“When I was growing up on a farm in Maine, [my brothers and I] we were always finding a way to raise some money because if we wanted a bike or anything our parents weren’t going to buy it for us because it was a luxury.
We were always doing some time of job. We used to sell seeds door to door and during Christmas time we’d make wreaths off branches my dad cut when he was in the logging business.
This leads me into a strong life lesson: When I was 12, we had all these vegetables that had grown in our garden and we’d can them for winter because we never went to the store. I remember my mother saying to my brothers and I that if we could find a way to produce more vegetables than we needed to survive we could sell them. Being entrepreneurs, my two brothers and I took the challenge on and came up with this thing called ‘super manure.’ We put chicken manure in big barrels and added water, let the water sit, and mixed it up really well to make this organic fertilizer that we used on vegetables.
We ended up producing so many vegetables that it wasn’t long before we had a roadside stand. My mother bought us a little scale and we set it all up, and we were sitting and waiting for our first customer with all kinds of fresh green beans, tomatoes and cucumbers.
My mother watched as our first customer bought some beans—this stuck with me forever, to this day— and she took out the scale that we had with the beans, weighed them and put them in the paper bag. Just before we closed the bag, my mother opened it back up and put another handful in there. The person smiled and said ‘thank you’ and the next day came back to get more. She said, ‘Always give them a little more than they expect to pay for and they’ll always come back.’
She also said to make sure we sell the best vegetables because the ones that are not so good-looking could be canned and nobody would know the difference, but image was important, so we always had to make sure what we were selling looked great.
There are all kinds of life lessons in the early days, but I think all of them make an impression and create this approach that we have later in life. Not just with jobs, but with people and how you go about dealing with people. The things that really stay with me are honesty and integrity and always going above and beyond what people expect—then you can never go wrong. That’s been true to this day.”
—As told to Melanie Pagan