Establish a healthy rhythm and stick to it. Especially with today’s social and work dynamics, being easy to blur, I feel it works best to create a clear weekly rhythm and try to stick to that schedule.
For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Hanson.
Erika Hanson is the founder of Suu Kuu, a wellness apothecary offering products for modern life. For over 30 years, she has been an advocate of the healing and restorative powers of plants, and Suu Kuu was born out of Erika’s own lifelong experiences with herbalism. After the birth of her second child, she developed chronic fatigue and psoriasis which drove her to create healing formulas to restore her natural balance.
Suu Kuu offers a line of high-quality, organic products that leverage the potent healing properties of plant medicine and convey a reverence for nature. With a unique understanding of the physical and spiritual properties of plants, Erika is committed to supporting local farms, using the purest ingredients, and educating consumers about preventive health. All of this manifests in Suu Kuu’s highly specialized, effective offering of plant-based formulas for holistic well-being.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
During early childhood I lived with my grandmother who is an avid organic gardener, homesteader, and herbalist. From there I moved with my mother to a rural town in Michigan where we had two neighboring lands. One was owned by an Amish community, and the other plot of land was used by a commercial farm. I was very connected to the land there and was a highly observant child. During that time I was fascinated with the way the Amish lived and the way they interacted with the land. This difference was especially highlighted by a few extreme situations that I witnessed on the other side with the monocrop farm. I watched my small dog drink from the puddle off the edge of the corn field and fall over dead as he was running back to me. On another occasion, I was playing outdoors as a farmer was spraying his crop. He got off the tractor to fix something at the back of the tank and it somehow leaked onto him. He then came running to our yard to rinse his chemical burning skin in my kiddie pool. These experiences were in high contrast with my grandmother’s garden and the land our Amish neighbors cultivated, and spurred me towards anthroposophical studies, herbalism, and the awareness of growing practices. For a long time I was not sure my place to share these interests but now it makes sense, and I can see how these early experiences create an important foundation for quality and sustainable sourcing in our company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
A couple years ago we lived in Finland for the summer and while we were there I fell in love with a delicious, sparkling mineral beverage. At that time I was wishing that we could continue to drink them when we got back to the states. I must have told my husband so many times how heartbroken I was to be leaving my beloved beverage of choice. Soon after we returned home to the U.S. we were introduced to a co-packer and food scientist who made it possible for us to formulate our own line of mineral beverages! It was at that time we expanded the Suu Kuu product line and introduced our very own Hemp Tonics. It seemed like everything happened with such ease to allow us to make our own version of those drinks that I loved in Finland. Of course I like our version even more, but when I drink them I feel like I have a little Finnish treat with me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We were preparing to release a line of Ayurvedic based formulas, which were all named after Himalayan peaks, one of which is called Turquoise Goddess. Despite many rounds of proofreading, the label for that product went to print with a typo, and it wasn’t buried in the fine print! Emblazoned across the beautiful bronze label, it read, “Turquoisde Goddess!” We followed with a corrected reprint, but to this day, our team still refers to that Daily Massage Oil as “Turquoisde.” It’s kinda fun to say!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are a few things that set us apart: the close connection to our farmers, our small team of mostly women, our attention to detail in user experience, and our intentional approach in the process of production.
We have actually heard many moving stories of how our formulas have affected people’s daily lives. Those are always affirming to hear. From being able to sleep again after many months of insomnia to being able to move freely after many months of pain, each of the personal stories that we hear affirm that Suu Kuu puts health and well being at the forefront of our output.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are about to release a throat spray that I formulated with a musician, Jacki Warren, It is designed for singers and public speakers. I hope this will help many share their message and allow different perspectives to be heard.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Focus on your own health first, because the areas you focus your attention on can only be as healthy as you are. Make sure you leave time to tend to yourself and the things that you love in life. I have found that as a result, the work you give comes from a better place and can feel more efficiently executed. I also work with my cycle to find more natural rhythms of energy, organizing tasks, meetings, and development to be in concert with my internal clock.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
This is hard for me to imagine since our team is still quite small, but I would say treat your team as a family. Regular check-ins and group meditations would be a way to offer care and connection. Take time early on to curate the right group of people. Human design is a great tool to get insight on the way an individual might work best within the company. It could give an additional view other than first impression and what you see on a resume.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Our friend Pam has been an endless fountain of support. During the early stages of the business, she helped us find connections and establish relationships within the community. She has provided financial support and advising, human design readings for our company, and eventually, she worked as our realtor in finding our home in the forest of northern Michigan, which is now the site of our fledgling biodynamic farm for Suu Kuu. I am so grateful for her and others who believe in the visions of others and share their passion with true authenticity.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We have been able to raise money to give to nonprofits working to end racial and environmental injustices.
In addition, I hope that our formulas can offer support and help inspire individuals to live a more balanced life.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
– Move through mistakes with grace and acceptance. There will always be mistakes that come along. It is best to accept those situations and see them as a place to learn and grow. This will allow you to be stronger and wiser in your work.
-Know your customer. Before Covid we were intentional to meet with our customers and community as often as possible. This allowed us to hear the stories and needs of our customers first hand. Because of this we have great insight on how we fit into their lives and how we can improve to offer them more help in the future.
-Communicate clearly and openly with your team. Poor communication is my number one frustration in business. I feel that so many mistakes can be avoided with regular and clear communication. This also helps to establish trust which is important.
-Establish a healthy rhythm and stick to it. Especially with today’s social and work dynamics, being easy to blur, I feel it works best to create a clear weekly rhythm and try to stick to that schedule.
-it might not be possible to have an exact work life balance, but to be fully present in whatever one you are engaging with is of great importance
There is a need for more presence and connection in our physical world and our inner world. It is important to take intentional time outside of the connections of social platforms and work to be present with our family, friends, business associates, and with ourselves without the distractions of various unrelated networks. This kind of intention allows deeper soul connections that we are so in need of, resulting in the energy needed to give to our work when that time is at hand.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like people to have more autonomy for their health and see a movement for a more preventative mindset. This extends beyond healthcare into education, media, and food systems. I hope people can feel more empowered to have a vision for and to take control of their healthcare, questioning the master narrative, doing more of their own research, and being open to more traditional, holistic, and compassionate protocols for treatment.
In addition, I would love to see less division in the world. It is a gift to hear others’ perspectives and embrace differences. That is the only way to grow and as we can take time to listen to others we might realize our differences are not so great.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When I let go of what I am I become what I might be” Lao Tzu
This has been truly impactful, because through this way of thinking I have been able to step out of past patterns and limitations and step into the realm of pure possibility. For a long time I let the trauma and hardship of early childhood define me, but once I was able to let go of that I was able to step into my worth more empowered. Being grounded in the present, rather than the past, allows me to openly receive the situations that shape future events.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Probably Lacy Phillips or Dr. Joe Dispenza. I use both of their work for meditation and personal growth, and feel that they have contributed immensely to my well being on a deep level. I am very thankful for them, and would love to enrich my relationship to these important teachers of mine with true personal connection. The intimacy of sharing a meal is such a special experience, full of vulnerability, pleasure, and wonderful awkwardness.