My YPO Graduation Remarks – Giving Thanks

My YPO Graduation Remarks – Giving Thanks

YPO Graduation - J Smoke Wallin

Last week, I chose to graduate a bit early from YPO “Young Presidents Organization” into WPO “World Presidents Organization” its sister organization for the over 49 crowd.  While I will remain active in WPO and the Food & Beverage Network and Deal Network in particular, the past twelve years in YPO have enriched my life greatly and its a good moment to reflect on that. Also I’d like to give special thanks to Todd Maurer for his remarks introducing me.  These are my remarks giving thanks at the graduation ceremony.

Todd Maurer giving remarks on Smoke Wallin at YPO graduation 2015

YPO GRADUATION – J. Smoke Wallin

Thanks Todd, I really appreciate your kind words!  Speaking of giving thanks, today is the anniversary of DDay 1944.

In 2003 when I joined YPO and “Forum Unplugged” my kids were 13, 11, 8 and 3, today they are 26, 24, 21 and 16… wow nothing like kids to express the passing of time.

Since then I’ve been blessed with a lifetimes worth of experiences professionally and personally as a direct result of YPO.   This was not an accident.  It did not just happen to me.  You see, I don’t believe in doing things part way.  Either you commit or you do not.  When I joined YPO I made a commitment to give and get as much as I possibly could.

Henry David Thoreau said “True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.”  This is YPO.

From Australia to India to the UK to cities throughout the US, YPO members have been welcoming and helpful to my family and me.  I know this because I dined at their homes, visited their businesses, attended their events and engaged with them in business.  I know the last 12 years of my life have been greatly enhanced by this commitment.

I will express my gratitude by sharing a couple of stories and mention a few people.

First, I met my wife Anitra on a YPO trip and that changed my life forever.  Thanks Darling.

YPO George HW Bush Event - Smoke & Anitra 2004

YPO George HW Bush Event – Smoke & Anitra 2004

I could stop there, but I won’t.

I joined Forum Unplugged and have had 12 years of deep relationships, friendships and confidences with 22 Forum mates.  They include:

  • Scott Webber
  • Don Palmer
  • Brent Eckhart
  • Mark Jackson
  • Bill McCarthy
  • Allen Furrer
  • Dan Horner
  • Chris Hilger
  • Richard Horn
  • Mike Bosway
  • Matthew Claymon
  • Gregg Schorr
  • Nelson Reyes
  • Jim Rapp
  • Brian Acton
  • Kent Morris
  • Todd Maurer
  • Anthony Brown
  • John Ryan
  • Bryan Brenner
  • Dave Foellinger
  • Dan Filby
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YPO Forum Unplugged

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Aspen_-_YPO

These are some of the finest individuals I’ve ever come to know and I am grateful for all they have done for me in my journey.

Some of our very best friends today are members we met through YPO including Bryan and Lara Sperber in Phoenix and Lesley Berglund in Napa

Through Networks, I’ve expanded my industry network tenfold.  Engagement in networks has been the single most important business and professional development aspect of YPO for me.  Fortunately, I’m excited to be able to continue through WPO as I Chair the 2016 Food & Beverage Roundtable in Napa, CA.

Looking back, I’ve lived so much life over the past 12 years it’s hard to summarize in a couple of minutes.   I’m not alone when I say it has come with great successes and great loss.  I’ve lost partners, friends and employees to both accidents and suicide.  I’ve had incredible business ups and downs and started numerous new ones along the way.  Throughout all of it, I’ve had YPO people to help me be better or simply to be there when I have needed it most.

To all of us, but especially those newer members… I’d like to remind you of some things that did not exist when I joined:

  • starting in my industry – there are 1,000s of new breweries, wineries and spirits brands available today that did not exist
  • There was no iPod or iPhone or iPad
  • There was no Facebook or Twitter
  • No AirBnB or Uber
  • no Freedom Tower
  • no Lucas Oil Stadium

All of these things that are now a part of the world and our every day lives.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

– A. Einstein

Looking forward, what will the next 12 years bring?  I spend a lot of time thinking about what’s next in brands, but I won’t try and answer that question here.  There is one thing that I do know…. I am confident many YPO people will be involved in changing both the world and my life for the better.

