Christine Wheeler is the founder and CEO of Drazil Foods, which produces Drazil Kids Tea, the first ready-to-drink herbal tea & juice blend for kids. Christine spent most of her career in Consumer Packaged Goods, mainly at Procter & Gamble. Prior to getting her MBA from the Wharton School of Business, her adventurous spirit led her to work as a management consultant in Warsaw Poland where she helped restructure state owned enterprises. She enjoys spending time with her husband and four kids hiking, biking, traveling and drinking tea!
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I am very fortunate to have two loving and supportive parents who gave me the best gift of all - confidence. Growing up I knew there were other people more intelligent than me. It seemed I always had to work harder than other kids in my class. My parents complimented me often on my work ethic and supported my efforts. As I continued to see my hard work pay off, it motivated me to dream bigger and reach for larger goals. I love experiencing new cultures and I have traveled extensively around the world and lived in both Poland and Japan. Over the years, I've been thrown into a lot of uncomfortable situations. While difficult at the time, I have learned a lot about people and myself. All these experiences have given me a broad perspective and an open-mind -which I believe are traits important for a leader. I am a 'glass is half full' type of person and I normally focus on people's strengths. Motherhood has also added to my understanding of leadership. I have four children, with our last being adopted from China. Each one is so different and I find that the process of figuring out what motivates each of them is similar to understanding how best to lead a diverse team.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Drazil Foods?
From waiting tables to running a $400MM business, I feel all of my previous employment experiences have prepared me for starting my own business. I loved working from a very early age. My dad started his own business when I was 7 years old and I was eager to help where I could, even if it meant stuffing envelopes. While it took several years for the business to take off, it was exciting to see his vision and hard work lead to success. From elementary school through college I worked at a variety of jobs from babysitting, working in retail and waitressing. These jobs helped me hone my people and selling skills, critical for starting your own business. I was working at Santa Fe Railway after college when the wall in Eastern Europe came down. I heard they were hiring consultants and I decided that's what I wanted to do. Given my lack of business experience, it took me 9 months to convince a company to let me come work for them for free. Persistence pays off. In 1991 I was part of a team restructuring state owned enterprises in Poland. My experience there taught me the importance of collaborating as a team, especially in such an unstructured and chaotic environment. I consider Procter & Gamble, however, as one of my most influential jobs as I learned how to market and run a business. I enjoy new experiences and there hasn't been a job that I haven't liked. The best one yet, however, has been the development of Drazil Kids Tea.
What have the highlights and challenges been when founding Drazil Foods?
While I have a long list of challenges and highlights, my proudest moment came in one of the company's darkest hours. We had a major setback right at launch. The delay would be at least 6 months and make us lose all the momentum we had going. Most teams would have fallen apart at this moment, especially given the long road it took us to get to this point. Not the Drazil team. We pulled together, figured out what we had to do, and then invested a lot of additional time to get it done. I had such a sense of pride, knowing that I had a great team and that we created a product that we all believed in.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Do your homework first. Understand the market you are entering, the consumer need and the current competition. Don't be dismayed if you find a similar product but make sure you understand how your product or service can compete and win against the competition.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
As I write this I am gearing up to move my family and business from Minnesota to California. The combination of a new business, four kids, busy husband, renting houses on both ends and figuring out life in a new community does not leave much time to breathe. Having said that, I am a master at prioritizing what is important to me. My focus now is my family and business. I feel like I am succeeding in these areas as my kids are happy and motivated, my marriage strong, and my business is doing well. In ten years, when my kids are older and my business established, I hope to focus more on friendships, exercise and several personal projects.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I feel one of the biggest challenges women face is the expectation to do well in all areas of their multi-faceted lives. In general, men are judged by how well they do in their careers, while women are judged by how well they excel with family, friends, 'looking their best', and if they work, their career. As per the answer above, it's a struggle to find enough time in the week to focus on them all!
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was fortunate to work for and become friends with my direct manager at Procter & Gamble. She has been a great role model for me over the last 18 years. She was able to raise three happy and successful children while also building businesses at P&G and several other companies. Her advice over the years has been invaluable.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many but a few that are top of mind include: Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah, Mother Teresa, Michelle Obama, and the many women who have started their own businesses. They all share a passion to reach their goal and make the world a better place to live. I admire their passion, hard work, courage to be different, and persistence, despite the obstacles faced.
What do you want Drazil Foods to accomplish in the next year?
Introduce more kids to herbal tea! With our initial angel investment, we worked hard to get the concept and product right and prove it out in market. Once we confirmed our ready-to-drink, caffeine-free herbal tea was well received, we took the next step. Our launch in Northern California helped us better understand the marketing expenditures needed to generate trial and awareness. Now we are in the process of expanding Drazil Kids Tea and getting the word out that Drazil is refreshing, delicious and oh-so healthy!