need cleaning and cats that need grooming.” … For the next three years I cleaned and groomed cats, a job that could have definitely earned a spot on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe!”
Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
My first industry job was at China Mist right around the time I turned 16 years old. Over the course of 26 years, I have learned an incredible number of lessons and I still learn something everyday. … The most important lesson is to surround yourself with truly great people because your team is your greatest asset. Average employees don’t last long at China Mist. Next, is to always challenge the norms of your industry. … Indeed, it is the people who continually strive for a better product, better process, etc., who set themselves and their companies apart from the rest. Finally, focus on what you do best.
What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
When I started at China Mist, I earned minimum wage, which was around $3.35 per hour at the time. I cannot recall my hourly wage at Hotlipps Cattery, but the memories are priceless.
Who is your biggest mentor and what role did they play?
I have had many mentors along the way, but would have to say that Mignon Latimer has been the biggest in my career. Mignon is the wife of a consultant hired by China Mist some years ago. I was an 18-year-old general manager at the time I started working with her. She taught me how to read and interpret financial details important to the company and precisely why they mattered. She gave me a truly sound financial base from which to build.
What advice would you give to a person just entering your industry?
While the barrier to entry is quite low, the competition is strong, so be sure you have a strong point of differentiation.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
I really cannot imagine doing anything else, but if I had to pick a new industry it would be something in real estate.