Vanderbilt Business: How I Did It

Note: This is the first in a series that Vanderbilt Business (the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University) is doing on Alumni to share their stories.   Interestingly, I have subsequently left Lipman Brands and sold the majority of my interests in Napa Smith Brewery.  So it is already a little out of date in terms of what I do (the first question), however,  the rest of the Q&A is not.   That’s why the title is a little bit off.. I’m not done doing what I’m going to do (stay tuned).  I hope to encourage and inspire those who aspire to achieve their success in any way I can.  Hopefully this interview gives a bit of insight to some and is encouraging if you need it.  Kind Regards, Smoke

VBusiness-Masthead

 

LINK:

Have you ever wanted to ask someone questions about their career path? How I Did It asks those questions for you. Serial entrepreneur and beverage magnate J. Smoke Wallin, MBA’93, starts off this recurring series.

jsw at NSB pub

COPY OF INTERVIEW:
Q. What do you do?

I turn ideas into actionable things. Whether working on community issues, industry issues or business ideas, time and time again, I tackle a challenge by manifesting something that was not before.

J. Smoke Wallin
Wallin
In recent years, I have been looking for ways to acquire or create new brand businesses in the beer, wine and spirits space. This pursuit has taken many a twist and turn, and the process has not always been pretty. Today I run several businesses.

I am president and CEO of the Napa Smith Brewery and Winery in Napa, Calif. I acquired the brewery in late 2010 with some partners. We sell in 10 states and Sweden, the U.K. and Hong Kong.

I serve as managing director of Lipman Brands, a brand marketing and sales company. My task has been to build out the infrastructure (systems, process and people) for Lipman Brands to be a national selling organization.

I am chairman, CEO and founder of eSkye Solutions, a technology dot-com I started with a number of Owen alumni back in 1999. Though we have changed our business model a number of times, acquired numerous companies and sold our winery software division in 2007, we continue to build our national account pricing business with large retailers and brands.

And through my holding company, I am still engaged in various consulting projects for new brands, existing businesses and startups. This is a minor part of my job, but it keeps me in touch with new ideas, people and opportunities.

Q. What’s your educational background?

I started as an engineer at Cornell, then was in the hotel management school and then settled on agricultural economics (Cornell’s undergraduate business program). It turns out my time in hospitality management and the agricultural economics department—with a huge emphasis on the grocery and consumer packaged goods industries—gave me a great initial preparation for the beverage industry. At Owen I had a triple concentration in finance, marketing and operations. My view was I wanted to be a general manager/entrepreneur so I needed to learn about all those areas.

Q. What was your first job?

My first job out of Cornell was with Seagram in their management training program. After a summer at Seagram, I had the opportunity to join them full time or join their distributor, National Wine and Spirits. I joined NWS when it was doing $150 million annually. When I left 14 years later, we were a $1 billion operation.

Q. Tell us about your consulting and brand work.

With eSkye, we were doing business with beer, wine and spirits companies all over the world. At one point we had over 250 wineries making or selling their wine using our software. I ended up advising many clients on not just their technology but also on their distribution and business strategy.

I got a bit frustrated with trying to get an old, sleepy and successful industry to be creative in their business strategy. This inevitably led me to want to own my own brands so I could demonstrate my ideas in real life. Starting a new business takes a level of commitment that has to overcome huge obstacles. To make such a commitment, one has to be fairly passionate about whatever it is one does. I have been passionate about the brands business for some time now.

Q. What would you say was your big break or opportunity?

Growing up with a mom who was (and is) very independent-minded, hard-working and stubborn. Becoming a wrestler in high school and later at Cornell. No sport teaches better discipline and self-reliance. Select coaches, teachers and mentors along the way who saw potential in a kid with big ideas and no wallet.

Q. What was—or has been—your biggest challenge?

Overcoming financial distress when either markets or circumstances have gone against me at select moments. …The good news is, if you can get through those times and never forget them, it makes for a wiser, more humble perspective. This is something I think I was meant to learn.

Q. What was—or has been—your greatest thrill (or accomplishment if you’d prefer to answer that)?

Biggest thrills: Closing on a $110 million bond deal for NWS as CFO, closing on a $60 million equity deal for eSkye as CEO and acquiring the Napa Smith Brewery. Also a handful of sales closes over the years that were big enough to materially impact that particular business.

