Hiring for Good Ep. 9 with Gary Mortensen

Hiring for Good

About Stoller Wine Group: The Stoller Wine Group has earned a reputation as one of Oregon’s most dynamic wineries by thinking and acting differently than our peers. Our success begins with Founder and Proprietor, Bill Stoller, a native of Dayton, Oregon whose vision is to build a company that will last for 200 years. Founded in 1993, our collection of family-owned brands includes Stoller Family Estate, Chehalem Winery, Chemistry, Stoller Swing, History, and Canned Oregon. We take pride in our B Corp, LIVE, and Salmon-Safe certifications, knowing that we back our values with actions when it comes to our commitment to our land, wines, and community. With every step forward, we are building a lasting impact on the wine industry and the world. Our dedication has led us to be perennially honored as one of Oregon’s most admired companies by the Portland Business Journal, 10 Best Tasting Rooms by the USA Today Reader’s Choice, and a 2023 Top Work Places winner by The Oregonian.

Tanis Morris: Director of Business Development at Acumen Executive Search Email: tanis@acumenexecutivesearch.com

Suzanne Hanifin: President at Acumen Executive Search Email: suzanne@acumenexecutivesearch.com

Gary Mortensen Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gmortensen

Stoller Wine Group Website: https://www.stollerwinegroup.com/

Acumen Executive Search, Portland, Oregon, is proud to present the Hiring For Good Podcast. Follow Acumen Executive Search to be notified of new episodes.

Hiring for Good Podcast Transcript

0:00 well hello we’re happy to be here today at hiring for good podcast uh we’re very fortunate to be recording our um

0:08 interviewed this morning with Gary Mortensen, President of Stoller Wine Group um Gary brings with him a wealth

0:15 of experience across multiple industries and uh thank you so much for being here Gary thank you for having me well we’re

0:23 thrilled to have you and really really looking forward to this um conversation I I almost don’t know where

0:29 to start uh reading your your background was so fascinating and um you know

0:35 integrating those stories into all that you’ve accomplished at Stoller is going to be incredible so I guess we’ll start

0:41 with um why don’t you give our audience uh an overview of kind of your journey

0:47 and how you came to this point and I know there’s a lot so feel free to just dive in okay I’ll just jump in um well I

0:56 I was actually I’m from California believe it or not um uh was born in Lampoc, California where my

1:02 dad was the chief of police and um and yeah so I think they always planned to

1:08 stay in Southern California but as a chief of police he started getting a lot of death threats oh jeez so he moved the

1:13 family out of okay out of California and we lived in Lake Tahoe which was the greatest to this day the greatest winter

1:19 I’ve ever experienced especially to be a eight-year-old kid living there um and then uh then from there we moved to

1:25 McMinnville and McMinnville here in Yamhill County so um that was a uh that was

1:30 where I grew up went to high school the whole thing um little did I know what was going to happen down the road in

1:36 Yamhill County becoming really the epicenter of of Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy France but uh at the time I I

1:44 grew up went to high school uh didn’t know what I wanted to do so went to Oregon State for a uh a couple of years

1:50 and I worked at Payless Drugstore and those of you who have uh been in Oregon for a

1:56 long time no Payless Drugstores not the shoes but the drug store and uh and I

2:01 actually worked my way up and and started doing merger and acquisition work with them uh while I was in high

2:07 school or while I was in college excuse me and uh that was really cool so I took some time off from college and started

2:14 getting into that and uh and was able to uh really learn kind the first taste of

2:20 something exciting around going and buying things and being part of a of a merger and an acquisition so I learned

2:26 that early on and um then all of a sudden uh Payless sold and uh

2:33 at the time they sold to Kmart and ultimately to Rite Aid uh and I didn’t want to do that that didn’t seem very much fun so I took some time went to

2:39 Australia hung out for six months came back finished uh College uh got a degree and uh majored in political science and

2:46 minored in history but history has always been a sort of a North Star for me and as I tell my journey I guess I’ll

2:52 continue to thread that through um and I just I was one of those Boomers that

2:58 grew up uh you know in love with World War II and all the movies and all the TV shows and all the comic books and

3:04 everything else and it sort of just stuck with me I think it picked me more than I picked it but it it the strategy

3:10 and and the tactics of warfare was something that just was interesting to me and so I’ve always sort of applied

3:17 that to how I think um but uh I came back and finished uh my

3:25 degree and didn’t know what I wanted to do and then I was told that uh there was this Winery um in Dayton and Dundee area

3:33 that was looking for someone to come and help and so I went up there and met with them and they said well yeah why you

3:40 come and join us and it was Sokol Blosser and that was the days when the Oregon wine industry really hadn’t really taken

3:47 off it was they had done some tremendous things around uh 1983 and 1985 they’d won some tremendous International

