Selflessness and Humility are Key Ingredients, Cindi Bigelow Says

A woman speaks into a mic she's holding while a student looks on Image by Ed Brennen
Bigelow Tea President and CEO Cindi Bigelow, right, answers a question from senior business major Kristen Reardon, left, during her recent talk on leadership at University Crossing.

By Ed Brennen

Cindi Bigelow “barely remembers” some of the courses she took in college. But as the president and CEO of family-owned Bigelow Tea, the nation’s leading specialty tea maker, she routinely relies on the discipline, work ethic and people skills that she developed as a student.

“There’s so much you can get from every class, even if you’re wondering, ‘Where am I going to use this later in life?’” Bigelow told UMass Lowell students during a recent visit to campus. “You’re given an amazing opportunity here with all these classes in front of you.”

Bigelow shared the leadership lessons she’s learned with close to 100 students, alumni, faculty and staff at University Crossing — and many more tuning in online for the livestream. The talk was co-sponsored by the Manning School of Business, the Donahue Center for Business Ethics, the Office of Alumni Relations and the student organization Joy Tong Women in Business.

“That was probably one of the best talks I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve been to plenty. She was so inspiring,” said senior business major Kristen Reardon, a Joy Tong Women in Business member who moderated the discussion along with Assoc. Prof. of Management Erica Steckler, co-director of the Donahue Center.

In introducing Bigelow, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney noted that the company’s Mint Medley and Chamomile Mint teas have brought her “great comfort” during the past two-plus years of the pandemic.

A woman laughs on stage while a woman stands at a podium and a seated woman looks on Image by Ed Brennen
Bigelow Tea President and CEO Cindi Bigelow, center, enjoys a laugh alongside Assoc. Prof. of Management Erica Steckler, right, as she's introduced by Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.

“There were a few sleepless nights, thinking and worrying about all of you,” Moloney told students. “One of the things we forget about is self-care. Especially as women, we put others first, and the self-care goes last.”

Moloney highlighted similarities between Bigelow Tea and UML — women-led organizations with strong commitments to sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion — and said the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company exemplifies “how a company can be greatly successful and also be great to their employees and their community.”

Founded by Bigelow’s grandmother in 1945, Bigelow Tea produces over 2 billion tea bags a year and has 450 employees. As the third generation of her family to lead the company, Bigelow said it was a “blessing” that her father made her work her way up through the ranks for two decades in several different departments, starting with accounting.

“I had to work hard to become a leader. It wasn’t just because I had a name, ‘Here you go, honey,’” said Bigelow, who took the company reins in 2005.

A young woman wearing a face covering stands at a microphone to ask a question while people in the room look on Image by Ed Brennen
First-year business major Ellie Bancroft asks Cindi Bigelow what advice she would have given to her future self.

Asked what qualities the company looks for when hiring an employee, Bigelow started with selflessness and humility.

“We look for someone that’s trying to make the organization better, who puts mission over self, whatever the position. Those are the ones that are going to get ahead,” she said. “If you bring out the best in the people around you, everyone wants to work with you.”

Bigelow added that some leaders rely solely on their title to get others to follow them.

“But that’s not a great way to live your life. People are going to want you to succeed if you’re taking them with you,” she said. “Make a difference, care about the person next to you, and do the right thing, even when no one’s looking.”

Ellie Bancroft, a first-year business major from Georgetown, Massachusetts, left the talk feeling inspired.

“Do the right thing and do it for the right reasons — I think that’s so important for students to hear,” she said.