A new take on the story of green businesses -- Gazette.Net


A couple years ago, Seth Goldman perused numerous books on building a sustainable, green business and found them uninspiring.

“They all seemed to be preachy and repetitive,” said Goldman, president and co-founder of Bethesda beverage company Honest Tea.

His oldest high school-age son was reading more comic books than textbooks. So Goldman, who has long thought “outside the box” in building his company, decided to check out a graphic novel.

“I found myself very absorbed and engaged,” said Goldman, who also serves as his company’s TeaEO. “I realized that we needed to find a way to make a book about mission-driven businesses come alive.”

The result, “Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently — and Succeeding,” hits bookstores Sept. 3. Written with Honest Tea co-founder and Yale professor Barry Nalebuff, much of the book is in two-color, comic-book style, illustrated by New York graphic artist Sungyoon Choi.

“Readers shouldn’t have to work that hard to learn something,” Goldman said Thursday, sitting in a glass-enclosed conference room with his customary casual attire in Honest Tea’s downtown Bethesda corporate headquarters. “I hope it is fun to read, and people find it engaging and inspiring.”

Offering something different

Getting a book accepted by a major New York publishing house these days can be as challenging as building a business from scratch. While electronic books continue to gain more of the industry’s market share, print sales are still growing in areas such as adult general fiction and nonfiction, according to the Association of American Publishers.

A literary agent helped Goldman and Nalebuff set up meetings with major publishers in New York.

“Random House jumped on it,” Goldman said. “We had something different.” The book was published by Crown Business, an imprint of Random House division Crown Publishing Group.

To find Choi, Nalebuff asked a friend in the arts to recommend the work of top illustrators. Choi, who illustrated “American Widow,” a graphic memoir detailing author Alissa Torres’ experience losing her spouse to the 2001 terrorist attacks, emerged as their top choice.

Goldman and Nalebuff start a cross-country speaking and book-signing tour next month. On Sept. 4, Goldman will travel to San Francisco to speak at a conference organized by Social Capital Markets. He will be at Washington bookstore Politics & Prose on Sept. 10 and Barnes & Noble in Bethesda on Sept. 12, with many more events running for several months that are listed on a promotional website.

Proceeds of sales at the events will go to charity, such as the Barnes & Noble one going to local business organization Bethesda Green. “That ties in with our mission,” Goldman said.

Their book is not all in comic form, but includes narratives on lessons and advice to budding business titans.

“The biggest message I’d like to get across to young entrepreneurs is to pick something you are passionate about and care about,” Goldman said.

The Coca-Cola Co. purchased a 40 percent stake of Honest Tea in 2008 and bought the rest of the company in 2011, but Honest Tea remains an independent business unit. Sales are expected to reach more than $100 million this year, up from $38 million in 2008, while the number of employees has grown to 117 from 87 five years ago, Goldman said.

The number of stores company products are in has risen from 15,000 to some 100,000 during the past five years, he said, as the beverage giant’s market reach has sparked that development.

“We’re getting our tea and other beverages into national restaurant chains, which is very exciting,” Goldman said. “It’s been a really positive alliance to help us take the company to the next level.”

Other Montgomery business execs turned authors

Goldman’s book is one of a few written by Montgomery County business executives released this year. J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., executive chairman of Bethesda hotel giant Marriott International, penned “Without Reservations: How a Family Root Beer Stand Grew Into a Global Hotel Company,” published by Luxury Custom Publishing.

“I wrote this book because I wanted to share the values that have made Marriott successful,” Marriott said in a video on the book’s promotional website. “First and foremost, we put people first.”

John S. Hendricks, founder and executive chairman of Silver Spring broadcasting company Discovery Communications, recently released “A Curious Discovery: An Entrepreneur’s Story,” published by HarperCollins. Hendricks said he wrote the book on the urging of numerous people who thought the story of a relative outsider building the broadcasting giant was compelling.

Curiosity and belief in what he was doing were major driving forces in dealing with the highs and lows involved, he said. “I believed so strongly in the concept of what we were trying to create,” Hendricks said.

William A. Haseltine, founder of Rockville biotech Human Genome Sciences, authored “Affordable Excellence: The Singapore Health System,” published by the Brookings Institution Press and National University of Singapore Press.

The federal health care reform law “addresses some but not all of the most pressing problems,” he said on the book’s promotional website. “I believe we can reduce health care expenses, saving trillions of dollars a year, by making our health care system more efficient, following the lessons from the best other countries have to offer. Singapore offers an excellent starting point.”