The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2016

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46  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2016 S everal years ago, Melissa Devore found herself the only female on the senior leadership team for Total Wine & More, the country's largest independent wine retailer. "I was on a market trip with our board of directors to Seattle, touring our stores and the competi- tion," says the Vice President of Wine Buying for Total Wine. "At the time, Seattle had a lot of female store managers who told me how excited they were to meet me. That's when it struck home that we didn't have female role models." On the six-hour flight home to the Washington, D.C. area, Devore sat beside Total Wine's owner, David Trone, who told her she had his undivided attention. "I said I wanted to talk about female leadership, that I wanted to put together a female leadership program. And he said, 'Absolutely.'" Given Devore's resumé, it's unsurprising that Trone granted her request. With an undergradu- ate degree in chemical engineering from Rice University, an MBA from George Washington University, a previous career in software consult- ing and telecommunications, winegrape harvest experience in Chile and ownership of a private wine importing business, Devore was clearly up to the task of spearheading a women's leader- ship program. Back at the office, Trone checked in with Devore every two weeks to ensure its progress, and in 2015, the first Women's Initiative Conference for Total Wine & More took place with 70 voluntary attendees, along with Devore and a panel of female executives at the helm, reflecting on the theme "Succeeding Together." "Our main goal for the first conference was to focus on the participants," Devore says. "We didn't want it to be about Total Wine, just about developing yourself, networking and being influenced." Devore hired an executive coach to shepherd the symposium, flying participants in from the field and corporate office, providing accommoda- tions and gifting each of them with a copy of the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Sessions covered navigating a male-dominated industry, choosing between success and likeability and advocating for oneself on the job. Team-building exercises included a "cocktail and canvas" night in which attendees sipped and painted together. "It was a huge hit. We even mounted the paint- ings as an installation in our corporate offices," says Devore. While organizing the event, Devore recog- nized that the conference came at a particularly salient time in her career; as a wife and mother to her three-and-a-half-year-old son, she constantly needs to revisit her priorities when time is at a premium. "I had my child later in life and was ingrained in my work habits," she says. "I work hard. But I usu- ally pick my son up from school after work, we eat together, and then I choose whatever my balance is that night, whether it's working or something else. Work-life balance is my power. Eighty-hour work weeks are a never-ending story; if you work that much, you'll always have to." Devore recalls a recent example of the impor- tance and effectiveness of setting boundaries and voicing her needs. "Our owner is notorious for holding late meetings. I told him I wanted to make a yoga class by 5:30 after work because I realized I needed to set priorities and let everyone know." Whether personally or professionally, changes and challenges fuel Devore's energy. "I like to always be learning," she says, adding that she reads nonfiction books at home to inspire growth, and rides the shifting sands of consumer habits at Total Wine & More. "The landscape of retail is changing; today, we don't shop the same way we did five years ago, and it's not how we'll shop five years from now. Technology affects everything, which means we have to adapt. I'm lucky to work for a company that's experiencing such high growth in retail because having to adapt keeps me very much engaged." Melissa Devore: A Woman of the Vine by Jaime Lewis

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