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Bigelow Tea CEO Discusses Ethical Leadership

Cindi Bigelow speaking at Iona College

New Rochelle, N.Y. – Understanding who you are, what you do, and why it matters is key to ethical leadership, said Cindi Bigelow, third-generation president and CEO of the family-owned Bigelow Tea, speaking at Iona College on Thursday evening, May 5. She visited campus as part of the Iona series Advancing Ethical and Moral Leadership, sponsored by the College’s School of Business.

“It’s important to have a statement that describes who you are that everyone can rally around,” she told a crowd of students, faculty, staff and visitors. “We truly care about our consumers, our workers, our community, our product and where that product comes from. Do the right thing and good things will follow.”
Bigelow described taking teams from the company to tour tea plantations in Sri Lanka and India, where authentic Bergamot oil is produced in Italy, and lemon groves in California.  “Knowing how the source of our products is produced, that it’s grown and harvested sustainably and in way to ensure quality for the customer, is vital.  Do what you’re supposed to do and don’t cut corners.”
Bigelow Tea has earned the designation of a “Zero Waste to Landfill” company.  Cindi Bigelow described the “green teams” that work at their Fairfield, Conn., headquarters and its two other manufacturing plants in the United States.  “I don’t tell them what to do. I just say, ‘I know we can do better, let’s work on it.’” 

Iona MBA students talk with Cindi BigelowCindi Bigelow talks with Iona MBA students after her lecture. 

Helping support the well-being of employees, listening to and meeting the needs of consumers, and supporting the communities are not just the right thing to do – they’re good business, Bigelow said, noting that the same lessons apply to not-for-profits as well as publicly held companies. 
Iona College President Joseph E. Nyre, Ph.D., who launched the series to give practical examples of ethical leadership for young people, said Bigelow and her family-owned business are known for being committed to good business practices and integrity.
“Cindi and her family clearly exemplify the type of business ethics that we want to instill in students,” he said. “And Bigelow Tea, U.S. market leader of specialty teas that produces more than 1.7 billion tea bags annually, offers a perfect example of a company that is successful and ethical in its practices, proving that success and ethics are not mutually exclusive.”
Charles Cante, Ph.D., interim dean of the business school, said, “Bigelow Tea is known globally for its corporate social responsibility, sustainability initiatives and work with veterans.”
Before being named CEO in 2005, Cindi spent 25 years in all areas of the company her grandmother founded in 1945. Headquartered in Fairfield, Conn., and employing 350 people, Bigelow Tea is the national market leader of specialty teas and maker of “Constant Comment” tea.
Cindi initiated the Annual Bigelow Tea Community Challenge, which has donated $1.2 million to charities since 1987, and Bigelow’s Tea for the Troops Project has donated 4 million tea bags to U.S. service men and women.
The Iona lecture series was inaugurated last fall with a talk by William McGurn, Wall Street Journal columnist and former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
“We believe our students and our nation greatly benefit in learning though the experiences of others how to navigate our complex world where ethics and values often conflict with business situations and decisions,” President Nyre said.
Founded in 1940, Iona College is a private coeducational institution 20 miles north of Midtown Manhattan with a total enrollment of more than 3,900 students and an alumni base of more than 40,000 across the world. The College is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona’s School of Business is accredited by AACSB International – a highly acclaimed distinction awarded to just 5 percent of business schools worldwide.

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