Thrive: coffee with a conscience
Everyone loves coffee. Starbucks has built its business around the love of coffee. Busy people everywhere depend on coffee to perk them up and keep them going even when they find themselves functioning with little to no sleep. Let’s face it, it’s the delicious nectar that keeps everyone civil and more alert while in the office, running errands or trying to manage a household.
But where does it come from? The grocery store? Starbucks? A local roaster? The best cup of coffee is rooted in generations of farmers cultivating and perfecting their art. Without the steady pruning of a seasoned farmer, coffee cannot reach its full potential.
Coffee farming is a struggling industry. Farmers rarely make ends meet and apply great effort just to cover the cost of production. Frankly, this is the way it’s always been. Coffee farmers are often passed down the trade from generation to generation with virtually no business training rendering their business operation highly unsuccessful. More than a lack of training, a lack of funds to maintain farming equipment, hire help etc., makes it difficult to sustain. This links back to an average of $600 a year earned by farmers
Michael Jones, founder and CEO of Thrive Farmers Coffee has set out to change the landscape of the industry forever. Coffee has started to become an expensive commodity in the market; however the price hike is not mirrored in farmers’ salaries. It hit a high in 2011, but is now at a four-year low of $1.15 per pound. It is expensive to general consumers, but big businesses are increasing cost with a low cost to themselves. Farmers continue receiving unfair wages.
There are common challenges in the supply chain, the farmers are not well educated on best practices and they live in limited communities. Jones saw an opportunity, cut out the middle man, and simplified the supply chain to bring a level of transparency to the market so coffee farmers could begin to Thrive.
“There were way too many layers in the supply chain that weren’t necessary,” explains Jones.
Thrive began with humble roots as a former colleague of Jones’ moved to Costa Rica to farm coffee as a hobby. When he discovered that coffee farming on the whole yielded no income he started brainstorming. Through a series of strategic partnerships he partnered with a fourth generation coffee farmer and they sold coffee directly to tourists who came through their tiny tourist town. They fundamentally eliminated the costly supply chain by selling directly to consumers. They sold their entire crop and developed a profit sharing model to help other coffee farmers. The consignment model allowed farmers to make five to 10 times more profit compared with fair trade prices.
“We found that people loved supporting the farmers directly. By getting rid of a blind supply chain we were able to provide people with a real connection to their coffee,” says Jones.
The Thrive model was built to prove there is a way to change how farmers are paid for their crops. The company keeps it simple with a revenue sharing model. The farmers give the company coffee on consignment and reap the benefits of a limited supply chain and thus a greater return on their crops. Thrive teaches farmers best farming practices and cost management techniques. Farmers are accepted into the growing community based on the quality of their product. Quality is the number one attribute for a Thrive farmer and the company takes it very seriously.
Jones explains, “We went to work, put together this profit-sharing model, and designed a brand around it. We traveled central America and now have over 400 families growing 350,000 pounds of coffee in 12 regions and three countries. Most coffee farmers needed a reason to have hope for the future. That is where we come in. We give people a sense of accomplishment and pride while providing great growth in the marketplace.”
In the first year of business, Thrive sold all of the coffee it sourced. That is validation of the great partnerships and alignment of values Thrive set out to accomplish.
So what about “fair trade?” According to Jones, “Fair trade is technically not fair trade, and a lot of parallels get made between Thrive’s profit sharing model and fair trade coffee.” Fair trade is an insurance policy, stating that farmers can’t get paid below a certain price for their crop. There is no real incentive or tie in to quality where fair trade is concerned. As long as the farmer pays for the fair trade certification, they are in the program. Additionally, nothing about the fair trade system is designed to allow the farmers to participate in the upside of the market. There is no real way to make more money. If a farmer operates under the fair trade system, they will not benefit if the price of coffee goes up. With Thrive’s profit sharing model, farmers get the opportunity to monetarily benefit from the market’s upswing.
But Thrive is not just about turning a profit; it’s about nurturing the coffee growing industry and building lasting relationships. Relationships mean everything to Jones, “we are adding real value to our partner’s’ lives, building great relationships and long-term loyalty. If they can make more money selling their coffee somewhere else then we encourage them to do so. We aren’t here to hinder progress; our hope is to recreate the landscape for this industry and help this struggling industry thrive.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.