“Why sharing a similar career path with your partner can be a huge asset”, 5 Leadership Lessons With Rusti Porter of REBBL

Sharing a similar career path with your partner can be a huge asset. I met my husband when we both sold beer in the pubs of San Francisco — we drank a lot of Guinness in those days. I was lucky enough to marry my best friend, and today, we are both still “slinging beverages.” Having a […]

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Sharing a similar career path with your partner can be a huge asset. I met my husband when we both sold beer in the pubs of San Francisco — we drank a lot of Guinness in those days. I was lucky enough to marry my best friend, and today, we are both still “slinging beverages.” Having a partner that “gets” your career gives you not only the support you need but can make you that much more impactful. He has been my partner through life, and my career mentor. He’s the person I run all my ideas by (helping filter out the bad ones and bolstering my courage to get behind the good ones ), and he’s the one who helps me believe in myself every step of the way.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rusti Porter. Rusti is the senior vice president of Brand and Consumer Engagement at REBBL. Rusti has a knack — and impressive track record — for helping build global beverage and food brands, Porter joined REBBL in 2017. Previously, she held executive and management roles at Hershey (Krave Pure Foods), Anchor Distilling, Coca-Cola (Vitaminwater and Smartwater), and Diageo. An intuitive brand builder who’s passionate about creating connections and community through food and beverages, Porter earned an Honors BSBA degree from The Ohio State University. It was REBBL’s commitment to human rights and igniting social change that enticed her to come on board. After nearly 20 nonstop years of helping build and scale brands, Porter had a different project planned: She was ready to trade the boardroom for the barn to oversee the renovation of a 5 1/2-acre farm and a nearly 60-year-old home in Sonoma. She and her husband had purchased The Wolf & Horseshoe farm to serve as not only as their residence but also as a place to create community. She yearned to further connect to the true origins of food and beverage, by soaking up the Slow Food and regenerative agriculture movement that is so prominent in Sonoma County. But both the team at REBBL and the company’s commitment to disrupting the natural products industry, as well as the very idea of business, was too good to pass up. At REBBL, Porter draws on her broad global brand experience — and the dedicated passion and creativity of the REBBL team — to continue to find ways to nourish both people and the planet, use business as a force for good and help create something truly unique in food and beverage.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Rusti! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in Ohio and graduated with honors, with a degree in business from The Ohio State University. Straight out of college, I went to work for a stable, traditional company based in the Midwest, Sherwin-Williams. I was helping implement software systems in their manufacturing plants. Back then, technology was all the rage (I suppose not much has changed!), and we were told that a career in technology was the path to follow for success. I never dreamed back then that beverages would be what took me not only across the country but around the world, from craft beer and luxury spirits to water enhanced with vitamins and, now, functional plant-based beverages made with super herbs and adaptogens.

But that’s exactly what happened. And, as someone who believes in the old adage that everything happens for a reason, this is where I was meant to end up — at REBBL, a start-up beverage brand born from a cause looking for a company, a place where I can help truly make a positive impact on the world.

I’ve lived in Northern California for nearly 20 years now. That paint company job opened my eyes to the pace and excitement of life in the Bay Area, as well as the unique possibilities that exist here. One business trip to a plant in Emeryville (just outside San Francisco), and I was in love — and quickly found a way to join in on the dot-com boom. The buzz of the tech sector and the energy it brought to the city intrigued me, but the few years I spent in the industry never felt real. I wanted a career in something more tangible, something that was part of my life and my community, that my friends and family could relate to.

At that time, a cousin and roommate (who became a mentor) happened to be an executive at PepsiCo. One day, he simply told me, “You are made for the beverage industry.” Sometimes, others know you better than you know yourself.

At the time, I was spending my (limited) free time exploring the bustling bar and restaurant scene in San Francisco, so I started to explore my options. I ended up leaving behind tech to sell light beer, working for a start-up beverage company called Edison Light. It was a craft light beer company. Edison Light was perhaps ahead of its time, but it undoubtedly changed how I viewed opportunities in business — and women in business. The founder was Rhonda Kallman, who previously had co-founded Sam Adams with Jim Koch. I saw firsthand how a fun, courageous, dynamic and smart woman had spotted an opportunity in the market, disrupting what was a very traditional, male-dominated industry. I saw the passion she had and the energy it gave her, and I was inspired and intrigued. September 11 happened just a few short months later, drying up our VC, but regardless of the length of my time there, working with Rhonda taught me more than she will ever know.