Thanks for everything you have given me.

It’s 2015, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

It’s 2015, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

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Leadership principles stand the test of time. To me these are defined by integrity, a strong sense of right and wrong, hard work, persistence and resiliency. Finally a commitment to a greater good or cause (helping others) is integral. Letsal20081-206x300(pp_w124_h180)adership is not popularity; good leaders will have times when they are more or less in and out of favor (see Sir. Winston Churchill). Leaders have a strong sense of their core principles from which they don’t depart, regardless of current popular opinion.  Leaders are human beings and by definition are not flawless.  That said, all true leaders have a sense of service – service to their organization or community and to other individuals – from which they strive to lift up organizations and people.  I agree with Robert K. Greenleaf’s view on the topic.

In my travels, I frequently have the opportunity to spend quality time with extraordinary individuals in all walks of life. These include Business CEOs, nonprofit directors, education experts, entertainers, politicians and just ordinary people doing their thing. Many of these individuals are not interested in public leadership, yet in their very day-to-day actions, quietly provide outstanding examples of true leadership.  In a recent interaction with one highly successful CEO, our conversation led to the question of political leadership and the level of vitriol in much of the public dialogue going on. Whether in race relations, economic and entitlement disputes, or combating terrorism, one need only turn on the television and flip channels to hear it on all sides of the political spectrum.

I grew up in a family of teachers and liberals. I was known back then as the “Alex P. Keaton” of my family (Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties) by many relatives. In other words, I was a conservative thinking person in a household of liberaFamily tiesls. I grew up debating the issues of the day at the kitchen table. And while at family get togethers even today, we may disagree on approach, inevitably there is agreement on many of the problems in the world and that the status quo is unacceptable. There is no name calling or questioning of each others intentions, but rather a healthy disagreement on solutions. I’m struck by how rare this is in today’s public discourse.

For example, there is widespread agreement that America’s education system is failing our country, our communities and our kids.   Teachers think this. Parents think this. Kids think this. CEOs think this.

See What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?

Why American Education Fails

The Failure of American Schools

The Graph That Shows How Badly U.S. Education is Failing

I view the bureaucracy and the statist entrenched interests as fundamental impediments to change for effective education. One can be quite liberal and agree with that viewpoint. Where there is significant disagreement typically are in the methods and approaches for changing it. Without addressing the solutions here (my point is leadership and constructive discourse not solving education in this post), the level of personal attacks and vitriol around the debate, is often times exacerbated by our public officials. The current fights around Common Core are bringing out some of this (see Who Is Fighting Against Common Core?).   Common Core has brought conservative and liberal groups together in opposition (for very different reasons). In every state and locality, there are the powerful teachers unions who tend to oppose most reforms of any impact. In many cases they have captured the statehouses with members who pledge allegiance to them regardless of position (see Teachers union fights Cuomo’s school reforms).  The debate in most cases is not a debate, but rather, a contest of sound bites to make political points, usually denigrating the opponents.

 

Back to my conversation with the CEO above, we reminisced about leaders in the past who seemed to bronald-reagan-brandenburg-gate-west-berlin-june-12-1987-picturee above the fray and always showed class and respect for their opponents. I mentioned President Ronald Reagan, whom I never had the chance to meet, but admired greatly. I have read and heard from those who knew him, that Reagan treated everyone with respect. He would speak to the gardener, as he would address a world leader. He was also willing to take tough stands regardless of the political winds. His advisors and speechwriters, the State Department and all around him reportedly advised strongly against any mention of the Berlin Wall coming down. When Reagan made his now famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate he overruled them all as he spoke that incredible call to action “Tear Down This Wall”. All agree it was a pivotal moment in the history of cold war, and it would not have come to be had he been willing to say what he thought was right at that moment.  I remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan exhibiting these qualities and being willing to tackle tough issues regardless of the dogma of his party.  He had an ability to reach across the aisle and collaborate with political foes on important issues.

Former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels has this quality as well. Mitch served for a purpose, and it was NOT for the purpose of being in office. These were leaders in the true sense of the word.   Individuals who would stand by their convictions in spite of opposition, but who never seemed to make personal attacks against individuals. They also served in the true sense of the word. I miss that.

