Montana State University

Q&A with Brie Thompson

November 9, 2015 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Brie Thompson, co-founder of Olivelle who attended MSU as a first-year student, delivered a keynote lecture to more than 200 high school students visiting campus Monday as part of the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneur Day. MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta.

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A woman who attended Montana State University and then went on to co-found a successful olive oil and gourmet food business, Olivelle, delivered a keynote lecture to more than 200 high school students visiting campus Monday as part of the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneur Day.

Since Brie Thompson co-founded Olivelle in 2009, it has grown from a single retail store into an expansive food manufacturing and distribution operation that imports, exports, consults and wholesales products. Olivelle currently has exclusive supply agreements with more than 30 independent retail shops spanning the country from New York to Alaska and recently opened its first oil and vinegar bar in Canada. Ultimately, Thompson said, the company seeks to change the way people think about oil and vinegar.

After delivering the keynote address, Thompson sat down with MSU News to answer a few questions about how she got into the olive oil business, what she learned from attending MSU (hint: it’s not what you think) and what keeps her up at night.

You spoke with MSU students today about how entrepreneurship becomes possible when one understands what you call “the power of confidence” and recognizes that every problem – no matter how difficult it is – has a solution. What’s your takeaway message from the lecture?

Find your “why” – find your passion, and the confidence will follow.

Why did you decide to co-found Olivelle?

My Mom and I were obsessed with a European franchise (Oil and Vinegar) out of Missoula, Montana. We basically wanted to have access to the products, so we opened a franchise here in Bozeman. But, the franchise struggled. When other stores closed, we decided to change our name and become Olivelle. Giving up was never an option.

What surprises you about your job?

I don’t think anything surprises me, because I expect change. I create change and I love it. Little challenges help me to continue to move forward. But I guess I’m kind of surprised that I still enjoy my work as much as I do after nine years.

Looking back, what piece of advice would you give to yourself when you were in your first year of college?

I didn’t do well my first year – I didn’t go to class very much, didn’t get good grades – but I wouldn’t take anything back. A lesson from the year was to buckle down. That year helped me realize what I needed.

What was the best thing about going to school at MSU?

I had some awesome classes that I really enjoyed, but the social aspect was what was really rewarding. You start to understand that success is really related to the people you surround yourself with.

What do you view as your biggest success so far in life?

I feel like I have little successes, and that life is a series of little successes. I would like to build up my business to the point where I can hand it off to someone else, but that hasn’t happened yet.

What do you want to accomplish in your life?

I would like to continue to balance work and family, and to have that balance with my children (ages two and four) as they’re growing.

What keeps you up at night?

Large projects that I’m hesitating to start. I hesitate because they’re big. I love lists and small projects that I can check off a list. But when I have a big project that doesn’t have lists yet, it keeps me up at night.

What’s your favorite thing to do?

I love to garden. Sometimes it’s just sitting in the garden, taking it in and relaxing. And I still love to cook when I have the energy.

What’s the most exciting challenge facing young business professionals today?

Continuing to grow (a business) at a healthy, sustainable rate.

Linda Ward, (406) 994-1995 or lward@montana.edu