Bryant MBA student Christopher Goulart '24MBA in Prague
Bryant MBA student Christopher Goulart '24MBA, the president of Franlart Nurseries in Little Compton, RI, explored Prague through the program's Global Immersion Experience, a ten-day visit to Prague and Berlin.
Growing with experience: Bryant student adapts and innovates to revitalize family farm
May 16, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa

Christopher Goulart ’24 MBA has worn many hats over his career — businessman, lobbyist, innovator, aspiring plant breeder — but when he refers to himself he still reverts, almost unconsciously, to “farmer.”

The moniker fits Goulart, the president of Franlart Nurseries in Little Compton, Rhode Island, in many ways. Friendly yet reserved, he has the look of a man used to hard work. He knows his occupation like the back of his hand, the reward, and cost, of experiencing times both abundant and lean.

Perhaps the most apt comparison, though, is also the simplest: Like any good farmer, he likes to nurture things and help them grow.

Goulart’s life has been marked by rising to the moment and taking charge when no one else could. But he’s also driven by a sense of exploration. “I really enjoy helping to set things up, but then I’m up for the next challenge,” Goulart reflects.

His Bryant MBA, he says, will help make sure his next project is a success — no matter what he decides to do.

In many ways, farming runs in Goulart’s blood. Much of the land that makes up his current nursery has been in his family’s hands for more than 100 years, though it’s had many different uses. “My grandparents ran it as a dairy farm,” says Goulart. “And I think my great grandparents had turkeys and cows and vegetables there at one point.”

Goulart’s father was an arborist who ran a business called Sakonnet Tree and Landscaping and grew trees and shrubs on the side. “I grew up working there from a very young age,” he notes, and growing things became second nature to him.

“When it was time to go off to school for college, I decided to go for horticulture; I didn’t know what else to study,” he says with a shrug.

Goulart enrolled at the University of Rhode Island, where he studied environmental horticulture and turf grass management — and learned about everything from biology and chemistry to soil science, mycology, and entomology. He also continued working at the farm throughout his college career and brought what he learned back home.

“It was really exciting to be able to use what I was learning practically and in real time to help my family,” he says.

“My father turned to me and said, 'Hey, can you see what you can do to help us try to fix this?'"

Goulart graduated summa cum laude, with the highest grades in his program, in 2009 but wanted to take a break before enrolling in a masters’ program and working toward a career as a plant breeder. He decided to take on an internship at a nursery called Carlton Plants, instead.

“It was a really interesting time to go into the nursery industry, because it follows the housing industry really closely. If no one’s buying houses, no one’s buying from trees,” he notes. “The year before, in 2008, the housing market crashed and so when I graduated in 2009, it had caught up with us.”

All around him, Goulart saw the devastating effects of the downturn. “3,000-acre farms that had been around more than 150 years were shutting up shop. It was pretty dire,” he says. “One of my jobs was taking plants out of the freezer, where they were being preserved before shipping them across country, and throwing them into a dumpster,” Goulart states. “It must have been thousands of trees.

“That was my welcome to the industry,” he chuckles. “I didn’t realize it until afterward, but once I started running my own business, I saw how much of an effect that time had on me — my views around risk, my views around debt, and my views about needing to have a plan.”

At the close of his internship, Goulart returned to his family’s business. “They took a huge hit during that time,” he remembers. “My father turned to me and said, 'Hey, can you see what you can do to help us try to fix this?'”

Goulart threw himself into modernizing the nursery, diversifying the types of species they grew, sourcing trees from other vendors using the network he’d developed, and even building the farm’s first website. Along the way, he began to develop his own business acumen and developed a taste for the work.

In 2013, the family business had its best year, but Goulart, who had just married his wife Victoria, a sculptor, still wanted to explore plant breeding. “We applied to a lot of different places,” both in the United States and abroad, Goulart says, before he decided to take an internship at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., where he worked in the boxwood and conifer collections.

There were things to love about the Arboretum. Being able to work in a beautiful oasis in the middle of a world capital was one. Another was the range of employees he met. “You had the opportunity to work with so many incredibly intelligent people,” Goulart says.

