The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2011

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Page 46 of 128

COVER STORY For answers and examples, THE TASTING PANEL turned to Southern Wine & Spirits of California (SWS-CA). Considered on its own, SWS-CA—like the state itself—would be among the largest and most influ- ential wine and spirits distributors in the country. But numbers don't paint the whole picture, so we set out on a two-month- long research project, delving into the minds and practices of SWS-CA's The Inner Core "I love watching talented people develop and apply their skills here." —Jack Brennan, EVP/GM, SWS of California Jack Brennan's career didn't begin that much differently from any other leader at Southern Wine & Spirits. He worked his way up the ranks: "I walked off the streets and into the SWS-South Florida office," he tells me as we sit down for the interview. We are in his office in Cerritos, California, bordering Los Angeles on the northern edge of Orange County. "I applied and got the job—and, to this day, believe that anyone with the right knowledge and attitude will be afforded the same opportunity at Southern. Talent can help one enter the Southern system, and then the sky's the limit." Opportunity is, after all, what Southern is all about. For employees, it means acknowledgement of commit- ment, capability and hard work. For brands, it means an extensive knowl- edge of points of distribution and the matching of brand attributes with cus- tomer and consumer needs. For retail, hotel, bar and restaurant customers, it means a focus on both fundamentals like reliable service as well as business drivers like profitability. Recruitment of new talent is as important as the philosophy of promoting from within: Hard work provides dedicated com- pany veterans with momentum to rise through the ranks. I ask Brennan more about himself, urging him on with questions about his beginnings, but he is passionate to talk about the broader picture. "We have created a management team who makes sure all the parts work—there's great unity here—and this is the core I am talking about. We've all worked here for a long time and grew with the company," he points out, adding, "I'm an example of this philosophy; I was a beneficiary of this approach." When he was sent to California by SWS Chairman & CEO Harvey Chaplin 46 / the tasting panel / october 201 1 in 1983, Brennan's first chal- lenge was to run the San Diego office, and two years later, he was positioned to become the Sales Manager for SWS-SoCal. In 1988, Brennan was sent on a mission to run Southern's first Northern California branch, where he acted as its General Manager until stepping into his present position in 2005. Today, Brennan runs the entire state as EVP/General Manager and is truly a leading example of Southern's devotion to its people. "I spent 33 years of my life here," he admits. "When I started, I had no idea I would spend so much time with one family—the Chaplins—so I think I am a good example of why people stay here. We don't work for a corporate ivory tower; there's a real sense of indepen- dence here. Creativity is rewarded, and we promote from within. That helps to foster an abundance of loyalty at Southern." A National Perspective "It's not about tenure or who you know—it's about achieving results while living the Southern values." —Brad Vassar, EVP/General Manager, SWS of America "We've been successful in taking care of a lot of people," says Brad Vassar, EVP/General Manager, SWS of America (SWS-A), whose history dates back 20 years with the company. He started as a District Manager in California's Central Valley, worked hard to become Branch Manager of Sacramento and eventually ran the sales team as GM of Southern California. In 2005, he moved to Miami, management team, a group that drives this market-leading organization day to day. We found that this seasoned team is not just the head of this successful company, but is, ultimately, the heart and soul as well. Steve Harden, VP/General Manager, SWS of Northern California. where he is now among the company's top echelon. "The great story about SWS of California is that there have been so many people responsible for the suc- cess there—I mean thousands. And not just those in management—but office, warehouse, operations and accounting professionals as well. While a lot of companies may use the word 'family,' they may not mean it sincerely. But surely we do." Vassar is not only referring to the familial feel and camaraderie among Southern employees, but he also means it literally. The company is privately owned, and in talking to any Southern employee, you'll hear two names over and over: Harvey and Wayne Chaplin. "Harvey and Wayne Chaplin had PHOTO: ROB BROWN

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