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Alfred Peet: My Biggest Mistake

The founder of Peet's Coffee Tea reflects on how his inability to delegate led to his downfall.
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CEO's Notebook

Alfred Peet
Coffee consultant and founder of Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc. Peet sold the company in 1979; it went public this year

I am not a genius, but i have had very long training. The only thing that has always been weak is my interpersonal relations. If I had that, I would still be in the business.

By the time I started my business, in 1966, I was 46 years old. I had learned all the pieces of running a company. I learned about selling. I sold coffee for my father. I didn't understand why people didn't buy my father's coffee. It was so much better than the big roasters'. I learned I had to sell myself and then sell the product.

I spent at least 10 years in different import-export firms. Trading is where you make money in the coffee business, but it's also where the game is really rough. What you learn from that is immense.

I learned about maintaining machinery, which was important because I owned the coffee roasters. I worked in a forced-labor camp in Germany during the war, on a lathe. I put grease in the machine, not oil, and it plugged up. The guard explained it to me. I never forgot it -- preventive maintenance is better than working a machine until it cracks.

I always had good personnel. I paid more than the going rate. But I worked too hard, because I couldn't delegate. I wanted to oversee everything. I said, "I know exactly where I want to go, but I can't explain every thought, every idea I have for the future of this company." Many people left. I was burnt out, so I had to sell. Do you know what it's like when you've given so much, there's nothing left?

I sold my business. At the time, it broke my heart. Coffee was my life. Now I'm over it. I have been consulting selectively. It's a pleasure -- more like a hobby, a love for me. I don't get paid. It's like talking with friends. If you can't do it on that level, forget it. --From an interview with Jill Hecht Maxwell


The Quotable Entrepreneur

"When there's a lack of capital, people look at alternative sources of funding in order to acquire equipment. They look to OPM -- 'other people's money.' So I actually thrive in this economy. It's really an opportunity to take advantage of the times. We increase our marketing effort when the economy is down."

--Larry Robinson, founder, CEO, and president of Optimal Leasing, a $20-million equipment-leasing company based in Novi, Mich.


CEO's Notebook

Taking the Sting Out of the Courtroom
Hot Tip: Mom as Recruiter
Hot Tip: Spam the Spammers
Stopwatch, Please
Gentleman's Agreement
Alfred Peet: My Biggest Mistake
When Justice is Blind -- and Computer Literate
In a Former Life: S. Kenneth Kannappan


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Last updated: Jun 1, 2001




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