ANDREW WERTHEIM ’76 truly knows tea. He is the owner and president of Tea Importers, a socially responsible business that buys teas from tea producing companies around the world and sells them to major tea packers and blenders. And though Wertheim has been with the company for nearly two decades, he’s been connected to the tea industry for much longer.
Wertheim’s father, Joseph, cofounded Tea Importers in 1958, shortly after World War II, and the business has been family owned since then. The company headquarters moved to Westport, Connecticut, in 1967, where they still operate today.
Wertheim practiced law for 17 years before joining Tea Importers in 2001. He felt dissatisfied in his career as a lawyer and saw an opportunity to oversee the company that had been rooted in his family for nearly half a century. And he’s never looked back.
“It’s incredibly rewarding work transforming lives through tea,” says Wertheim, reflecting on the company’s partnership with Sorwathe tea factory in Rwanda, where the bulk of Tea Importers’ production occurs. “You can really see the economic impact in Rwanda. Tea is a cash crop, and it enables farmers to pay for school, buy clothes, and build better lives for their families.”
Sorwathe’s booming business has positively impacted more than 100,000 people living in the area, fueling the construction of banks, bars, and many other storefronts.
Though Tea Importers has only four employees working out of its Westport headquarters, its broader impact is colossal. The company sells primarily black and green teas—leaves that are suitable for tea bags—to manufacturers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East that combined bring 3.5 million kilos of tea to the world. Its customers include major tea packers such as Unilever (Lipton), Bigelow, Celestial Seasonings, and Starbucks. Plus, Tea Importers employs 3,500 farmers and 2,500 factory and field workers in Rwanda, bringing jobs and economic prosperity to countless Rwandans.
And the organization’s merit is not unrecognized. In 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Tea Importers and Sorwathe with the Award for Corporate Excellence, an honor bestowed annually on just two U.S. companies. Clinton praised Tea Importers for being a good ambassador for the values America wishes to promote overseas, and for being a company that gives back to the communities where it does business.
“Our corporate philosophy is that our farmers and factory workers are our partners,” Wertheim explains. “We count on each other for business, and social responsibility is a huge part of who we are.”
Over the years, Tea Importers has helped the community around Sorwathe in numerous ways—by bringing in potable water, repairing and maintaining roads to the company factory, building schools and sports teams, establishing medical clinics, starting adult literacy programs, and much more.
Tea Importers and Sorwathe have also partnered with UNICEF in an important effort to facilitate access to early childhood development, as well as preprimary education for infants and young children in areas around the factory.
The existence of such significant partnerships is thanks to Wertheim’s strong communication skills, to which he credits Taft. “Taft was a good socializing experience for me,” he says. “I learned to ‘play well’ with others there. I have more friends from Taft than I do from college, or any other chapter of life.”
As for the future of Tea Importers, Wertheim hopes to continue impacting lives through the production of tea.
“And maybe we’ll get into some brand products of our own,” he muses. “Right now we don’t have our own line of tea, and that would be a lot of fun.”
—Carola Lovering Crane ’07