Co-founder of Bully Boy Distillers Heather Willis ’98 (political science) may have big-city ties—from Boston to Washington, D.C. to Hong Kong—but her family business maintains small-batch values.
How did Dickinson prepare you for your current career/endeavor?
In so many ways! I did a lot of writing at Dickinson, which is often what I'm doing at Bully Boy. Dickinson also taught me how to think critically and effectively communicate my opinions. It’s amazing how the simple task of thoughtful opinion sharing has been lost in a sea of technology. I specifically recall doing group work in college, and one of my poli-sci professors telling me companies wanted employees with a can-do attitude who could work well with others. His comments resonated then and now. That's been a great working life skill for me—especially in a family business!
“It’s amazing how the simple task of thoughtful opinion sharing has been lost in a sea of technology. That’s been a great working life skill for me—especially in a family business!”
What was your "aha" moment?
My husband and I met in business school [George Washington University] and were, and still are, bouncing business ideas around. I clearly remember when we first talked about the idea of a distillery, in our current kitchen, soon after we moved to Boston from Hong Kong. We were both at a career crossroads, and had latent entrepreneurial sides. We realized the idea and the timing were right, and it wasn't long before my husband, his brother and I started putting together a business plan.
What inspires you?
Creating a better world for my kids, so ideas that bring value economically, socially and environmentally—say, a company and brand like Patagonia—are the most exciting in my mind. At Bully Boy we’re not making clothes, but we approach our craft with that same mindset.
What advice would you offer to the entrepreneurs of tomorrow?
Don't be afraid to fail. Think outside the box and listen to your instincts. If something feels risky it’s probably a good idea.
Continuing to strike a happy balance between growing Bully Boy and raising our three kids. Piece of cake!
Published April 12, 2016