A Winery Leader's Primary Role

Wineries operate with many different structures. Smaller ventures tend to have the "mom and pop" (or just mom or pop) doing everything from vinifying to selling to books. Medium-sized wineries typically either have a President, GM or shared management team, and larger corporations employ officers with ranks of reporting teams and divisions. In every structure type, there is a primary role for the leader or leadership team -- creating and helping implement the vision.

I often write about the importance of operating with a strategic business plan. At the heart of these plans is the leader's vision for success and his or her plan for achieving it. In a recent Silicon Valley Bank blog, Raymond Nasr, Director of Wine Programs, discusses "What Makes Entrepreneurs and Winemakers Tick". He identifies three common elements -- Tradition, Absolute Trust and Struggle, and compares cites examples of best practices in the tech and wine industries.

Wineries are typically pretty good at developing Tradition given the annual celebration of harvest and natural inclination to share great meals with beautiful wines. It's a fun, passionate industry so tradition is almost a given. The only structure type where I've witnessed struggle with meaningful traditions is the corporate winery given the constant M&A activity, role changing and other factors.

Wineries are also naturals at incorporating the Struggle element. Any time Mother Nature is a key player in an industry, there is challenge. Add vineyard maturity, the relative high cost of goods sold and slow inventory turn, and incredible competition necessitating investment in brand marketing and sales, to the equation and the industry is ripe with struggle.

What I find lacking in many wine businesses, especially in small to medium-sized organizations, is the Absolute Trust part of Nasr's equation. To have absolute trust among people, there must be a compelling vision and plan to achieve it. Many operators in the industry are most concerned with the art of producing wine -- not the equally important art and business of selling it. This tendency can create additional financial strain and risk, and human resource issues, further adding to the Struggle and eroding Tradition.

In my practice, I help wineries improve Absolute Trust in three steps: 1)by creating or helping to create a vision and strategic plan; 2) then developing specific goals and performance incentives tied to the plan, which helps focus and align teams; 3) and finally, designing processes to track progress, celebrate successes and swiftly and professionally deal with challenges.

When you have a fully engaged, high performing team, beyond expectations results are both possible and common! And that this starts with the vision and plan should be inspiring to owners and operators -- it's very doable, just a matter of whether you are willing to commit to the process.