Dean’s Beans recognized worldwide
Dean Cycon took a shipment of coffee from Sumatra on Monday afternoon. It was a special delivery because the cargo included a 17th century cannon that had recently been uncovered in Malacca, the former Portuguese colony in Southeast Asia.
Cycon purchased the cannon and had it shipped to the United States inside a coffee canister. The weapon had originally been mounted on a ship.
“It’s a small cannon,” he said. “It just arrived today. My life is very exciting.”
Exciting is probably an understatement. Over the past several months, Cycon has received worldwide acclaim for his socially progressive business policies. In April, the Business for Peace Foundation, based in Oslo, Norway, and comprised largely of Nobel laureates, recognized Cycon with one its illustrious awards. He was the only American to receive the accolade, which is popularly dubbed the “Nobel Prize for Business.”
In March, the United Nations honored him for promoting gender equality, and then last September, the Fetzer Institute, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., recognized him at its global gathering in Italy for modeling a life informed by love and forgiveness, and for incorporating those values into his company’s business practices.
Cycon is an early pioneer in shaping the coffee business into a socially responsible venture. He lectures around the country showing people how to use a company as a “vehicle for social good.” He advises business leaders in developing nations how to do the same. In April, he went to Tunisia to help the business community there figure out how to incorporate “social good” into their operations after their revolution.
His organic coffee company, Dean’s Beans, is located in Orange in western Massachusetts, roughly a two-hour drive “door to door” from his second home on the island. Five years ago, Cycon and his wife bought a house in the village. They’re in Jamestown frequently and expect to settle here permanently, but in the meantime, he’s not even considering commuting.
“No way,” he said. “We’re working on a fulltime move.”
Presently, Cycon lives in Leverett, Mass., but he has maintained friendships with Jamestowners over the years.
Jerome Scott, president of the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown, said he met Cycon 15 years ago on Martha’s Vineyard. Scott’s son-in-law, a boat builder, was rebuilding Cycon’s boat. When Cycon bought his Jamestown house, he reconnected with Scott, who called Cycon “a delightful man.”
Cycon started his business in 1991, but the model and company had its roots in a nonprofit organization that launched in 1988 in Providence. The group was called Coffee Kids.
It began when Cycon was giving a lecture at the University of Rhode Island about the causes of deforestation in Brazil, with coffee growing being one the reasons. Bill Fishbein, a friend and co-owner of the Coffee Exchange on Wickenden Street, asked him about ways to help the farmers and the workers get out of poverty. Coffee Kids was the result of the conversation.
Dean’s Beans has a fairly unique business model, Cycon said. The company is committed to principles of fair trade, meaning among other things that Cycon pays the coffee growers a decent price that allows them to support their families and share in the profits. Dean’s Beans reportedly had $4 million in sales last year, according to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.
Cycon’s business takes him around the world and gives him opportunities to explore history and collect antique treasures. But it wasn’t always like that.
He started out in the early ’80s as a Wall Street attorney, and intended to specialize in indigenous rights and environmental law. He thought he would become a better lawyer by seeing how power brokers operated from the inside.
After Wall Street, Cycon joined a Providence firm where he started the company’s international law program. He was also a professor at the University of Rhode Island, where he taught a class in social justice.
The decision to retire someday in Jamestown represents something of a homecoming, he said.
“My wife used to sail out of Newport doing deliveries and working on an old schooner,” he said. “We’re both sailors and we both wanted to come back to the ocean.”
He is married to Annette, and they have two children, both girls.
“To me, the most important thing is I’m modeling for my two daughters,” he said. Cycon wants to show his girls that they can be “honorable and just,” and still be able to support a family.
As a kid of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Cycon says he was part of the first wave of college graduates committed to social action and helping the environment.
“It was always possible to do that,” he said.
However, he added, not many from his generation ever managed to live by their original ideals.
“There was no place to go,” he said. “The dominant culture in business school is money.”
But things are changing.
“There’s plenty of opportunity now,” he said.
Cycon has received some publicity in the past, due to articles published in the New York Times and Boston Globe. He also receives the occasional award from the coffee industry and from U.N. agencies, but admits the company is not a household name.
“We don’t spend money on sales and marketing,” he said.
Nonetheless, Cycon has reached enough people to become profitable. Thousands of customers buy his coffee over the web.
At 60, he is interested in continuing the work he has started to advance social justice and branching out into new ventures.
Recently, he took a trip to the Spice Islands and came back with an idea for a new enterprise. Currently, there’s no fair trade for spice growers, and he would like to create the model. He’s also interested in indigenous sailing vessels and is considering a museum. According to Cycon, many of the crafts are starting to disappear, and his museum would save them for future generations.
He might want to build the museum in Jamestown, he said.
Dean Cycon, CEO and founder of Dean’s Beans, with natives in Papua New Guinea. Cycon and his business was recently honored by the United Nations, a group of Nobel laureates in Norway, and the Fetzer Institute in Michigan. Story on Page 5.