Stop. Close your eyes. (Not really, keep reading, just pretend like you’re closing your eyes for effect.) Now think of something boring and predictable. What comes to mind? An episode of the Bachelorette? Mind-numbing small talk that makes you wish for a convenient meteor-strike? Certainly, those are list toppers. Here’s another: those eyeroll-inducing corporate mission and value statements. We’ve all glazed over before them – they’re overworked and overwrought, often filled with empty promises about excellent customer service, exceeded expectations, unforgettable experiences, and other sweet nothings created with the hope of plying open our collective pants. Well, no thanks means no thanks.
Of course, there’s an exception to every rule. And one such exception can be found on the wall of one of Austin’s best known corporate success stories – Sweet Leaf Tea. Here’s a snippet of their mission and values: “We believe in laughter, high fives and good music.” Roll that around for a minute. Laughter. High fives. Good music.
Nice, right? Okay, you can open your eyes. Here’s another surprise: Sweet Leaf Tea’s values aren’t the only things in the office bucking conventional wisdom. The finance manager, Elizabeth Barber, is pretty stimulating, too.
A native of the Houston area, Barber moved to Austin to study psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. After a shift in interests, she graduated in 2004 with a degree in economics and a mission to stay. “It was hard, but I decided I didn’t want to move back to Houston,” Barber says, echoing a common sentiment: “Pretty much the only place I’d live in Texas is Austin.”
After graduation, Barber found herself working what she describes as a job at a “super-conservative” local bank. The look on her face says it wasn’t, you know, her cup of tea. “I couldn’t have done more of a 180 when i found Sweet Leaf ,” she says. “I went in and interviewed and they hired me.” Fastforward to 2009, and Barber is still working at the tea company, but a lot has changed. Sweet Leaf has grown from a mom and pop sweet tea shop to an honest-to-goodness big business with national distribution and an international clientele. But much of what made the company a success hasn’t changed. Founder Clayton Christopher still runs the day-to-day operations and he and the company are often lauded as textbook examples of entrepreneurial success.
Barber has been along for a big part of the ride and because of that, she’s worn quite a few hats. “When I first started, I did accounts payable, accounts receivable, and human resources. I kind of did everything,” she says. “As we’ve grown, I’ve hired an AP manager, then an AR manager, and most recently an inventory accountant. Now I’m managing those three positions, plus acting as a liaison with…” – okay, stop. It’s time for a reality check. The number of duties and tasks
Barber lists at this point in the conversation is impressive, to say the least. Clearly, the work she does is vital to the success of Sweet Leaf Tea. But let’s remember something critical. It’s something Barber is clearly in tune with. We believe in laughter, high fives and good music.
Remember Lumbergh from Office Space? “Yeah, I’m going to need you to come in on, ohh, Saturday. We need to play catch up. oh, and you might as well come in on Sunday too. Thaaanks.” it’s the line that’s come to symbolize the inanity of corporate America in our popular culture. So how does a company that believes “in laughter, high fives and good mu- sic” do working weekends? Well, maybe it means working the Austin City Limits Music festival, or maybe California’s Stagecoach Music festival, or Fun Fun Fun Fest in Waterloo Park. Over the years, Sweet Leaf has not only grown to support music culture, but the arts in general, with a presence at the aforementioned events a fraction of their guerilla marketing efforts.
Barber describes dunking Sweet Leaf bandanas in ice cold water at music festivals and distributing them to the overheated crowd. “One girl told me, ‘this is like a public service you guys are doing.’” Then there’s the Mint Honey tea SPF 15 lip balm toss. It’s like the new-school version of the department store perfume spritz – but not annoying.
Currently unattached and available (well, mostly unattached, there is an adorable Beagle called Bentley that accompanies her to her oh-so-progressive dog-loving office), Barber lives off Barton Springs Road and, is admittedly content with the shape of her life. “Sometimes I wonder what I’m going to do after this, because it’s like, how can you compete with it?” according to point number four of the Sweet Leaf Tea mission and vision, that question isn’t really very important. You see: the journey is as important as the destination.
Delicious local tea deserves to share the spotlight with local food favorites. Barber listed a few of her favorite pairings:
Whole Foods Market Patio – BBQ sandwich with potato salad, and (Barber’s favorite) The Original Sweet Tea made with black tea leaves and pure cane sugar
Taco Deli – Blue Plate special, with one Happy Taco, one Heather Taco, and a Sweet Leaf Half & Half (half black tea and half lemonade)
Madam Mam’s – Tom Kha soup with Sweet Leaf Mango Green Tea
Home Slice – A slice of Margherita pizza and a Sweet Leaf Mint & Honey Green Tea
Mr. Natural – Spinach salad with avocado dressing, bean & cheese gordita, and a Sweet Leaf Peach Sweet Tea.