I spent the next 16 years working to help small brands find their place in the consumer landscape, while being influenced and inspired by some of the most innovative and successful food and beverage entrepreneurs and aficionados on the planet. I was also being influenced and inspired by the opportunities I had to travel the world.

I have lived in both the UK and South Africa, and have done business in more than 10 countries. Those travels were incredibly rewarding but also very eye-opening. While I was glamorously visiting distilleries and bars in far-flung locales, I also experienced a different view of the world. I saw communities where people were living in poverty, without access to the things we in the Western world often take for granted. I met people who longed for a more dignified life.

And then, it was time to take a break from traditional CPG. I wanted to enjoy a slower way of life on the farm in Sonoma, and I longed for a way to move from marketing to the masses to finding a more meaningful career, one where I could to contribute and give back. Life is what happens when you’re making other plans, and I received a call about REBBL as soon as I was about to trade the boardroom for the barn.

And now, I get to take all I’ve learned along the way and apply it to helping co-create a future without human trafficking, one REBBL Elixir at a time.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading marketing at REBBL?

The most interesting story I have about my time at REBBL is definitely the series of events that led to our trip to Peru and the subsequent film, and that’s all thanks to actor and activist Ruby Rose. Our partnership has a strong synergy — we call Ruby our Chief REBBL Rouser, and she’s actually an investor in our company and part of our REBBL family.

About 2 ½ years ago, she reached out to us — repeatedly and passionately — after discovering REBBL at Whole Foods in Southern California. Naturally, we fell in love, and so did she. The connection was immediate and authentic, and we could never imagine a more perfect partner than Ruby. She is the epitome of a REBBL with a Cause — adaptogens have been part of her life for almost a decade, but even more importantly, we share a common mission.

Ruby is a longtime activist, since traveling to Nepal with a friend who works with survivors of sex trafficking. She has a deep passion and a strong history of working with communities who have been exploited simply because they lack access to opportunities to overcome poverty. She has even traveled to some of the countries where our partner, Not For Sale, has programs in place.

As soon as Ruby officially joined REBBL, we dove into our first strategy session — a daylong team meeting spent brainstorming just how we could bring more awareness to our brand and to the cause, and how we could better share our unique (and complex) founding story. The idea of creating REBBL With a Cause, a short film intended to highlight the very communities that inspired our founding, became the solution. While we didn’t need Ruby to help tell that story, with her support, it surely felt like something we could accomplish. And here we are. We are really excited to share the film, which launched August 20 at a premiere in San Francisco. You can view it here.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

REBBL is unique in that we were created to directly make a social impact. While some companies look for causes — and do good work using that approach — we were born out of a cause looking for a company. Back in 2011, our co-founder, David Batstone, brought together global thought leaders at the Montara Circle, to create an innovative, sustainable business solution to the human trafficking problem in Peru. Dave is also the co-founder of the global nonprofit Not For Sale, which fights human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

What emerged was the idea for REBBL, a new paradigm for business and a cause looking for a company. By directly partnering with Not For Sale, we work toward co-creating a future without human trafficking. This modern-day slavery affects 45.8 million people worldwide. Trafficking is the third-largest and fastest growing illegal industry on the planet, and it’s deeply linked to climate change and supply chains.

REBBL donates a percentage of every bottle sold to Not For Sale, to support regions vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. This year, we reached a major milestone: $1 million in donations to date. We’ve helped uplift over 20,000 survivors of trafficking, having sold more than 20 million Certified Organic Super Herb beverages. Our partnership is uniquely built into the foundation, the very ethos, of our company. Every decision we make ultimately circles back to our cause. We’re profoundly aware of this connection, day in and day out, which helps us approach such challenging work with bold humility.

REBBL is a certified B-Corporation. B Corp Certification through the nonprofit, B Lab, requires a rigorous review process and self-assessment that measures a brand’s commitment to creating positive impact through their accountability and transparency, commitment to social equality, their workers and the environment. The goal of B Lab is to create a community of businesses that consider the impact their practices have on their employees, suppliers, consumers and retailers and the global community and environment at-large. The brand received an Impact Assessment score of 117.3 (on a scale of 80–200) placing it 14 out of 159 in the food and beverage category.