Smoke & Mitch Daniels

I’m not saying there are no leaders today who exhibit these characteristics, but it is simply too rare. As long as personal attacks of motives and cult of personality (regardless of how bad the behavior) are accepted and even encouraged, this will remain the case. I fundamentally believe one can disagree on ideas and still have great respect for others. This is true in politics, business and life. As serial entrepreneur, Sir. Richard Branson posted today “The importance of good neighbors is often underappreciated. By fostering a healthy and respectful relationship, everybody stands to gain.”   I have many friends who exhibit these qualities traveling to Melbourne, Australia this week for the Global Leadership Conference (GLC) for the Young Presidents Organization (YPO/WPO).  In business and nonprofits, and community organizations, there are individuals exhibiting great leadership every day. I’d be interested in hearing your examples of people who exhibit the qualities of true leaders in their words and deeds.

YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable 2015

YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable 2015

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I spent the past week in Orlando, FL with an inspiring group of CEOs from the food and beverage industry. The roundtable is a once a year gathering of presidents involved in or interested in the industry. The network consists of over 1800 leaders doing everything from farming to production to distribution to food service/restaurants. It cuts across industries, from my world of beer, wine and spirits into the vast world of food (we merged the Global Beer, Wine and Spirits network with the Food & Beverage Network in 2013), so the network is truly from Farm to Fork and from Grape to Glass. A roundtable of thoughtful leaders from so many diverse areas is as much about learning from each other as it is the specific resources and education programming.   I come away from my 7th such meeting with a renewed vigor for pursuing my business and life goals, and an appreciation for the many friendships, old and new, I have through YPO. Here are some of the highlights:

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I’ll start with the integration of outstanding dining experiences with world-class beverages. We enjoyed a beautifully done dinner at Il Mulino at the Walt Disney World Swan (Walt Disney World Swan, 1200 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32830). Il Mulino is world famous and their flagship restaurant in Greenwich Village remains top rated in New York’s elite dining scene. The Orlando Trattoria version is well executed. Of course, the making of a perfect meal is all about pairing the right flavors with each other and with the right beverages. Banfi Vintners, one of the largest importers of wine and a major producer of Italian wines was the perfect resource for our evening. I’d like to give a special shout out to Bill Whiting, Wine Education Director from Banfi who gave a delightful narrative to the wines and business as we progressed throughout the evening. All of the pairings were enjoyable, but my personal favorite was the 2009 Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino with Primo Piatto Tagliatelle (Lamb Ragu, Mirepoix, Pecornino). Wow.

menulogo-BLK il mulino Orlando dining room IMG_4969 IMG_5013

We went in a completely different direction at Fulton’s Crab House (A YPO company, Levy Restaurants) and a thoroughly enjoyable evening of one of Oregon’s greatest wine producers, Sokal Blosser. A special shout out to YPO member and winery leader, Alison Sokal Blosser who not only educated our group on the Oregon wine business and her wines, but entertained us with personal stories growing up in the vineyards in a wine family.   As a Pinot Noir fanatic, I was certainly in my element as Alison shared their outstanding 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and then dipped into the very limited production Goosepin block 2010 and 2011. Capping off the evening was a special treat of her 2013 Dessert Riesling. It was, on the whole, an enjoyable evening interacting with members.

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On our final evening together, we were able to visit member and Chef John Metz Jr.’s Marlow’s Tavern. As they describe it “Marlow’s Tavern features the “Best of the Best” in American tavern fare served in a modern atmosphere.” I would call it a modern gastro pub and simply a great place to enjoy high quality food in a very relaxed atmosphere. John and his partners now have 13 Marlow’s in Atlanta and 2 in Orlando. Craft cocktails accompanied the expertly executed appetizers and my friends at the Belhaven Brewery from Scotland provided us with some Belhaven Black Stout and Belhaven Twisted Thistle IPA.

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From Marlow’s we moved on to a tequila pairing dinner at the vibrant (one might say ROCKIN!) Rocco’s Tacos. Our friends at Brown-Forman were the perfect partner as we enjoyed a full range of their Casa Herradura tequilas. Thanks to both Michael Ring and Greg Stewart of Brown Forman. The tequilas matched the courses nicely but the final offering of Selección Suprema Extra Anejo, aged 49 months on oak was spectacular. This is a true sipping tequila.

