Alison Bailey Vercruysse’s head for numbers earned her success in banking – including a stint at the Federal Reserve in Chicago – but her heart wasn’t in it. She needed a creative outlet. After trying everything from art to yoga, she started playing with her food – tweaking homemade granola recipes until she got it right.
In 2008 Vercruysse ’92 started 18 Rabbits, “simple, authentic granola and bars.” Her company’s unusual moniker comes from a prolific childhood pet named Blackjack. “We’re hoping to continue to grow and expand – like rabbits,” she quips.
Today her products, all of which are certified organic, are sold at Whole Foods, Central Market and many other outlets around the country.
By harnessing “pony power,” Vercruysse moved into an important national market and found a key employee.
“At my mother’s (Kay Hunter ’93) urging, I introduced myself to David Cush at an alumni function in 2008,” recalls the San Francisco-based entrepreneur. Cush ’82, ’83 is president and CEO of Virgin America Airlines; he serves as a Second Century Celebration Steering Committee co-chair. “He was very gracious, gave me his card and suggested I send him a box of samples.”
She did, and 18 Rabbits Gracious Granola is now on the airline’s breakfast rotation for a second time.
Two years later, the tables were turned when Erin McCormick ’09 approached Vercruysse. McCormick, a dance major, was searching for a new opportunity after living in New York for a year. “It just wasn’t for me,” says the California native. “When I decided to move, I contacted everyone in the SMU alumni online database who lived in the San Francisco area. The alums were very encouraging and really wanted to help.”
Coincidentally, Vercruysse, who majored in accounting and finance at SMU, was hunting for a marketing intern and arranged an interview. The two hit it off, and McCormick now serves as field marketing manager for the company.
“I never thought of working in the food industry – and I love it,” McCormick says. “Even if you think you know what you want to do with your career, don’t close yourself off to unexpected opportunities.”