Women in Business Q&A: Missy Tannen, Co-Founder and President, Boll & Branch

05/13/2015 05:32 am ET | Updated May 13, 2016

Missy Tannen is Co-Founder and President of Boll & Branch. Boll & Branch is the world's most fair and transparent luxury linen company. As the first ever bedding brand to become certified by Fair Trade USA, Boll & Branch is proving that beautiful quality and well-treated workers can coexist. Cutting out the `middle-men' by selling only on and by acquiring materials directly from small-holder farmers, Boll & Branch has developed a revolutionary business model that enables customers to pay significantly less, while those responsible for making the products can earn significantly more. Since launching in 2014, the Company has experienced meteoric growth and has been able to improve the lives of thousands: Boll & Branch Impact Report.

A 1999 graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, Missy spent the first part of her career as a 3rd grade teacher in Bridgewater, NJ. Following 10-years at home with her three daughters, Missy and her husband, Scott, founded Boll & Branch. Missy directly oversees the product design and development team at Boll & Branch. She lives in Chatham, NJ with her family and two goldendoodles, Reggie & Lucy.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I am an incredibly detail-oriented person. In fact, I love details and am a self-admitted perfectionist. As the daughter of a man who makes sure that the screw-heads on every light-switch or power outlet in the house is vertically lined up at 90-degree angles, I guess you can say that it is genetic! From a leadership standpoint, I tend to lead by example much more than with words. As I've aged, I have come to understand that not everyone is as focused on details as I am, but given that I look after all of our product design and customer experience, I think that my detail-orientation instills confidence in my team that our products are truly perfect.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Boll & Branch?
Prior to starting Boll & Branch, I was home with my three daughters for the last 10-years. Before that, I taught 3rd Grade in Bridgewater, NJ. So, to say that I have a non-traditional background would probably be an understatement. I look at my path to starting Boll & Branch as a true advantage, however. I'm unencumbered by `corporate life.' I don't know how to waste time in meetings or schedule extensive conference calls. I'm extremely focused on execution and getting my work done. I have so many friends that complain about office politics and process, but I don't have any experience with that - and certainly have not been beaten down by it in my career. I'm solely focused on getting my work done to the best of my ability.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Boll & Branch?
Long before Boll & Branch launched, every single textiles and home goods `expert' we came across told us that we would fail. That people do not want organic cotton. Don't care about ethical labor. Would never buy bedding products online. Being brand new to the textiles industry and facing a seemingly massive group of insiders that predict and seem to be rooting for our failure has always presented a great challenge. I've needed to stay focused on what we're doing and put the blinders on. In my heart, I've always believe that we are going to change the world by proving that quality products can be made ethically and priced fairly if Companies are willing to just profit a little bit less.

In contrast, within a couple of months of launching we were selling sheets literally faster than we could make them. In 6-weeks, we had sold what we projected we'd sell in 18-months and Boll & Branch has just continued to grow ever since. There's been no greater high I've experienced at Boll & Branch than visiting our factory in India and receiving hugs from hundreds of factory workers are now better because our business has grown. It is not just one of the highlights of my tenure at Boll & Branch, but of my life.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Generally, the advice I would give women is the same that I'd give men: to make sure you're truly passionate about what you're doing and why you're doing it because the pressure can be enormous. Like a lot of other women, I am a mom first and foremost. So, I have had to pay a lot of attention to maintaining balance for their sake as well as for my own. I had the opportunity to connect with Arianna Huffington after reading her book, Thrive. I can recommend it highly enough to any woman thinking of starting a business - to make sure that you not only believe in your abilities to create a successful business, but to also `Thrive' in your personal life. I believe that for women, this balance is crucially important to really defining success.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
That people come first. As a teacher, a mother or now as an entrepreneur, you don't see your success or failure on a balance sheet - you see it in people. If the effect on people is a positive one, all of the other metrics take care of themselves.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
When you own your own business, there isn't a clear picture of when work ends and life begins. For me, it's all intertwined. This isn't just a job that my family's livelihood depends on, but there are hundreds of others lives that are also impacted by Boll & Branch. There really aren't any clear lines where work ends and life begins for me, particularly considering that my husband is also my co-founder. We obviously work very hard to make sure we don't turn our family dinner into Board Meetings, but nothing means more to me than to see the pride our own children feel in Boll & Branch. The lessons they've learned about the value of hard work and the positive impact you can have on other people if you commit to making one is a wonderful output of a healthy work/life imbalance!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think that every woman has their own `biggest issue' in the workplace. For me, the biggest challenge after staying home for ten years, was to make the time commitment of a traditional 8 hour workday. I want to make sure I'm present for my three daughters, so if I can pick them up from school at the end of the day, it doesn't affect them if I continue to work once they are doing homework or they've gone to bed. Our office is made up of mainly women, and then there's my husband and dog. We all extremely dedicated, competent and hardworking, which means that we can get work done in other times of the day instead of the rigid 9-5 schedule. Of course it's nice to have some overlap to connect with each other, but I believe that we can each work our own flexible hours to get our work done. After all, hundreds of people are making our products that we cannot see!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I find it very difficult to separate mentorship from friendship. As I reentered the workforce after 10-years at home with my daughters, so many friends and family members reached out to me. Whether it was to help pick up my girls from school on days that I had meetings or someone offering advice on how to balance things, I truly believe that the outpouring of support from the people I love has been one of the key ingredients in the success of Boll & Branch.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many, but I like to talk about my leadership "Dream Team" and I draw inspiration from them all... and would love to have them all over for dinner!

Arianna Huffington has captured how to find balance in all aspects of life... and, of course not to underestimate the importance of sleep!

Martha Stewart has always inspired me to pay attention to the smallest details in striving for perfection... oh what I would give to craft with her for a day!

Oprah inspires me to put my soul into everything I do and I think that it comes through in every product we make.

Lastly, my own Mom. To this day, she inspires me to be present for my children. She was a `stay-at-home' Mom that never actually stayed at home! She was a leader in our community, a tireless volunteer and continues to be extremely active in my life.