IMG_5008roccos tacos

The educational aspects of the meeting were a mix of in industry (Food & Beverage) and outside industry but all focused on “president level” education. In other words how do I perform better as a president and how do I make my organization more effective. I share here a few non-confidential highlights from the many outstanding educational sessions:

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  • Celebrity Chef and Top Chef season 11 fan favorite Nina Compton, gave a personal account of her journey as a chef from growing up in St. Lucia to chopping carats in the back of kitchens to a becoming major TV celebrity. I have had the opportunity to enjoy the four-star food at Scarpetta in the Fontainebleau where Nina was chef de cuisine until June 2014. She has a great energy and I cannot wait to try her new restaurant she is opening soon. Details to come once it is announced!
  • We had an only in YPO discussion on family business with four leaders from YPO companies who are all in the same family. It was fascinating watch their interaction and how they have tackled the jugular issues any family business faces in success and succession.
  • WPO member, industry leader (and recent National Restaurant Association Chair) and Executive Chairman of Miller’s Ale House, Phil Hickey gave us compelling insights into the election results and the importance of each of us to be involved politically. There are a lot of bad for business movements that are well organized and need to be countered by the people that actually create the businesses that support jobs and the economy. If we don’t do it who will?
  • A leading expert in risk management, Richard Shanks of Aon Risk Solutions, gave a compelling if not disturbing talk on the risks to the food supply and what leaders in industry are doing to mitigate and prevent problems. This is a topic that anyone in the food and beverage business at every level (farming, production, retailing, serving) need to be knowledgeable in and prepared for.
  • Richard Van Warner of the Parquet Group, a leading restaurant consulting firm, gave a talk that brought the risks of not handling a problem, in a timely and well-considered way, to life. His war stories and examples of what not to do were entertaining and at the same time a wake up call to everyone in the room.
  • If we did not have enough to be concerned about with the food supply risks and the PR issues in handling problems, the truly scary world of cyber security came to life in Tom Noonan’s talk. Noonan is Chairman of Tessentee Capital and a WPO member, and has had a lot of experience dealing with cyber threats. His deep dive into the Target fiasco was telling. People are involved in every business. People are the biggest risk. In many cases, the very basic, simple steps that can be taken, and need to be taken to encrypt sensitive data and manage the outside access to the web, are simply ignored. Any company leader not taking this serious threat at the CEO level is risking not only their job, but their company.
  • The recent changes President Obama has made with regard to Cuba, has made it a very interesting topic indeed. We enjoyed a briefing by business intelligence experts Javier Ortiz and Marty Martin of Crane & Crane Consulting. The bottom line is Cuba is opening up, but there is a lot of uncertainty on how fast. It has unique potential as a destination for Americans with its close proximity to the US, natural beaches and friendly people. I think there will be a lot of investment flowing into Cuba from all over the world as the relations with the US continue to normalize.
  • Marshall Chiles of Humor Wins gave us a methodology for injecting humor into our presentations. It was a fun (and humorous) walk through the mind of the comedian. I don’t think any of us will give up our day jobs, but the approach he shared can certainly liven up our presentations. Thanks Marshall!
  • Our behind the scenes tour of Disney’s EPCOT Center “Land Exhibit” was interesting. EPCOT has had a sustainable farming operation for over 25 years and continues to do extensive research on best practices. With the world’s population growing at the current pace, it is clear that food supply and conservation of clean water is going to be among the biggest concerns going forward. I don’t think enough people are thinking about this or doing anything to prepare for it. I’m glad Disney is playing some part and I hope they think of more ways in which to spread the word.

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  • We had an interesting talk from a senior executive at Disney, Elizabeth Ann Williams General manager F&B for Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Walk Disney World Resort -who shared the “DISNEY WAY” = Safety, Courtesy, Efficiency and Show.   Her passion for the EPCOT Food & Wine Experience was great to see, as it is one of the coolest events in our industry and Elizabeth had a hand in its creation.
  • Michael Pavone, a friend and YPO member, gave us an updated summary of his “Trends in Food & Beverage” report his agency puts together annually. It is always an interesting check on the pulse of what is happening in F&B.
  • In her “inside the mind of the millennial woman” (my title), Cindy Judge of Sterling-Rice Group shared insights and observations of the largest generation to date, that is increasingly driving decision making globally. As the father of three millennials and one of whatever comes after that, her research rang true. Anyone leading a business, who does not take into account this generation and their ways of making decisions around brands and life, does so at their own peril.

