TRAILBLAZER THURSDAY: Robin Squibb
by Melanie Roberts
When Rhode Islanders hear the name Squibb, many automatically think of the iconic lemon mint tea company Granny Squibb’s. Turning her grandmother’s over 100-year-old tea recipe into a well-known brand, Robin Squibb made her mark in the beverage business in 2009.
What many don’t know is its founder’s journey as a trailblazer, which began long before Granny Squibb’s Iced Tea became a household name.
As a child, Squibb “grew up in a boys school,” as her father taught at an all-boys school in Hartford, CT. She always felt comfortable around the boys and was often invited as the only girl on canoe trips. This “in” with the boy’s club served her well as she progressed into the workforce.
Squibb got her foot in the door to the film/tv world as the secretary for a producer of commercials at an ad agency in New York City. She then moved on to another agency, Ted Bates, working with more producers, and quickly decided the office setting wasn’t for her.
Asked to join a producer and director team full-time, she left the ad agency and became a script supervisor, where she worked with this group of all women who were known as “script girls.” They were in charge of catching all the potential mistakes in movies or commercials before they happen on screen.
It was one category in the film business that was always women because it was such a difficult job that involved note taking. In the 1970s, she worked her way up in this role from low-budget commercials, to big-budget commercials, to low-budget films, before eventually working mostly on major motion pictures.
“That’s how it sort of happened, without me giving it a lot of thought, and it’s really hard to get into the film business,” Squibb said.
Squibb spent the majority of her career in the tv/film industry as a continuity supervisor, and though film is a male-dominated industry, as a woman Squibb never felt lesser or discriminated against. She was lucky but growing up around a lot of boys she knew how to handle herself and the men felt comfortable around her as well.
“With the girl thing, I think I had it kind of easy,” Squibb said. “Then I go into the film business and it’s just like growing up on a boy’s campus. It’s all guys."
Being a tomboy wasn’t her only weapon; sitting next to the director’s chair as his right hand and having his ear certainly didn’t make her unintimidating.
She worked hard and though during her career she made a lot of mistakes, she was always ready to problem solve and work with a team, and that’s what guided her more than anything.
“I think what connects everything I’ve done in life is problem-solving,” Squibb said. “Maybe that’s all life is and what gives me pleasure is trying to figure out how to make things work.”
On the sets, she figured out personalities, tone and how to get people to do what they needed to do to make the film cut together and not offend them.
From the all-boys school where she spent her childhood to fast-paced movie sets to starting a new business in her sixties, problem-solving was the underlying theme.
“It was really tense not knowing what mistakes you were going to make,” Squibb said. “Certainly I made a million mistakes, but they were ones that were correctable or we discovered in time. But I loved working on a movie. Working with really talented people, including the crew, and it’s a real team sport. Everyone has to work together, or it doesn’t work.”
Though she loved her time on movie sets, after 9/11 Squibb wanted a change of pace and to return to Rhode Island, leaving the film business on a high note.
Looking for a way to stay and make a living in Providence, her inspiration to start a tea company came from the summers she spent with her grandparents in Saunderstown, RI.
Everyone in Saunderstown had granny’s iced tea recipe, but she wanted to bring it to market. So problem-solving once again, Squibb learned how to write a business plan, found a food chemist and tried 53 variations of the recipe until it was just right.
“For me, it was just really exciting to learn all this new stuff. A lot of it was just trial and error.”
Working on her last movie, Dear John, in 2009, Squibb tried out batches on the crew and tested different ingredients. She came back to Rhode Island and tested it with the Saunderstown community, picking people’s brains for input until she found the right one.
Problem-solving is a tool Squibb continues to use today. She advises if you can think on your feet and problem-solve in the moment, that’s an attribute that can carry you.
Today, Squibb continues to find new ways to challenge and find solutions to problems in the beverage industry, and with her new business partners Nick Carr and Kelley McShane, we may soon see Granny Squibb’s Iced Tea in stores nationwide.
“I’m happy to do things badly, and then you can get better at it,” Squibb said.