Blair Kellison has been chief executive officer of Sebastopol-based Traditional Medicinals (707-823-8911, traditionalmedicinals.com) since mid-2008, becoming the nearly four-decade-old medicinal-tea maker's first leader who wasn't a founder.Question-and-answer articles with conference speakers.Keynote speakerWalter Robb, Whole Foods MarketSpecial speakersKaren Ross, California Department of Food and AgricultureEllen Feeney, Naturally BoulderPanelistsMarcus Benedetti, Clover StornettaNeal Gottlieb, Three Twins Ice CreamBlair Kellison, Traditional MedicinalsMike Leventini, Petaluma Poultry ProcessorsCarolyn Stark, Sonoma County BEST
[caption id="attachment_83295" align="alignright" width="200"] Blair Kellison[/caption]
In that time, he's helped guide a company that is the nation's fifth-largest seller of bagged tea and the No. 1 seller of organic and fair-trade tea. It has 11 percent annual growth in U.S. tea sales and 33 percent market share in medicinal tea.
Previously, Mr. Kellison was president for Natural Snacks in Berkeley for two and a half years, business development manager for Fantastic Foods for two years when it was based in Petaluma, a brand manager for Nestle for four years and a CPA with Ernst & Young for nearly eight years.
Mr. Kellison is set to be among the speakers on the "Building a Support Network" panel at the North Coast Food & Agriculture Industry Conference in Santa Rosa on Thursday.What food businesses are best-suited to the North Bay?
BLAIR KELLISON: In general, companies choose locations for their bottom line, and employees choose location to live for quality of life. Every geographical location has a unique point on these two axes. The companies that are best-suited for the North Bay are the ones that fit on the North Bay's location on these two axes.
These would typically be companies whose ownership values quality of life and are looking to attract employees who also value quality of life. These are typically transparent organizations that are mission driven and are corporately responsible citizens. I live in Northern California because I value quality of life and I will only work for a company that also cares about quality of life.
As a board member of Sonoma County BEST [Building Economic Success Together], we have identified the specialty food industry as fitting squarely on Sonoma County's location on these two axes of cost of doing business and quality of life for employees. These companies offer a higher-quality product, employ corporate social responsibility and market their products to consumers across the U.S. who value quality, transparency and corporate social responsibility in their food purchases.What helped and hindered the business in getting started and growing?
MR. KELLISON: Traditional Medicinals is a 39-year overnight success! The company pioneered herbal medicinal tea in 1974 and has spent the past 39 years educating consumers about the healing power of plants.
Nothing has come easy for the company. From financing to regulatory constraints, it has been a long slow struggle to get to where it is today. Its success is the result of many dedicated people over many years with one constant -- the leadership of its co-founder and majority owner, Drake Sadler.
If a company has nine lives, Drake Sadler has used all nine to get Traditional Medicinals to where it is today. Each day, my executive team and I stand on his shoulders and the shoulders of all those who have come to the company before us.
And after all these years of hard work, that view is now quite magnificent. Over the last five years, the company has experienced the greatest expansion in its 39-year history.