Beyond our work to fight trafficking, we also leverage our purchasing power and use business as a force for good in our supply chainto support communities around the world. Currently we get our organic ingredients from 29 countries, sourced from suppliers who exemplify REBBL values. Not only do our suppliers active support and invest in the well-being of the communities where they operate, but they also have strong relationships with growers.

And, knowing how strong the link between trafficking and climate change is, we fight global warming by continuing to make improvements on the operations side of our business. A major one for us is switching to 100% recycled plastic (rPET, or recycled polyethylene terephthalate) packaging in early 2020, a move that’s virtually unheard of for a company our size, and one we are proud to prioritize.

We are well-aware of how problematic plastic is, especially single-use plastic, but the reality is that we make perishable Elixirs containing delicate super herbs, and currently do not have the option to bottle our elixirs in glass (it’s a combination of food laws, low-acid food packaging challenges, and the perishable nature of super herbs). After some significant research with sustainable packaging experts, we found a viable option in rPET, which comes from plastic that has already been used for packaging.

Recycling is not just about consumers separating used plastics into the right bin. It’s all about the markets for our used goods. As our current United States infrastructure stands, only a small percentage of the country’s ‘recyclables’ actually go through the process because it is cheaper to create new plastic rather than use post-consumer recycled plastic. We aim to incentive the actual recycling by growing the demand for rPET. Our aim is to revolutionize the food industry and create solutions in sustainability!

REBBL is also a leading member of The Climate Collaborative, an initiative of OSC2 and the Sustainable Food Trade Association, which brings together companies to make strides toward reversing global warming.

Finally, Later this year, we’ll publish our inaugural impact report, which features an up-close look at our humble milestones, our works in progress, and the inevitable challenges we faced in 2018. We strive to model a regenerative business, and that starts by investing in and cultivating a more regenerative society within our own company.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

We make functional, delicious plant-based beverages, but at the end of the day, our business is about people. Every ingredient has a story that starts with the farmers and growers. In the heart of the Amazon rainforest, we worked with Not For Sale and a co-operative of Brazil nut growers to use our Banana Nut Protein as a tool to help combat exploitation and deforestation through impact sourcing. A main ingredient in that beverage is Brazil nuts — one of the few products sold globally that helps preserve threatened rainforests. The nuts come from a group of indigenous communities in Madre De Dios, an area of Peru critical to biodiversity on Earth. Brazil nuts cannot be cultivated, and they need a diverse, rich plant community to survive.

One of the Brazil nut growers, Martin, is featured in our film, REBBL with a Cause. Dave Batstone and the Not For Sale team met Martin over a decade ago. Back then, he and others in his community were in debt, beholden to supply-chain middlemen who used illicit loans to control them. Martin collected Brazil nuts nine months a year, but during the months when he wasn’t collecting Brazil nuts — — trying to pay off his debt — he was forced to clear cut the Amazonian rainforest and toil in illegal goldmines. His situation was very common among castañeros, Brazil nut harvesters.

Backed by Not For Sale and REBBL, Martin united 10 indigenous communities into a Brazil nut collecting co-op called AFIMAD. Not for Sale helped them get organic and fair-trade certification so they could command a fair price for more financial stability. Over time the co-op built infrastructure and technology to scale and grow their operations.

The communities now have a school and four boats to transport their harvests, as well as a more secure future that helps insulate them from future exploitation. The growers are now their own supply chain, which they say has helped free them. I met Martin and many of his fellow growers during our trip to Peru, and it was incredibly moving. We saw the improvements that have been ignited by the contributions of Not ForSale and REBBL, but it was also incredibly humbling, as there is still so much more that can be done.

Sourcing wild-harvested Brazil nuts from old-growth trees in the Amazon helps make it financially viable for the local communities to protect the rainforest. The economic success staves off growing domestic and international pressures to convert rainforests into mines, pastures and plantations. That also improves the livelihood of indigenous communities and, in turn, makes them less vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes, there are absolutely ways to help, whether you’re a brand or an individual.

