By Marygrace Sexton, CEO of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company
When I was a small child, one of my favorite things to do on a crisp fall morning was to hop on my bicycle and ride up and down the streets of our neighborhood. I would go for miles and miles, always trying to see how fast and far that small, worn out bike could take me before it was time to go home.
That bicycle wasn’t even my own. I had to borrow it from my brother because our family was poor and we couldn’t afford individual bikes. And while my little bike trips were a great distraction from the harsh realities of my childhood, I never imagined that my childhood passion for riding would have such an impact on me years later, both personally and professionally.
My company’s story begins in our family groves where my husband is a fourth generation citrus grower. We always dreamed of producing juice that is squeezed fresh, so when my daughter Natalie was born, we decided to turn this dream into a reality. Fast forward 27 years and we are still at it – with Natalie herself working full time with at the company as the Director of Marketing.
I am known for being a hard-driving, results-oriented boss. That will never change. However, at one point in my career I was also known as a workaholic.
Thankfully, my younger brother Bil decided to step in and conduct what my kids now call “the cycling intervention.” Bil knew I was working too hard and was at risk of losing everything to my career.
Knowing that I had loved bicycling as a child, Bil dropped a bike off in my garage one day to see if it would inspire me to take up riding again. He had attempted similar, not so subtle, hints in the past, insinuating I needed to get a hobby. Once he parked a jet ski at our boat dock, another time it was a motorcycle in the driveway. I ended up giving both of these items away.
But, Bil’s bike trick actually worked. Remembering the thrill I had experienced as a child of riding fast and free, I began taking outings on it. This eventually led me to joining Bil on rides and being introduced to the world of road cycling. One of our marketing employees was a racing cyclist and we were soon taking training sessions with him right after work. It wasn’t long before I was picking out a new, professional bike model and signing-up for my first Century Ride, a grueling 100 mile excursion and a challenge that I soon grew to love.
I fully embraced this new outlet, something other than my business, where I could express my competitive nature. I was still striving to be number one – the fastest and the best, but for once my energy was being focused on an activity other than juice production. It was a humbling experience for me, because I was starting at the bottom and working my way up in an entirely new endeavor.
Cycling has made me a better wife, mother, sister and CEO. I see clearly now that physical competition can be fun. It can be educational. And it’s an important counterbalance to that part of my mind that only seems to focus on business.
Here’s what cycling has taught me about owning a business:
1. Your staff is the chain of your company.
Much like the metal links of your bicycle chain transferring your pedal action to the back wheel, it is your team’s cohesiveness that will ultimately drive your company forward.
2. Going uphill is difficult, but the most rewarding.
Much like the challenge of biking up a hill, when you come across obstacles blocking the path to your business success, it can be frustrating, painful and sometimes tempt you to call it quits. But ultimately, these challenges will make you stronger – both on a bike, and in your business. And the view is always better from the top.
3. Be flexible.
Even though you’re trading in your spandex for heels, being flexible in your business is a necessity. You never know what might come up and it’s up to you as a business owner to conquer whatever may come your way.
4. What goes around comes around.
Much like the way a bike tire is circular, so ultimately is life. The tire is a humbling reminder that what goes around, comes around. That’s why, paying it forward is a chief tenant of our mission at Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, and we make it a point to give back to the local community that helped put us on the map.
5. You can never be certain of the path ahead.
Planning is important in business and cycling. As much as you might prepare, one thing is for sure: you’ll never truly know what’s lurking on the path ahead, whether it’s rocky or paved, smooth sailing or pot holed. Nonetheless, just as on a bike hike, you need to push forward through whatever conditions you face.
Marygrace Sexton is founder and CEO of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, a Florida based, women-owned, family run business with sales in 34 states and 22 countries. Since 1989, the company has been squeezing only the highest quality, fresh Florida citrus juices and blends.