Women in Business: Linda Barron, CEO, Steaz

With over 15 years of executive level experience in Fortune 1000 companies, Linda joined Healthy Beverage, LLC, makers of Steaz® as CFO in 2008. After five years of leadership and a proven track record of success, Linda was appointed CEO of in October 2013. As CEO, Linda has proven her abilities in strategic and operational business planning, including supply chain management, and has demonstrated a strong understanding of the organic beverage market. A Summa Cum Laude graduate from King's College, Linda is passionate about expanding and developing Steaz's triple bottom line business philosophy of people, planet and ethical profitability.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I could write a novel on this topic! I credit my parents and grandparents for instilling a strong work ethic in me, starting with farm chores like feeding the horses and cleaning their stalls at age 9. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I ended up going to college on a dare, graduating with a criminal justice degree with a strong desire to be an FBI agent. This was followed by law school, dropping out of law school, starting a commercial and residential cleaning business, getting married, selling the business, moving to another state, opening a trade school certified by the state board of education, selling that business, moving "back home", starting another commercial and residential cleaning business, having children, selling the second business, getting divorced, going back to school, passing the CPA exam, on the first attempt and then consistently moving up the ranks at large publicly held companies before finally landing at Steaz in pursuit of work/life balance. Through it all, I learned how to build a good team of staff. I am tough but fair. Anyone on my team will verify that. I expect a lot of myself and those around me. However, I have never asked anyone to do something I myself have not done. It is about earning respect, giving respect in return and keeping it all in perspective.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Steaz?
I love to learn. In any position I have ever held, I have always sought out individuals smarter than me or with a background and experience different than mine. And in almost every position I have held, it was always "baptism by fire," where on Day 1 you are already knee deep in the mess. I truly believe it is the best way to learn.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Steaz?
Being appointed CEO in October 2013 is definitely a highlight, but even more important to me is the success the company achieved in 2014. We had our best year ever with 43% growth on our net sales line and today, Steaz is cash flow positive for the first time in company history. Challenges? There have been many. I started with Steaz in 2008 as the Director of Finance, CFO really, being the highest ranking financial person in the organization. In 5 years I worked for 3 different CEOs, each having their own vision, each bringing the company down a different path. But despite any challenges, the brand has not only survived but thrived. Just this year we've announced an exciting new partnership with Superbowl champion and star cornerback for the New England Patriots Darrelle Revis, and we also launched four new delicious flavors we're really thrilled to offer our fans -Lightly Sweetened Grapefruit Honey, Unsweetened Passionfruit, Unsweetened Dragonfruit and Zero Calorie Goji Blackberry. I am so thankful to be a part of a quality brand with real integrity trying to make a difference one beverage at a time.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Be laser-focused on your path. Spend every dollar as if it is coming out of your family's pocket (because it is) and don't quit. You will be presented with many "shiny new toys", that may at first appear exciting but sit back and ask yourself, why am I attracted to this? Is this in the best interest of my business? What goal does this help accomplish? And when you feel like giving up, don't. Dig inside and push through. It may sound cliché but a new day will bring a new perspective and with it, renewed energy.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
How to evaluate risks. This gives you the ability to make decisions confidently. You cannot be paralyzed by choice.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This one is truly difficult, at least for me anyway. I have always worked a significant number of hours and I actually thrive on it but I know I am a better me if I pull myself out. So I force myself to do that from time to time. I love nature and I love to walk. I am fortunate that I live in an area with trees and open spaces so I go out and I walk often. It clears my head, gives me perspective and I usually work out a thing or two in my mind regarding business issues without even being conscious of it.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
This response is not going to be popular but I think women have to work harder and longer than men, especially when they first start in their careers. They need to prove their commitment to their career. The perception is that men will stay in the workforce long-term and that women will leave at some point, particularly if they decide to have children. I believe this results in women not being promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It has given me confidence. Some people know from a very young age exactly what they want to do. I was not one of those people. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I was given some good advice when I was young, which being young, I chose to ignore. It took a number of years but when I finally found my path, I was lucky enough to also find a mentor who gave me confidence. I have never looked back.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire all women who were the first in their chosen fields - medicine, teaching, politics, the military. It takes courage to blaze a trail, to keep going when others say you can't or shouldn't. To all those women, I say thank you for your perseverance and for the opportunities that I have today.

What do you want Steaz to accomplish in the next year?
I want Steaz to be an industry leader in educating consumers about the importance of buying Fair Trade products. Fair Trade is buying products at a fair price. In Steaz' case, sourcing ingredients from farms that pay their workers a fair wage, not simply the least they can get away with. By purchasing fair trade products, we support families and improve their lives. Children have the ability to go to school or seek medical or dental care and everyone, both business and community benefits.