Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Home Team

In keeping with my earlier post, The Joy of Selling, once I returned home there was a little surprise waiting for me. The dreaded semi-annual management meeting, a two day affair, with speakers, workshops, wining and dining ( that’s what we do) and some looking back or forward in this channel of the wine business we have found ourselves nestled within.

I read on the occasional blog about how misdirected the wholesale/distribution channel is. And there are many things that need addressing. But we are not evil people; in fact most of the folks I work around and with are good family people. Sure we might not all share the same political persuasion and we may look differently at the horizon of the wine future. But we are all in the boat together and we are rowing like hell to make a difference for our industry and our families. We are not the problem; perhaps those who look, from the outside in, do not know of our camaraderie or our devotion to this business. I am always humbled and impressed when I spend a day or two, sequestered with my peers. No, we definitely are not the problem. So let the whiners and the naysayers say whatever they like, we aren’t going away. In fact, we’re stronger than any dirt the toxic blogger or two can throw in our direction.

If it sounds like I'm drawing a line in the sand with the direct marketers, I’m not. Let them try to dismantle the last 75 years of this industry. And if they can build a better framework, so be it. But as a past president of India, Radhakrishnan, once said, it is easier to destroy than to create. Much easier to talk about how corrupt and outdated the wine industry is rather than pitch in an actually do the heavy lifting of raising the tide for all boats.

There are reports and studies that postulate how important this industry is. I don’t need to read every one of them. All I need to do is look in the eyes of my colleagues to know this is a vital and necessary business for now.

Over those two days last week, we took a break from meeting and piled into two buses, 79 of us. Our group represents the state management for a large wholesaler here in Texas. With about 2,700 employees, our mission is to provide leadership and direction, along with making money and building brands. And while there are plenty of essential employees up and down the org-chart, we are tasked with steering the ship. It’s a big ship, one in which on any given day, over 150,000 cases of product are being delivered. That’s about 1,200 40-foot containers. Amazon can’t handle that, nor can USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL or any number of delivery companies. Physically improbable.

Our buses took us to the Milestone/Viking center, where we were broken into 9 groups (8-9 people per group) for an “Iron Chef” burger cook-off. We had a set time to assemble a burger. There were three essential segments of this contest; 1) the idea of the burger, what it was conceptually, 2) Selling it to the judge (the pitch), and 3) what it tasted like. Our group, made up of folks from their late 20’s to their late 60’s, got together and we moved pretty fast through the concept of the burger. Assembling it, along with eighth other groups, took a good deal of teamwork and co-ordination, along with making sure we didn’t “overwork” the idea of the burger. It all flowed pretty well. Meanwhile the other teams were brainstorming and trying to come up with their idea of the perfect burger.

Hey, it could have been anything, but the burger was the fulcrum upon which the teams directed their attention. The idea was to transfer some of that energy, in the days to come, with other projects and working outside of our normal groups.

Through the process I snapped shots of the other teams, people I have known, some for as long as 25 or more years. People I admire, but because we are all so darn busy and directed in our tasks, we seldom get the opportunity to hang out and do these kinds of exercises. Remember there are 2,700 people whom we usually are directing out attentions to.

I know this sounds real Pollyanna and I am sorry, I cant help it, but I was really stoked about getting to be involved in an exercise in which when it was all said and done we sat down and ate what we dreamt up along with a glass of wine or a nice pale ale.

Folks seemed to really light up over this event, lots of laughing and great, great memories.

The next day, we went back to the conference room and continued with our workshops and discussions, back to business. But as if to put icing on the cake, we took a short break to recognize one of our peers who was turning 70 that day.

As the cake rolled up and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him, I saw a colleague who was not only surprised but also very pleased that we not only celebrated his birthday, but a birthday, that in many industries the person would already have been retired and celebrating it quietly. Not so in the wine and spirits business. No, we’re a spirited bunch and we need all hands on deck, from 24 to 70 and counting. That bodes well for some of us other silverbacks in the pack, who just want to swing from the trees and make a little difference in the world we have found ourselves in.

So, folks looking on the outside in want to call what we do, and who we are, wicked? I call it the home team, and am very proud to be on it.

1 comment:

JJC said...

I love it, Alfonso. Showing devotion and pride in what you love. That's all that matters anyway. Politics are ugly but there are still many good hearted and devoted politicians....believe it or not.

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