The Art of Tea Appreciation
Last friday I was privileged to attend the ‘dry run’ opening of T-House at Harbourside Markets on the Gold Coast. I was invited by the owners who commissioned me to design their T-House in this temple to fine food. I had previously designed their chocolate lounge Chocolatto, in the same gourmet food precinct, and so I was well versed in the level of finish they were after. I had intimated to the owners, Amanda and Rick Casagrande, that I may not be able to take on the project as our commitments to The Next Big Think were ramping up. In fact, in my mind I had decided to not take on the project, as I wanted to ensure that I was fully focused on the task at hand of growing our gifting business.
The gist of the project was to create Dilmah’s first Australian licensed T-House. When Rick sent me an article about the owner of Dilmah, Merrill J Fernando and I read his story I knew that I HAD to be involved in this project. It is only now after seeing the whole project come together and sitting down to ‘high tea’ with Rick and Amanda and their next door neighbours, Jeff and Theresa, who actually introduced them to Merrill that I have really understood the great significance of everything.
Merrill and Goliath
When I read Merrill J Fernando’s story, as he was awarded a very special and long overdue accolade, a Lifetime Achievement Award, by LMD, Sri Lanka’s most significant and respected business journal. I was immediately touched and inspired to work with such a giant of the tea industry but also a man with an enormous heart. Merrill began his career at a time when the tea industry was carefully guarded by multinational companies who’s aim was profit, where different grades of tea from different parts of the world were blended and the idea of creating a superior single origin tea was foreign. Merrill began his family business, naming it after his two sons, Dilhan and Malik, and from the beginning he has seen his business as a matter of human service, championing Integrity – Quality, Freshness, Authenticity and Ethics – in tea.
Merrill’s love for tea led him to innovate in three very important areas – he launched the first producer owned tea brand in 1988, in his desire to offer authenticity he pioneered the concept of single origin tea, and packing tea garden fresh, at source. These initiatives were not easy for Merrill’s struggle pitched him against corporations many times the size of his tiny and fledgling business, and it brought him into conflict with his peers and government who did not share his belief that tea could be picked, packed and shipped direct from origin by growers themselves.
Read the article here: 2011 – LMD Dec ’11 issue – MJF Lifetime Achievement Award
Business As A Matter Of Human Service
Dilmah is the world’s first truly Ethical Tea, going beyond Fair Trade, in that all packaging profits are retained in Sri Lanka and fund the MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation.
The MJF Charitable Foundation represents an alternative economic model, and it is much more than a charity because it represents a genuinely sustainable and fair way of doing business. This ‘way’ acknowledges that social justice and the environment are integral elements in any business process. Not as options and not as part of a marketing led Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy but as a core feature of the business objectives. Their commitment to making their business a matter of human service is fulfilled by changing lives in a sustainable and dignified manner.
The Dilmah Conservation is working towards more sustainable use of the environment in partnership with IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Dilmah Conservation initiative aims to foster respect for the environment and ensure its protection by encouraging a harmonious co-existence of man and nature.
From their humble beginnings Dilmah’s vision for business was before their time in their nurturing and respect of people and the environment.
High tea is a very British ritual that I hadn’t experienced before last friday. As I sat there amongst people I admire and others I had met for the first time, as the afternoon sun filtered through, I felt great joy sitting there and being part of this moment. As I sat there feeling ‘high’ I began to appreciate the culture of tea, its ritual and how it brings people together. And as I did this I contemplated the journey that has taken me to this moment and smiled. Unwittingly, as we decided to launch our greeting card ranges at the beginning of the year, having the opportunity to be exposed to the energy of a man I am yet to meet, had a huge influence in the direction of the business we were creating.
Visions of GREENdeur
As Heidi and I discussed the direction of our business, reading and being part of the Dilmah story, we made the decision that we wanted to ‘give back’ through our business from the beginning. There were to be no ‘when’ we have an income of x dollars, etc. We made the decision that we weren’t merely publishers entering the gift industries, instead we were to be agents of change. Everything we do, everything we write, everyone we speak to, everything we initiate in our business has the potential to create great change. Merrill has become our ‘poster boy’ of what can be done when one has a clear vision and works from the heart, not necessarily thinking about what one can get at the expense of others.
Visions of GREENdeur has become integral to who we are as a business. It is our driving force to create and innovate the giving industry. Visions of GREENdeur is our vision to transform the island of Madagascar that has lost 90% of its forest cover yet is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth into the paradise it once was. Merrill has stated that, “you cannot convince a poor and hungry man the need for conservation”. Planting trees helps some of the world’s poorest people out of poverty with dignity by giving them employment and a way to better their lives.
It’s High Time
The phrase ‘It’s high time’ comes from the ritual of high tea and means the latest possible moment that you can do something to create change. We are at that moment where we need to not just talk about helping the environment but take action. As many businesses face financial ruin in such economically uncertain times, it is more important than ever to remember the reason why as a retailer you went into business and to remember that businesses are about people and creating an environment where we all prosper. In the second part of this blog I discuss how if we take on Merrill’s philosophy and example that businesses are a matter of human service we may in fact create a sustainable business. A business that not only thrives but one that reminds us of the reasons we entered the gift industry to begin with.
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