By Michelle Fish
It only takes a few minutes of hanging out with John, Tom and Bernie Fraser to realize that these are not your standard issue CEO, beverage empire building, buttoned-down kind of fellas. Don’t get me wrong, they are CEOs in the process of beverage empire building, and when it comes to doing business, they can be very buttoned-down. But they are an absolute delight to be around.
First thing you notice is how fond they are of each other. They come from a family of eleven children, and although their lives before Fraser tea took very different turns, they have always been particularly close knit. They do a lot of joking and teasing, and it’s easy to imagine that they must have driven their parents a little crazy as children, running around the house and knocking over furniture.
And they are inventive. That actually isn’t a big enough word to describe how innovative and creative their approach is. If they need a piece of equipment to do a job, and it doesn’t currently exist in the world, they invent it. Case in point, if you’ve ever been in a tea blending facility, it’s usually very dusty. Bob and I toured a famous one in Seattle (which shall remain nameless), and they did their best, but you could see particles floating in many of the rooms. That’s not good enough for the Fraser brothers. Tom, the organic farmer and mathematical whiz, sat down and drew up the schematics for a new machine to do a better job at cleaning the air. The brothers built it, and I can attest to the fact it works.
In their previous lives, they chose very different career paths: John was an entrepreneur in the construction industry, Tom an organic master gardener farmer, and Bernie was an ordained Catholic priest, but they always shared a deep passion for tea. Even before they came together as a company, they were each on a journey to explore the world of tea and tea blending, and to deepen their knowledge of the craft. They became certified Master Blenders and Tea Sommeliers, with a laser like focus on quality of ingredients, flavor innovations, and developing and promoting the health benefits. Being all organic was a primary mission.
So there we were on a January afternoon in their warehouse reception room in Livonia, sipping turmeric ginger tea and chatting about organics. John was talking about how important it is to their company to build strong relationships with the farmers, and how some of those farmers are embarked on powerful social missions improving the lives of the farm workers. Our ears perked up when he said that they would be taking a trip to Nepal and India in the Spring to watch the harvest and check on the progress of a school that they were helping to build… sounded right up our alley! It wasn’t long before we had talked our way into joining them on that trip.
It’s one thing to like people you meet in a meeting. It’s another thing all together to travel with them. And it’s definitely a third “thing” when that travel is going to take you well off the beaten path in places that challenge your comfort zone. Unfortunately, John wasn’t able to make the trip. A bout of flu took him out at the last minute. We give Bernie and Tom a lot of credit for their willingness to take us on, even though they barely knew us. But boy, are we glad they did.
Photo Credit: Saurav Thapa Shrestha
They approach travel the same way they approach business, which is to say they bring their curiosity, their sense of humor and their adaptability with them. We had many adventures together, not all of them comfortable. (READ: One Night in Bharatpur) But I can’t imagine better companions to be jammed into a small SUV with as we bounced and bumped our way through windy roads in the Himalayan foothills and navigated the complex border crossing into India. (COMING SOON: Crossing Over)
We laughed a lot, we learned a lot, and we became good friends in the process.