This is an archived blog from when I ran Conscious Public Relations Inc. from 2008-2018. Excuse the potential outdated-ness!

Holy wow, was Day 2 of SVI Women ever amazing! My brain is at capacity and my body is telling me I need to rest this weekend. But I’m jazzed for one more day!

I’m usually not a front row kind of gal, but I had the pleasure of seeing SVI Women’s first True Confessions mother-daughter team, Ratana and Jyoti Stephens of Nature’s Path, speak – up close and personal.

Just to give you an idea of how big Nature’s Path is in size and heart:

  • Employs 490 people across its 4 facilities in Canada and the USA
  • With the belief that everyone has the right to fresh, organic, chemical-free (non-GMO) food, they’ve implement initiatives such as: Bite4Bite, which donates the equivalent in cereal or cash to food banks; Gardens for Good Grants, which funded three organic gardens in 2012 for a total of nine gardens and $150,000 in grants; $660,000 towards Prop 37 in California, which would have made GMO labelling mandatory; the Envirokidz Giving Back Program which empowers children to change their future and protect endangered species and environments; Compassion into Action food bank fundraisers which have raised over $500,000 in food to local food banks; and 2,000 pounds of products to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
  • In total last year, the company donated more than $2.6 million.

Can you really grow a company from having one plant that never produced a single flake in its first six months to becoming North America’s leading organic cereal company and still maintain the values of “leaving the Earth better than we found it?” Here are the top 5 takeaways I got from Ratana and Jyoti to reveal their secrets of success.

1. Create a business you believe in and are passionate about. Don’t compromise your beliefs. Ratana and her husband Arran have had a deep respect for food, both having parents and grandparents involved in farming. It was their mutual love for healthy food that actually brought them together, and they started businesses because they believed they could benefit others. They tolerated failure and sacrifice because they did what they loved. Ratana said her path was less linear than a stockbroker’s was (she tried that, too), but she wouldn’t have it any other way. The company has also had many opportunities to sell to much bigger corporations, but in the end the Stephens decided that all that a chunk of money would do was spoil their kids. So they taught them that they would need an education if they were to eventually run the business.

Jyoti’s path was always rooted in values; from protesting at Clayoquot Sound to getting her Master’s Degree in Sustainability, she didn’t realize that her values could actually make their way into a company until she got more serious about the family business. Naturally her first position was in sustainability projects and charitable giving. She values the fact that family, business, and her passions can all be intertwined.

Ratana also managed to be one hell of a mother, prioritizing soccer games and music and dance lessons for her children, and sharing household chores with her husband. I don’t know how the hell she did it, but she could write the Bible on work-life balance.

2. Understand the finances. Money is not just a man’s job. Before Nature’s Path, the Stephens owned four restaurants, so money had to be handled by both of them. Echoing the importance of values, Ratana said that later on they had to make the decision to purchase organic oats from Sweden that were twice as expensive. She says that these decisions are difficult, but right in the end.

Jyoti’s early role was to allocate where to donate money; while this taught her an important lesson of how businesses can and should give back, they also had to measure the return on investment. And what a return it has made!

3. Learn from your mistakes. There was one point in the business where they chose to recall the product. Knowing that doing the right thing would be a costly endeavor, they chose quality and integrity over profit. They accepted their mistake, and grew from it.

Being the second generation leader in Nature’s Path, Jyoti has had to juggle leading and listening, two great skills in business, but also in a family business where things can get heated.

4. Choose the right people. Starting with the right life partner! Nature’s Path probably wouldn’t be where it is today if not for Ratana and Arran’s solid relationship. She also values the fact that she could step away from the business and still have the family to run it – this is one of the perks of having a multi-generational business. Ratana also knows nothing about how their products are made; she leaves that part to the engineers…which is why it is extremely important to choose the right team!

It was so endearing to see Ratana and Jyoti hug each other throughout the talk. Ratana has huge faith that her daughter is carrying on the legacy of creating wealth through business. She also said “women should be at the forefront of entrepreneurship.”

When asked about how employees and family could be treated differently, both ladies iterated that the children gained their positions because of their merit and values. Jyoti is the Director of HR and Sustainability, not a VP, Ratana said, because she still has a lot to learn. Jyoti has a set of values she uses when she recruits every staff person. When asked if you can have the right people AND values, she says you can’t have one without the other – so if it takes time to hire the right person, that time spent will be worth it.

5. Learn from people you trust. In the early years, Ratana asked her uncle what to do with the three of her four failing restaurants. Like the analogy of the infected arm, he told her to cut out what wasn’t working. It’s clear that she has a deep respect for those who support her.

Jyoti and her brother Arjan, who runs the Marketing side of Nature’s Path, didn’t always get along. However, they were able to combine their strengths and passions for sustainability AND money to then raise up the brand in those ways, in my opinion. I really don’t know what other brand compares in Canada when it comes to organic cereal and getting the message out in the right way.

The most interesting tidbit was that being a woman didn’t really play a huge factor in success measurement for Ratana or Jyoti. Ratana says that there is a nurturing quality to women that wants everyone to feel equal. This goes back to their deep values and working with the right people.

For more info, read SVI’s blog on Nature’s Path.

Follow Nature’s Path on Facebook and Twitter @NaturesPath or visit their website at NaturesPath.com.

A VERY BIG THANK YOU to the entire SVI Women team for allowing me to share my experience and profile some of my fellow attendees this week. It was an incredible experience I won’t soon forget.

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