Green Thumb is a place where we get to show off our friends. In our 34 years, we’ve met a lot of people who have a knack for making things “grow”. They are our employees and our distributors – gutsy folks that came out of nowhere and made China Mist flourish. This is where we tell their stories.
The year was 1984 and sixteen-year-old Rommie Flammer (then Dresher) was in search of an after-school gig – something to earn her Home-Ec credit and a little extra money while she was at it. From an early age, Rommie was always eager to make a buck, from washing neighbors’ cars or cleaning litter boxes for a local cat breeder. “I always just wanted to work,” says Rommie.
A friend was working for a certain brand new iced tea company at the time, running tea deliveries and filling administrative gaps, but needed to quit to salvage her struggling grades in school. The friend, searching for a replacement, told Rommie about the job and introduced her to China Mist co-founders Dan Schweiker and John Martinson. A dynamic trio was born.
The early days at China Mist were “crazy” and “chaotic,” Rommie remembers. “I did everything. We all did everything. You can’t not all know how to do everything when there are only three of you,” she says. At age sixteen, Rommie’s list of tasks ranged from running tea deliveries, to brewer equipment maintenance, to phone answering, to data entry. Rommie’s mother tried to convince her to get a job doing data entry for the state of Arizona, saying she might make more money.
“Yeah, but it’d be boring,” Rommie told her mother. At China Mist, “I didn’t feel like an employee, I felt like part of the team, like I was really helping. It was just kind of fun and chaotic. And I enjoyed it. So I stayed and just never left.”
It occurred to Rommie she might be in it for the long haul when she was just shy of eighteen years old. At the time, China Mist had another employee, a tea brewer repairman, who, in Rommie’s opinion, was a less-than sterling worker (“He drove me nuts!”). Rommie remembers getting on her bosses’ cases often, asking that they take some kind of action to whip the guy into shape. Finally, Dan Schweiker told her (according to Rommie), “If you know what to do, then do it.” He made seventeen-year-old Rommie General Manager of China Mist, which put the employee in question (a man more than twice her age) under her control. When the employee found out about Rommie’s promotion, he quit on his own accord. From then on, Rommie was in charge of all the hiring at China Mist.
“I was a kid with a chip on my shoulder. I thought I knew what to do and how to do it, and I had a bit of an attitude,” says Rommie. “[Dan and John] let me run with that. They didn’t try to corral my attitude. They actually helped to foster it.” The most telling example of this is when Rommie graduated from high school, Dan and John paid her way through college, and later, through an MBA program.
Dan and John’s investment paid off. Together, the three of them balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses and made a highly effective team, says Rommie. John was the creative force, Dan was the relationship builder, and Rommie was the operational administrator that kept the machine running. As the company grew, so did their camaraderie.
As a member of a small company, Rommie had her hand in just about everything, from running deliveries to developing new products, and for that, she’s grateful. “I loved all of it,” she says. “To have that kind of hands-on knowledge with everything makes you a more compassionate leader. You understand what [your employees are] doing instead of just directing something you’ve never quite done yourself. It was great that I got to do everything. Not everyone can do that.”
Rommie, once a 16-year-old part-timer, was made President of China Mist in 2005. At 37 years old, she had been with the company for 21 years and knew its ins and outs better than anyone. China Mist benefitted greatly from her expert and compassionate leadership.
In 2011, Rommie’s consistent rise was brought to an abrupt halt when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that very rarely occurs in people over 30 years old. Because of the rarity of Rommie’s condition, she was sent to a specialist in Texas for consultation, treatment planning, and ongoing follow-up. The odds looked bleak, and the treatment (a rigorous plan of high-dose chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) was expected to last a year.
Plucky Rommie, the girl who always wanted to work, expected to be able to maintain her duties at China Mist while in treatment, but those expectations were swiftly put in check after her first round of chemotherapy. The physical and cognitive strain of treatment as well as frequent hospitalizations made it nigh impossible for her work.
Treatment ended at the end of 2011 and Rommie has been in remission since 2012, but unfortunately, many of the cancer’s effects have not gone away. Though she hasn’t been able to return to her old post, Rommie remains on the China Mist team as a devoted advisor, co-founder, and Director.
“I’ve been doing this for two-thirds of my life,” Rommie says. “It’s just a part of me.”
Throughout her career and even today, Rommie inspires everyone at China Mist to always push themselves to new levels of excellence. China Mist’s most recent drive to “do better” is our journey into sustainability, which Rommie wholeheartedly backs. “Always think and reinvent,” advises Rommie. “Because the way we did something ten years ago isn’t necessarily the way we should do it today.”