Biggest accomplishments: I would say seeing some of the people I hired, believed in and worked with go on to be very successful in their own right. That includes some Owen grads and many others along the way.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

I’ll give two:

Don’t let fear prevent you from pursing your dreams. Nothing great was ever accomplished by someone who simply thought great things. It only happens in doing.
Enjoy the journey. I spent a lot of energy focusing on outcomes: raising money, IPOs, deals and sale closes. Those are important, but enjoying the process of getting there, each and every day, needs to be constantly remembered. This is where we spend most of our time and if that is so, how do you want to remember most of your time?

Easier said than done, but you asked for advice.

Theft Ain’t So Easy Anymore; My iPad’s Incredible Adventure

Over the years, I have been an early adapter of technology.  In 7th grade (1978), I won 2nd place in the Manatee County Science Fair for a program I wrote on a Commodore 64 that allowed one to take a quiz on the Solar System.  I had the first MAC in 1984 when I went off to Cornell University as a Freshman.  It was very cool, except when it made that unhappy MAC face (often).

JSW Mac at Cornell

Fast forward a few years in business (and a budget) and I always had the latest devices in laptops and phones and crossover gadgets almost every year since 1992.   From my cool Radio Shack phone (big and rectangular) while still at Vanderbilt for business school in 1993 to the dark grey Motorola Flip to the StarTac (almost $1k when it came out).  Since I had companies I ran outright or for which I oversaw the technology side of things, I had an obligation (it was part of the job) to test out the new devices.  After a long and loyal run on Blackberry’s (I had the original pager shaped device and almost every one since, until 2011), my current device set looks like a commercial for Apple.  It includes an iPhone 5, a PowerBook Pro and an iPad mini.

220px-Mobile_phone_evolution

Over the years, I have broken, lost or had stolen (from me) my fair share of these.   Invariably once missing, always missing with a couple of exceptions of cell phones returning to me from taxis in Chicago and New York and a laptop coming back from the back of a plane seat.   But it was not until this summer that I experienced a fundamentally different experience in attempting to retrieve a missing device. 

 

This story is about my iPad mini’s theft and return.

 

In July we went out to Denver to visit family in the mountains.  After a couple of days up at Grand Lake, CO (amazing lake at 8,000 ft surrounded by mountains at the back side of the Rocky Mountain National Park), we enjoyed an evening of friends and music while Anitra performed with her old band mate Ryan Tracy. 

 

2013-07-25 19.45.27  2013-07-27 18.59.18

 

Sunday morning we had early flights out of Denver International Airport with kids flying in different directions and us heading back out to Napa, CA.   In our hectic exit, my iPad mini (I love it, but it is a “mini”) was inadvertently left wedged between the front passenger seat and the console of our Avis rented Tahoe.  I realized this during my Southwest flight back to Sacramento.   We immediately called Avis lost and found (I have had some success in having things returned if you realize it quickly enough).  In the past insisting on having the rental company re-check a vehicle several times has been required.  I did so this time to no avail.  They said it was not there.  I was 99% positive it was.

avis-logo

That evening after I hosted a beer tasting at our brewery Napa Smith Brewery, I went online and reported my iPad stolen on the very user friendly Denver Police website (which was quite user friendly). The next morning, I turned on the “Find my iPhone” and searched for it using Apple’s iCloud service.  Sure enough, it found it, but it was in an area of Denver that we had not been.  I screen captured the image of the location and sent that on to the Denver Police.

findmyiphone

Note: I password protect all my devices.  While I’m sure a sophisticated criminal technology ring could crack the 4 digit code, I felt I had a little time to keep searching.  The alternative is to “wipe” the device.  This protects all your personal information, but prevents one from tracking the device ever again.  I choose to keep it intact to try to retrieve it.

 

Smoke's missing ipad in Denver

 

At this point my working theory was either Avis re-rented the vehicle and the iPad was in it OR it was stolen by someone at Avis, who had then either taken it home or handed it off to someone else.  I received a call from Denver Police detective Gomez who asked me to send her directly the picture of the location.  She told me she would call me when she got there and I planned on “pinging” it.  iCloud allows one to cause a device to make a sound, very useful in finding a missing one or stolen one.    When the detectives arrived on the site, they called and I began pinging the iPad.  They went door to door.  The find your iPhone is amazing, but it is not easy tell EXACTLY where it is, only within a very small area

Nothing.  The detectives even went into a couple of apartments (with permission).  They told me it appeared to be a retirement home of some kind and they did not think it was there.  I was confident it was on site given the images.  They told me to let them know if it moved or I had any new information and left the site.  Frustrated but with little recourse, I kept checking the site.