 

3 or 4 Cornellians at YPO F&B 2015

3 of 4 Cornellians at YPO F&B 2015

As always, the biggest benefit of YPO comes from the interaction and learning among the members. As event champion for the 2016 F & B Roundtable in Napa Valley, CA, I’m looking forward to putting another world-class program together to build upon this year’s successful event.

Dinner with The White House Chef – Walter Scheib

Dinner with The White House Chef – Walter Scheib

I had the great pleasure of having a grand dinner with with former White House executive chef, Walter Scheib.  In October a bunch of YPO/WPO members of the Food & Beverage Network and the Beer, Wine & Spirits Network (I chair) got together in Chicago for 3 days of learning and networking.  It was a fantastic event, with best of the best resources, speakers, and activities.  One highlight was our evening with Walter Scheib.

Here is a little background on Walter from his website The American Chef.

Walter Scheib
(White House Executive Chef, 1994 – 2005)

“For the last eleven years, I have had the honor of doing daily what most chefs would be lucky to do once in their life time. That honor was serving the First Family of the United States.”

– Walter Scheib, March 2005
Walter Scheib has quite a story to tell. In fact, he has two stories to tell. The first involves the rise of an American chef to the most storied position in the land. The second offers an intimate, human view of two First Families, the corridors of political power, international personalities, and the most famous building in the United States, from a unique vantage point: The kitchen.

In April 1994, after a lengthy application and screening process, Walter Scheib became the chef to America’s chief executive and the First Family. First Lady Hillary Clinton, impressed by the comprehensive spa menu Scheib had developed for the Greenbrier resort, as well as his highlighting of American cuisine, personally hired Scheib. For 11 years, he prepared everything from simple family meals to elaborate and formal State Dinners. His culinary creations dazzled and delighted White House guests including Nelson Mandela, Emperor Aikihito, Jacques Chirac, Boris Yeltsin, Vaclav Havel, Lady Diana Spencer, Tony Blair, Vicente Fox, and others, not to mention the thousands of congressional members, journalists, and other House visitors who got to know his food.

A highlight of Scheib’s White House achievement was his creation of a distinctly American repertoire for the nation’s First House. He continues to speak with eloquence and pride about America’s bounty today, praising the artisan cheese makers, green grocers, mushroom foragers, master bread makers, fishermen, ranchers, and farmers who have helped our national market basket evolve, and make quality cooking more accessible than ever. “America is rich in amazing produce, meats, and fish,” Scheib say

The White House Chef - YPO/WPO Menu

s. “Using just a few excellent ingredients, anyone can make a perfect meal with very little formal training.”

Chef Scheib was very personable and probably the coolest part of the our evening together was all the interesting stories from his days in the White House for both President Clinton and Bush. There were many funny ones.

The meal was excellent and creative.  Menu at right.  Jay Wright the EVP and COO of Constellation Wines hosted our reception with a fun tasting of some of their wines from around the world.  Constellation Wine worked with Chef on the pairings. I was not a fan of everything, but it was a great experience.  My favorite dish was the first course – Seasame crusted Halibut with Red Curried Sweet Potato Soup.  This was paired with the 2010 Nobilo “Icon” Sauvignon Blanc.  Nice.

The best part was hanging out with Chef afterwards.  He joined us at our “afterparty” that I hosted with 3 Amigos Tequila and Napa Smith Brewery.  We enjoyed a Napa Smith Organic IPA together and chatted about his current business, travels and great food.  He is a big fan of great beer and agreed with my contention that a beer dinner is easier to create than a wine dinner as beer actually can accompany more foods in a more complimentary way.  Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, but we are seeing more and more of this kind of thinking.  Its great to get confirmation from a talented chef like Watler Scheib.

Chef Scheib’s book is called “White House Chef”.  It is far more than a cook book.  It is an interesting look into life inside the White House.

White House Chef

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