But, once again, he had the urge to try something new. Midway through his internship, he took a position as an administrative coordinator at the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) nonprofit, where he advocated for the Arboretum and managed projects to support its work. He picked up a political savvy that would serve him well later on.

At FONA, Goulart worked on everything from managing budgets to liaising between various groups to shopping for go-carts.  “I began to realize I liked that sort of work more than what I would have been doing as a scientist."

Goulart’s, and his family’s, priorities were beginning to change as well. He and his wife returned to Rhode Island in 2016 when she was seven months pregnant. His parents had sold the arborist business and retired, so they rented some of the farmland to Goulart, who started a new nursey but kept the “Franlart” name as a tribute to his family and their legacy (Franlart is a portmanteau of "Francis Goulart," Christopher's grandfather).

“The ones who weren’t going to fail weren’t nervous. They knew that failure wasn’t an option and you just had to plow through.”

The new incarnation of the business grows shrubs, hedges, and flowering plants like hydrangeas, lilacs, and hibiscus — his favorite — as well as trees.

As the company grew, Goulart’s perception of himself changed to fit his new role.  “I used to consider myself a horticulturist, but now I think of myself as a business owner that knows how to grow trees.”

His greatest challenge, though, was directly ahead. “We bought the land on December 31, 2019 — and three months later, in March 2020, the entire world shut down because of COVID-19,” Goulart points out. It was an especially difficult blow because spring is their busiest time of the year, where they do about 70 percent of their business.

But the trauma of the previous downturn quickly gave way to its lessons. In 2009, he had noticed there was a difference between the people who were going to go out of business and the people who weren’t, Goulart says. “The ones who weren’t going to fail weren’t nervous. They knew that failure wasn’t an option and you just had to plow through.”

As the pandemic waned, they came back with a vengeance and began their largest expansion to date. Their current operation now spreads across 60 acres.

Goulart has even become a pillar of the community, serving on the Little Compton Budget Committee and the Democratic Town Committee.  “That’s the kind of work that not a lot of people want to get involved in, but somebody needs to do,” he notes with his usual pragmatism.

“At Bryant, I’ve learned things that help me day-to-day, but it’s also about learning context and refining my understanding of strategy and operations.”

But even at the height of success, he still felt that urge to continue exploring. “I’m looking ahead to the next step, and I think I’d like to try something new,” Goulart admits. His current plants will take another few years to reach maturity, but after that his options, as he sees them, are wide open — everything from going into consulting to launching his own startup.

That’s where Bryant’s Two-Year MBA program comes in. His coursework isn’t just helping him become a better president of Franlart Nurseries; it’s providing a foundation for whatever he does next. “At Bryant, I’ve learned things that help me day-to-day, but it’s also about learning context and refining my understanding of strategy and operations,” Goulart notes.

One of his favorite courses was an independent study focusing on advanced strategy led by Trustee Professor of Management Mike Roberto, DBA. In addition to one-on-one tutelage from Roberto, a best-selling case study author and internationally sought-after consultant, the course also included a consulting project for Bay Coast Bank.

As he has throughout his career, he’s reveled in the opportunity to roll up his sleeves and dive into the work — applying what he’s learned to real life to see the result.

Goulart excelled in his MBA studies, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, but he’s also enjoyed the connections he’s made. “I really like being part of a high-performing team,” he says. “My first semester, I was in a group with a medical doctor, an engineer, and a data analyst.”

He was able to strengthen his bonds with his classmates through the MBA program’s January Global Immersion Experience, a ten-day visit to Prague and Berlin. Together, they explored sites like Prague Castle and the John Lennon Wall, sampled local customs, and learned about international business practices. The cohort of 64 students even sang happy birthday to him at one point.

The trip, Goulart says, also gave him some time to stop and take a breath, one of the few he’s had over the course of more than a decade of constant growth, evolution, and adaptation. “I think my family and I might have some changes coming, and that was a chance to reflect and think about the future,” he notes.

His next steps, post-Commencement, will, as always, be thoughtful and well-considered — but, this time, also tinged with excitement.

Goulart will grow something new, of his own choosing. 

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