Sure enough shortly after the police left the scene, the iPad was on the move.  I tracked it and kept pinging it, hoping that whoever was driving would hear it and either fear they were being tracked or look at it and call my mobile number, which was prominently displayed on the front screen.  For a while it was at what appeared to be a junkyard. My working theory at this point was the perpetrator got scared and tossed it .  However, this theory was dispelled when it went on the move again, eventually returning to roughly the same spot where the police had been earlier.

smokes ipad on the move 2.37mt  smoke ipad new location - by junk yard

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning while my Peet’s coffee was brewing, I checked the Find my iPhone site.  Lo and behold it was on the move.  I kept refreshing it and it was clearly on the way back out toward the airport.  Sure enough, it pulled into the Avis lot.  We immediately called Avis again and told them and sent them a picture of where it was.  Remember, these pictures are a current location overlaying a satellite image that was taken some time ago.  So while you can look at cars and other things on the ground in the image, these are from a different moment in time.  Interesting.

Smoke's ipad route from the old aged home area back to the Avis lot at Denver Airport

Now my working theory was maybe the Tahoe was re-rented and it is now just returned.  Or the perpetrator panicked from the police visit was trying to bring it back. Or it never left the perpetrators car and was simply in it as they returned to work after 2 days at home.  They reported to work at 8am.

 

The image I sent Avis appeared to be in the employee parking lot.

Smoke's ipad current location is at Avis

Our Avis representative Yolanda went out to the area and began searching with some of her colleagues.  3 times they went out looking to no avail.

 

Then all of a sudden the iPad appeared to enter the Avis building.  We called Yolanda and told her it was on the move.  Quickly it moved back out into the parking lot into another area.  My theory at this point was the perpetrator knew there was a search going on, had retrieved the device and was moving around with it.  One possibility was they were part of the search group.  It felt like the Kevin Costner movie, “No Way Out” in which he was the spy but part of the search party looking for the spy.  Crazy.  Frustrating.   I was determined to get to the bottom of this.  Sitting in Napa, CA, watching my iPad move around Avis at the Denver airport – was simply amazing.

 

After a short while, Yolanda called back and gave us the good news that they found the iPad mini.  Relieved, and now more curious than anything, I wanted to know the answer to what happened and who did it.  Yolanda told us it was in a rental truck, but NOT our Tahoe.  My working theory at this point is someone took it, realized it was being tracked (police visits and pings), brought it back when they had to return to work, realized there was a search going on and planted it in a similar rental where Avis found it.  I reported all this to Detective Gomez at DPD.  I believe it’s not too difficult for Avis to figure out who worked on Sunday July 28, had off on the 29th and 30th, and then reported to work on the 31st at 8am.  This person likely lives at or right around the location of the iPad where we had the police search.

I am still curious as to the final outcome.  I’m sure Avis has every reason to find out who did it.

IMG_1787 smoke's ipad

I want to compliment the GREAT service I received at Avis, especially Yolanda.  My expectations were exceeded greatly with the excellent customer service from the Denver Police Department, especially Detective Gomez.  Both were terrific and it was appreciated.  This service from Apple is AWESOME!  I was so glad I had a fully charged iPad so we had the time it took to track it down and get it back.

 

With all the disturbing revelations regarding the NSA tracking, the targeted drone strikes and other technology enabled activities governments are now able to do, at least in this regard, the technology was put to great use!

 

While I can think of some enhancements to make this even easier, perhaps, make the iPad talk to the perpetrator – warning them that “I belong to Smoke, he is looking for me and will find me soon”, current level of function was sufficient to have a positive outcome.

 

It sure ain’t so easy anymore if crime was your chosen field…

9th Annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium™ – Wits™ Set To Deliver Action Packed Agenda Next Week

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone attending WITS on Monday and Tuesday at the Napa Valley Marriott!  Here is our final announcement re the event…

wits logo

9th Annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium™ – Wits™ Set To Deliver Action Packed Agenda Next Week 

There is Still Time To Sign Up Today For 9th Annual WITS™  

Beginning Monday, July 15 and 16 @ Napa Valley Marriott 

Leading Technology Innovators Demonstrate Latest Products and Services During Sold Out Showcase 

Napa, CA— July 11, 2013— Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) today announced its final agenda and speakers for the 9th annual event to be held July 15 & 16 in Napa, CA.  Keynotes bring elite leadership, social media and the transformative cloud to the wine industry.

If Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function, WITS mission is the creation of a safe environment to challenge assumptions in order to elevate the wine industry’s strategic use of technology to achieve superior results.

Over the years, WITS has done exactly this, by hosting the Chief Information Officer CIO Forum, providing thought provoking keynote speakers, delivering hands on break out sessions, profiling a technology showcase while fostering extensive networking opportunities for all attendees.  This 9th conference promises to be the best ever!  If you are involved in using, choosing or creating technology for your wine related business, you really don’t want to miss this once a year opportunity.

WITS Promo PHoto

3 Keynotes & A Tribute

  • Jonathan Good,  Senior SMR Solutions at Oracle will speak on “Developing a Social Relationship Management Strategy for Wine ” building on his experience as founder of HelloSocialMedia.com – a social media and marketing agency that focused on the creation and execution of social media programs, including blogging, community development, Internet marketing, design and web development.
  • Miles Ward, Solutions Architect, Amazon Web Services will speak about Big Data for Real World Businesses showing tools, techniques and clear ROI for analysis in the cloud.  Miles helped NASA live-stream the Mars Rover landing, developed the online Obama For America 2012 presidential campaign, and has helped thousands of companies make the leap to the cloud.
  • Award-winning serial entrepreneur and successful luxury hotel owner, author, speaker, and former U.S. Army Green Beret Larry Broughton shares his insights on transforming ordinary teams into extraordinary ones.

“I’m very pleased to have Larry Broughton, Jonathan Good and Miles Ward join us on our Keynote program.” said J. Smoke Wallin, founder and co-chairman of WITS.  He continued, “I have had the privileged of interacting with each of our speakers and know they will each deliver inspirational and thought provoking discussions that will deliver real take home value to all our winery attendees.”

WITS 2008

Attendees can register at www.wineindustrytechnologysymposium.com

About WITS: The Wine Industry Technology Symposium® (WITS) is the focal point for thought leadership in the strategic and tactical use of technology in the global wine industry.  WITS was created in 2005 by a group of wine industry and technology professionals to advance innovation and to address the unique information technology and services needs of the wine industry.  The 9th annual WITS  is July 15 & 16 in Napa, CA.  Join WITS on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to learn more.

For more information, contact Waunice Orchid of the Wine Industry Symposium Group at 707-261-8716 or waunice@swgnapa.com

10th Annual American Distilling Institute’s Craft Spirits Conference

I had the great honor of speaking at the 10th Craft Spirits Conference put on by the American Distilling Institute this week.  ADI’s mission is to

The American Distilling Institute’s mission is to disseminate essential information regarding the art and science of distilling.

American Distilling Institute
I must say, the energy at this conference was palpable.  There are so many exciting things happening in craft spirits.  The growth in craft spirits is a continuation and natural extension of what we have seen first in the winery space and later in the craft beer space.  Today’s consumers more than ever before are interested in trying new hand crafted, unique expressions of wine, beer and spirits.  ADI tracks the new distilleries across the US.  Check this map out:
Directory of Craft Distillers from ADI
Truly amazing.  One of the challenges a craft spirits brand owner has is route to market.  You can do everything right in terms of setting up production, coming up with a great liquid, branding and packaging, but if you cannot get your brand into distribution, into retail and ultimately in front of the consumer, it is all for naught.

I participated on a panel of industry experts from distribution and retail and moderated by Craig Wolf, my friend and the CEO of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America WSWA.  Craig did a great job of bring together knowledgable people to give insights into this route to market challenge for young brands.  Our panel included contributions from

Gary Keimach of Martingnetti in New England

David Jabour of Twin Liquors in Texas

Sam Rubenstein of Horizon Beverage in New England

Scott McKee of RNDC in Florida

Ken Fredrickson of Tenzing Wine & Spirits in Illinois

Here are my remarks on how a young craft brand can think about the challenge of route to market with some simple things to focus on for success.

 

Thanks to Bill Owens and Penn Jensen of ADI for leading the charge for craft distilling!  It is a great movement that will only continue to thrive.

Craft Spirits Conference 2013 Craft Spirits Conference 2013  Craft Spirits Conference 2013  Craft Spirits Conference 2013

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