Cindi Bigelow, president and CEO of Bigelow Tea Company, had an affirmative answer to the key question at Linda McMahon’s “Women Can Have It All” lecture series in late October.
When McMahon asked Bigelow if women can “have it all,” she responded that setting priorities will enable women to have what they want.
Bigelow said she knew she wanted to raise a family and run a business. “I worked on a schedule; I had things marked out,” she said, adding that, no matter what she was doing, or how important a meeting was, she always answered the phone for her children’s calls and still does.
Her own parents passed down strong family values to her. She told the crowd that when her father ran the business, he never missed dinner. “My dad was always there for me,” she said.
Prior to Bigelow’s session with McMahon, vice president of SHU’s Board of Trustees, the audience viewed a powerful performance by the University’s all-female choir, SHU L.O.V.E. Then McMahon sat down with Bigelow for an informal conversation about her company, work ethic and, of course, tea. McMahon immediately asked Bigelow about being in the family business.
Bigelow’s grandmother founded Bigelow Tea Company in 1945 after perfecting her tea, “Constant Comment”®. Bigelow said her father led the business when she was growing up, and she started working at the company when she was 16. After college, she had a sales job at Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., a job she wanted and enjoyed doing. She then went to graduate school, earned her master’s degree in finance and joined the family business for good.
“My father had a mission for me,” Bigelow said. “He wanted me to start off as a cost accountant and understand how product was built.”
She was 26 at the time, and she had some difficult experiences. “You’re just trying to do your job, and people are looking at you as a Bigelow,” she said. “They’re either nice because I’m a Bigelow or not because I’m Bigelow. So for me, it was important not to let that influence my daily work and just always stay motivated and do the best I could.”
Bigelow, 56, said she believes the years she spent working at the company before becoming president & CEO in 2005 molded her into the type of leader she is today.
Switching gears, McMahon asked Bigelow to tell students in the audience what they should have in mind for their first job.
“I hear a lot of people talk about following their passion,” she answered. “I don’t know if I was passionate as a cost accountant. Your first job is great, no matter what it is. You’re going to learn what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. Any job is a good job. Passion comes over time.
“It’s difficult to get passionate,” she added. “Knowing what I wanted to do took a while.”
Bigelow said she loves working for a company that makes a product that’s good for people. “It means a lot to me—we sell something that’s healthy and good for the body,” she said, explaining that there are many health benefits to drinking tea.”
At the end of the discussion, when the audience was invited to ask questions, one student asked Bigelow to name her favorite tea. While Bigelow couldn’t say which Bigelow tea was her absolute favorite, she said she drinks Bigelow Cozy Chamomile®, Earl Grey and Green Tea with Pomegranate most often.