Rowing taught me the difference between winning and going around in circles. The life lessons I learnt on my college and Colombo Rowing Club teams helped me immensely in setting up and starting my own business as an exporter and brand owner in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) tea. Sri Lanka is a small country but with a big heart for rowing and tea, both of which have a history that go back to the 1860’s.
‘I earned my MBA on the river’ says Jeffrey Klepacki, three time World Championship winner and US Olympic team member. I earned mine on the Beira Lake in Colombo, home to the CRC.
Both Klepacki and Dan Lyons (11 times US National Champion who rowed at the Seoul Olympics in 1988) have drawn lessons from rowing that apply to business:
Lyons has drawn 6 leadership lessons from successful rowing teams: Good leaders know that they cannot possibly see everything that employees do, and the best notice and react to small changes in tempo. Secondly, the best way to get a team to perform well is by being consistent. Avoid sudden changes in behaviour which can confuse the team and upset morale. High performance teams are like cults (I’m reminded of Apple under Steve Jobs). Good Leaders paint a picture of what is possible, as people respond well to being a part of something bigger. The best teams aren’t built by simply combining what seems on paper to be the best qualified individuals. Some people, weaker as individuals, inexplicably make the boat go. I relate this to the idea of Level 5 leadership which Jim Collins popularised in his book, ‘Good to Great’ and illustrated through the career of Darwin Smith, the transformational leader who turned Kimberley-Clark from a stodgy old paper company to leading consumer products company that beat its rival Proctor & Gamble in 6 product categories and outperformed the general stock market. Collins also refers to ‘getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats.’ A key strategy in rowing that is used to identify the best crew combination is what we call ‘seat racing’ – switching two rowers across boats and repeatedly racing the same course till the best crew combination and positions are worked out. Brutal, but effective! Finally, it is important to stay in the moment while rowing. Never looking back or too far ahead. This maintains rhythm even when hit by turbulence, such as the wake of another boat.
Staying in the present moment reminds me also of mindfulness and letting go, a key tenet of the preaching of Guatama Buddha over 2600 years ago. It is interesting that at this time the western world is turning to both tea and meditation for reasons of physical health and the stress of modern living (The Huffington Post). Both tea and meditation have strong roots in my country, Sri Lanka.
The ‘lessons on the lake’ fortified my resolve and helped me in overcoming the turbulence of intense competition from within the industry and instilling team spirit and a good work ethic as the company grew from 5 to 150 associates. Together, our passion created a company that now ranks within the top five tea exporters in Sri Lanka. Success in exporting bulk and private label teas was satisfying but yet I felt an unfulfilled need to do more for an industry that sustained my family for 78 years.
This led to my creating the HYSON brand. HYSON continues the traditions of orthodox Ceylon Tea manufacturing, in which the character of the plantation based on its location within our unique agro climatic zones, the skill of the women tea pluckers in selecting two leaves and a bud, the knowledge and experience of the estate management and the tea maker all come together to produce some of the finest teas in the world.
We continue this process by careful selection and tasting of estate tea which we then buy through the Colombo Tea Auction. These teas are sent direct from estate to our warehouse and packed by us in our modern factory. We strictly manage our quality and our processes are audited and certified through FSSC 22000, ISO 9001:2008, BRC, HACCP, Organic, Fair Trade, Kosher & Halal.
My brand Hyson is handcrafted tea, fresh and direct from the high grown plantations of Sri Lanka, that inspire a moment of relaxation and calm: helping you discover your focus, balance, and inner energy throughout the day.