  1. Understand the depth of the issue of trafficking. Dave Batstone started Not For Sale when he learned that modern-day slavery was happening right in his Bay Area neighborhood. None of us is immune to this issue, especially as climate change worsens. When we learn how truly connected we all are, it becomes harder to turn away and do nothing.
  2. Wake up. You may have seen Michelin chef and activist Dominique Crenn’s campaign #wakeup on Instagram. She’s a member of our Collective, a diverse group of people we’ve partnered with to spread the word about our mission and each member of the Collective’s mission. (The Collective was another idea brainstormed with Ruby!) Dominique called on everyone in the food industry — including consumers — to share her social media post and write one thing in the caption that they are going to start doing today to fight the climate emergency. Whether you’re one person or a global brand, you can do one thing to help. Decide what matters to you, become a #REBBLwithacause and share it with the world to help others #wakeup.
  3. Choose with your wallet. Every single time you buy something (or decide to no longer support a brand), you take a stand. If you are financially able, choose brands that are truly giving back and making a difference. If something matters to you, seek out products associated with that cause. Look for brands that are implementing ethical supply chain sourcing, as well as companies that are truly practicing conscious capitalism and looking at more than just the bottom line.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is about inspiring individuals to truly feel comfortable being their independent, unique selves and helping them identify and understand their own strengths, and those of the others around them.

Leadership is about creating synergy: being able to help everyone create the best from collaboration, by harnessing the collective strengths of one another to truly create something that we couldn’t have done on our own.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from some pretty amazing leaders — founders and disruptors in food and beverage. Some common themes stand out among those leaders: humility, grit, risk, vulnerability, belief, passion and confidence. These traits, combined with experience, create the best leaders.

Our Co-Founder, Palo Hawken, is a perfect example of this. He is filled with exceptional creativity, vision, bold humility and vulnerability — always open to hearing new ideas and to being challenged on his own. His humble approach brings forth some of the best collaborative and creative thinking.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Choose a career that focuses on something you are truly passionate about. I was not passionate about paint or manufacturing processes, even though I gave those jobs my best effort. But I am passionate about fine beverages, of all things, and that has gifted me a career full of memorable travel, life-long friends and mentors, as well as experiences and opportunities I never could have imagined. (Including my husband and best friend!)

2. “Luck” is all about preparation, visioning and a little risk. Yes, visioning (or visualization) is a real thing. However you do it — vision boards, mental practice, meditation, daydreaming — it works. When you focus on how you want to feel and put positive energy into the universe, you’ll be amazed at how things start popping up. It all starts when you set an intention.

My husband often tells me I’m the world’s luckiest person. I chirp back that it’s all the hard work and preparation I did before the opportunity presented itself, combined with my willingness to take a chance.

3. Sharing a similar career path with your partner can be a huge asset. I met my husband when we both sold beer in the pubs of San Francisco — we drank a lot of Guinness in those days. I was lucky enough to marry my best friend, and today, we are both still “slinging beverages.” Having a partner that “gets” your career gives you not only the support you need but can make you that much more impactful. He has been my partner through life, and my career mentor. He’s the person I run all my ideas by (helping filter out the bad ones and bolstering my courage to get behind the good ones ), and he’s the one who helps me believe in myself every step of the way.

4. Trust your gut. Women’s intuition is real. The only two times I’ve gone against my gut, it’s proven to me that I shouldn’t ignore my intuition.

5. Hustle! And Leverage what makes you different. It can often be what brings you the most success. When I moved to San Francisco, my hard-working Midwestern values differentiated me from those with better or higher education. I’ll never forget when I got my first promotion at Diageo. I was told it was my because of my hustle, not my smarts (though they said it in a much nicer way)! Back then, I was a woman in an industry traditionally dominated by men. I didn’t look at this as a burden or a disadvantage; I saw it as an opportunity to offer a different perspective, so I leveraged what made me different. That has worked throughout my career.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

Everyone can be their own REBBL with a cause. What inspires you? What do you want to change in the world? Speak up, and speak out about your cause. Be REBBL-ious. The world is counting on you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote from Maya Angelou has always resonated with me: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I use this lens every day and actively think about my interactions with my team, my friends, my family, even strangers. When we can help others feel positive and uplifted, energized or cared for, it carries forward. This positivity can have ripple effects. It can also help nourish our own souls.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Dolly Parton. Hands down. I spent my early years in Tennessee and grew up with country music — the lyrics, the emotion, and the storytelling can deeply impact your soul. She has a voice like no other and a life and story that are truly inspiring. Growing up in a poor, rural family to accomplishing everything that she has today: A singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian… what a lunch that would be!

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This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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