3:54 competitions um and so that it was starting to really become you know a big deal in Oregon but wasn’t yet a big deal

4:01 and so um Sokol Blosser like many Oregon wineries at the time were very small family old businesses and um and so when

4:07 I join them it was uh it was really fun because I didn’t know it at the time but it was my first entrepreneurial

4:13 experience and uh uh Susan Sokol Blosser has would was just becoming the

4:19 President she before that was um doing teaching and other things and Bill

4:25 Blosser was the president at the time and they made that transition they asked me to be the vice president and uh it

4:30 was wild west back in those days because what people were drinking back in those days was things know Gallow and you know

4:38 the most part or sweet wines and things like that so Pinot Noir was here it was it was this it was going to be proven

4:44 that it was the right thing to do but at that time it was still a little bit of a harder cell and uh so we that was my

4:51 first experience into wine I didn’t really even like wine when I started I didn’t know anything about wine but

4:56 that’s kind of a theme for me um is I don’t know anything about something so I guess I’ll just go do it and it was

5:03 really fun to uh to go on that adventure with Susan as we uh you know those early

5:08 days it was a lot of things around uh should we uh buy some new barrels or should we make payroll you know should

5:14 we fix the press or should we so and because it was just it was an unproven industry still um but quickly what we

5:22 started to do was looking at things like labeling and packaging and um and really

5:28 understanding what the need of the consumer was and and that was my favorite thing was to really look at um

5:35 what people wanted and trying to deliver it to them in ways that um that made it

5:40 easy to sell but also uh would help to build up momentum for your brand so I

5:45 spent a lot of time in the tasting room watching and listening to people and how they purchased and what they thought and

5:51 you know they would come in and say I’d love to have some of your pena nar and say great and and and instead of shaming

5:57 them allow them to really feel like so it sounds like you’re really somebody that knows how to you know knows what

6:04 they want on a Pinot Noir and let us help you and so those kinds of little psychological experiments started to

6:10 help me formulate brand and marketing and identity and things like that that were really important um we were selling

6:17 at the time a lot of Mueller Thurgau I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of that uh the German word is sort of

6:23 version of that leaf of milch and it was a think of Reisling and kind of a form of

6:28 Reisling sweet and you know and back then in the 90s this is way before the movie Sideways came out so you know there

6:35 there was a small group of Pinot Noir lovers and then there was a lot of people that just like something sweet and quaffable and so but you know we knew that for us

6:42 to evolve as a brand we wanted to get beyond um the idea of that and so um I

6:48 think that my first product Innovation that really I’m proud of uh was we uh we

6:54 launched a sort of this this challenge of what would we make if we didn’t make

6:59 Mueller Thurgau because Mueller Thurgau was sort of like you know not to be snobbish but it’s you

7:05 know it’s not it doesn’t rise in the pantheon of Oran wine so what are we going to do and so we uh we decided that

7:12 we would uh try a white blend and so um I was one day I was I was at a uh party

7:19 and it was a cinematographer and uh we were sitting and I was watching people come in and

7:27 every single time they came in he was known to be a big uh Wine Guy and so everybody that would come to the door

7:32 they would knock in the door and he would open the door and they would present a bottle of wine that you you

7:37 could tell that they’d put some time and effort into and and they would present the bottle to him as like this Kabuki

7:43 theater and and he would they would present the wine and then he would oh my gosh this is you know and then they

7:48 would be relieved and I’m watching this over and over again and I’m thinking this is really fascinating because these

7:54 people are you know they want to they want to know that they’ve made an okay decision and so I thought what we should

7:59 do is just blow that up why don’t we just blow that whole idea up and why don’t we create a revolution and I

8:05 started thinking about Studio 54 and the in the 70s and those lines around a block and all the people that that wanted to

8:11 get into the Disco at Studio 54 in New York and then like you guys show up oh they part the little thing you guys get

8:18 in and then it goes right back so I thought why don’t we make a wine so cool that you just hold it up and you get

8:23 into anywhere right they don’t have to worry about anything this guy’s gonna see they got that he knows they’re in they

8:28 don’t have to worry so I thought we need to have a revolution so the next morning I called up our wine maker and said how

8:34 many wines are you planning to put white wines are you planning to put into this blend he goes I don’t know seven said

8:40 okay what can you get to can you get me to nine shoot and he said well there’s a

8:45 little tiny bit of in the test me a little tiny bit of musket I said okay just do that and uh I called up our Ad

8:51 Agency which is Sandstrom Design at the time and I said okay I’ve got an idea um we need to have a revolution and I and I

8:57 and as a big Beatles fan I said why don’t we do Revolution number nine and so um so the packaging started

9:06 to come together and then we got nervous about the you know Apple corp suing us so we dropped the r and made it Evolution

9:11 number nine and um and the thing about it was was that it was the right timing for something like that it was a bit

