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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.

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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.

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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.

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