The goal of the “Living in Your Top 1%” interview series is to break down the qualities of people who excel and to show that you can be successful and achieve personal greatness from any starting point in your life. The interview series looks at people from all different careers and industries. Some names will be familiar and others may not. The purpose is to understand and borrow from the “best practices” of winners to develop a roadmap to YOUR TOP 1%. We will share a new story each month.
This week’s guest is Heather Howell, the C’Tea’O (Chief Tea Officer) of Rooibee Red Tea. Her focus is on building the company and brand and raising money to fund additional growth. Heather has 15 years experience as a strategic partner for Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies. She is moving outside her comfort zone and excelling in her new role. She says when talking about her plans and goals for the emerging new beverage, “Failure is not an option.” Rooibee Red Tea is brewed and bottled in Louisville using Rooibos, a plant found only in South Africa. It’s an organic product that is high in antioxidants and naturally caffeine-free, which the health conscious consumers are loving.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Heather at the National Association of Women MBA’s (NAWMBA) Conference in Dallas, TX earlier this year. She serves on the National Board of Director’s of NAWMBA and was the ‘Chair’ of the Conference. She is innovative, smart, engaging, and high-energy. Heather does an amazing job of juggling her current high-powered role as C’Tea’O plus being a mom and wife.
Alissa Finerman: What’s the most important strength you possess that allows you to be successful in your role?
Heather Howell: Prior to becoming C’Tea’O of Rooibee Red Tea, my background was in people. I have over 15 years in Human Resources. I learned through working with top level executives and Fortune companies around the country, the key to success is hiring the best people for the job. For me, I have a good sense of self. I understand my weaknesses and lack ego. Therefore, I surround myself with talent that has strengths where I am weak. I also look for individuals who have crazy passion around their work and our brand.
AF: What does success mean to you?
HH: Success is inspiring others, in particular, other women. Success is small victories and seeing women break through barriers. I mentioned in an article once, that I want to create a world where, together, women break through the glass ceiling and dance on top of it. Success is making the world better for my children.
AF: What inspired you to leave a career you were doing well in to take a leadership role to build Rooibee Red Tea?
HH: It was a pivotal moment. I was making six figures, I had just been added to the Management Incentive Plan, I was also carrying the full family benefit coverage, I had access to an executive cafeteria that I still dream about, and all the resources one can imagine. However, my thinking and my actions were different. My ideas were creative and I was sprinting on a corporate treadmill that was engineered to move at a certain ‘turtle’ speed. At the time, I was watching men get promoted and during my time in Human Resources I had access to diversity numbers – when I saw that there were only .04% of women in Director level roles, I left and have never looked back.
AF: What motivates you on a daily basis to keep going?
HH: I am a mother to two children (boy and girl).
I am a wife.
I am a businesswoman.
I am board member.
I am a mentor.
I am a role model.
I am a community leader.
I am better at all of the above when I am working.
I feel that I am making a difference.
I am changing the statistics.
That’s what keeps me motivated.
AF: How do you “balance” running a company, being a mom, wife, and making time for yourself?
HH: I get a lot of sh*t for this comment and so I am going to add context around it…
“BALANCE IS FOR BALLERINA’s!”
I heard this quote from another working/mom – Amy Franko.
My life as a C’Tea’O of Rooibee Red Tea and C’Mommy’O of my household does not provide a daily balanced regime. My schedule shifts depending on the work, and many times it is not planned. The truth of the matter is, it’s not easy to be a working mother. You still have to do the laundry, buy the birthday gifts, do the Christmas shopping, plan the birthday parties, buy groceries, cook, entertain, and provide the love and support of friends and extended family. When my children are sick, or there is a snow day, the balance shifts and I have to create virtual solutions, or lean on my business colleagues for support. When, I have to travel or be gone for extended periods, it’s tough. My husband and I do not outsource our child care. One of us is home by 5:30pm every day. I don’t want to neglect the fact that my spouse has an equally intense career, as he is an M.D. in a very specialized field, he is a pediatric ophthalmologist.
Thus, I have stopped apologizing and have embraced the fact that balance is not in my repertoire. I get balance by being the best mom and the most ethical businesswoman I can be based on what is thrown at me on any given day.
AF: What role do goals play in your life? Tell us a few words about your goal setting process.
HH: My first week at Rooibee Red Tea – we set five pivotal goals. They hang on a white board in my office and I view them daily.
The first and most feared goal on my list of five is to raise capital. Because we are a consumer product company, success means we need more cash, until break even. The goal was to raise the first million of preferred stock. This goal was big. Who would invest in a women owned C’Tea’O? Would others see the same R.O.I. that I see? Would I be able to raise the money in my home town of Louisville, Kentucky? Every day I watched and learned. I am happy to report that we just completed the Series A preferred stock issue, giving the company $1 million in funding for expansion (the tea will now be available in Whole Foods Markets).
AF: What challenges have you overcome either in your new role or previously?
HH: I don’t really bog myself down in challenges. I am a solution driven thinker, so this question is difficult for me to answer. I guess the biggest challenge is moving into and leading Rooibee Red Tea in an industry that is considered both ‘Manufacturing & Non-Alcoholic Beverages.’ I had absolutely NO experience, with the exception of being a consumer of organic, healthy products. However, I am proud to say, I have over 80 years of experience in beverages and manufacturing if you combine my board members and my internal team. Rooibee Red Tea is filing for WEBNC Certification and just gained nationwide distribution, and this year we aligned ourselves with one of the best food brokerage firms in the nation. So, I guess not knowing, means — You are fearless.
AF: What are some of your most meaningful accomplishments?
HH: By far…Forty under Forty
* Winning Garden & Gun’s Best of the South Food Category — Garden & Gun is one of the coolest magazines that celebrates the South. I admired their magazine for years and my husband sent the link to this contest for BEST OF –Awards. So, one night, I got up the courage and $100.00 and entered Rooibee Red Tea into the contest. WE WON! It was a great day and over 550,000 subscribers still call or order our products from being named BEST OF THE SOUTH – FOOD.
* Being featured on the Weekend Today Show – Over Labor Day Weekend
* Most important – having a daughter and son who are both very good children, they say “please & thank you – and I don’t care for it…” My Grandmother (God love her!) would be so proud!
AF:What do the top performers do differently to excel?
HH: THEY HAVE PASSION!
Please visit Rooibee Red Tea to learn more about Heather and her fabulous company.
The “Living in Your Top 1%” interview series is presented by Alissa Finerman, an Executive Coach and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, speaker and author of Living in YOUR Top 1%. She works with managers, C-suite executives and teams to leverage strengths, shift beliefs and achieve meaningful goals. Alissa has an MBA from the Wharton School and a BA from the University of California, Berkeley. She has worked with Ross Stores, Petco, BNP Paribas, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Brookfield Property Partners, Neutrogena, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Dress for Success. To learn more about coaching with Alissa, please visit her website and follow her on Facebook