Heeding your call

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In David Howitt’s office in Portland, Ore., hangs a framed letter from a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with Starbucks. The lawyer had met with Howitt and his wife Heather, slid them a piece of paper with a very large number written on it, and offered to buy their company Oregon Chai — a company Heather had started in their kitchen.

David entertained the thought, but Heather promptly said, “No, thank you.”

“Part of me thought, ‘That was the right call,’” Howitt ’90 told a group of Denison students during a recent campus visit. “And part of me thought that might have been the biggest mistake of our lives.”

The lawyer calmly explained what would happen next. The growing coffee giant would topple them anyway. It would find another company. It would get in on the chai business, and it would do it bigger and better. Starbucks went on to buy Tazo Tea.

Oregon Chai kept plugging along, growing themselves bit by bit, hiring new employees, and staying true to their all-organic, all-natural promise. A few years later, David and Heather sold the company for 7.5 times the amount offered by Starbucks.

20140422_howitt_photo_main_02It was then that that Starbucks lawyer sat down and wrote to Howitt, essentially congratulating the husband-wife team on making a very tough business move that paid off royally.

Howitt shared the story with Denison students as a way of demonstrating that doing business isn’t all flow charts and business strategy and products and income. It’s also not all passion for a mission. In fact, he said, it’s a combination of those things. “Magic happens when you find the balance between the two,” said Howitt, a self-described “left-brained lawyer” married to a woman he calls an “Oregon hippie, surfer, traveler.”

With the bills paid, the pair launched Meriwether Group, a company that supports, advises, and invests in entrepreneurs — always keeping in mind that the very best businesses involve a combination of heart and savvy business sense.

Howitt believes in the model so much that he’s written a book about it, Heed Your Call: Integrating Myth, Science, Spirituality, and Business, which uses real-world examples of businesses that have successfully bridged the divide between capital, income, and strategy, and staying true to your values.

It’s all part of an entrepreneurial journey that relies on what Howitt calls “The Power of And,” and yes, it’s possible to make plenty of money along the way.

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