9:18 irreverent it also took a wine that people didn’t want to see be seen drinking and it was the base of it was

9:24 still Mueller Thurgau out yeah but it became a much cooler wine a cooler packaging and it was something that hadn’t been seen

9:31 out of Oregon before it was something that was completely different and it was in a really cool Sally Morrow was a

9:36 designer and the label that she did was a letter block nine just said Evolution with a Big bam nine on it and then we

9:43 had a little chain around the neck that said things you can do with Evolution the Watusi the Twist all the things from

9:49 Lennon’s Revolution 9 and you know and it had a little red kiss on the top there a

9:55 little wax thing that you put on the top and the packaging was a 10 and the wine was really really delicious and it’s

10:01 still delicious um but the the wine writers and the public got it they they

10:07 got the joke and uh and when they tried the wine they realized it wasn’t a joke but it was actually really you know

10:12 really well-made intentional wine but it was a cool product and in a dogmatic industry where it’s

10:20 you know tradition and everything is at that time in particular was something that you don’t color too far out of the

10:25 lines at now it’s really different now but but back then it was something this was a a kind of a lightning bolt that

10:31 hit the industry and it helped us really differentiate ourselves from the rest of the industry and it became very quickly

10:37 the number one selling white wine in Oregon wow and and it just took off after that um so that kind of innovation

10:44 was something that I found really lifegiving and that was I think probably a little bit of a of a cold I caught

10:50 that I still have um but it’s it’s I think it’s it’s about you know what can

10:56 you look how can you see something differently that everyone else sees and how can you make sure that you’re in tune with what the public wants and so

11:02 that’s something that I spent a lot of time on we also did concerts at uh Sokol Blosser if you remember went to any of

11:09 those we we went big and we brought out Tony Bennett and Ray Charles and big shows like that and the reason for those

11:15 were to brand us to to put us in a position to where you’re associating Tony Bennett and Sokol Blosser that’s not

11:22 a bad thing yeah great Charles Sokol Blosser not a bad thing and so those things helped us to really quickly build

11:27 our market momentum up so we went from a smaller medium sized Winery in Oregon to

11:33 getting larger and really the reputation of the brand started to really build and uh and I loved it and it was

11:40 it was really fun to do but I also started getting the itch this like okay what’s next for me so which is I’d done

11:46 that for 11 years with Sokol Blosser so we took it from a again a winery where we were kind of concerned about how do we

11:53 make payroll and all that too I think leaving it better than it was found and and I loved my working with Susan she’s

11:59 absolutely the best um but I needed something more so my itch was what else

12:05 can I do and and you meet a lot of people when you’re in the wine industry and I met a gentleman by the name of Pat

12:10 Cox who who I can say is you not only I consider him a brother but uh my my

12:16 mentor and uh Pat had just taken a company called Metro One public uh and

12:22 uh he’s got a whole bunch of patents on the wall and Pat’s a a fascinating individual and uh I I got to worship at

12:31 the altar of Pat a little bit about learning about entrepreneurism and uh and Pat is just uh his approach to the

12:38 world is fascinating and so I met him and uh I said I’m kind of thinking about

12:44 maybe I’m done with the wine industry I want a new challenge and he said well I’m thinking about starting a new company and if you’re interested so I

12:51 said yeah so I met with him and and uh Metro One was the if you dial 411 on your

12:58 phone and uh they they had all the the back end to that so they worked they had deals with all the TeleComs and so when you

13:05  dialed 411 to get information they that’s who they were and so they very

13:10 successfully took that public and then they were done with that and uh Pat left and wanted to go do something then but

13:16 they had to non-compete and so there was there had to be some time in between that so Pat

13:21 didn’t want to wait around so he started this company called Q-cent and uh there was a lot of uh possible wine fueled uh

13:28 ideation times at his house in between the formation of that and and his

13:33 launching um but he uh he said I’ve got this idea that um it’s kind of like not

13:40 really what what I my expertise says but I goes why don’t you come join be employee number one and um why don’t you

13:48 help me why don’t you just take this on it’s like okay what is it he goes well I think and now this is

13:53 1999 let me preface this yes right I remember 1999 he goes I think there’s a

13:59 way where you can get a taxi a different way than you do right now go I think you

14:05 can do it a different way with your phone and so it’s like interesting so we started talking more and more about that

14:11 and so the next thing you know uh IQ Taxi is born and uh and I was realizing that Pat

14:18 what Pat gave me was a great big blank canvas with a whole bunch of paint on it

14:23 and say go create something which was just sort of like the most exhilarating possible thing and uh so what we did was

14:31 we built an engineering team sales team project management team around this

14:38 thing and started to go out and uh I remember driving up before any of that happened I drove up to Seattle with this

14:43 idea and I met with a it’s a black car service they black car limousine and

14:49 then I also met with one of the taxi companies up there and talked to them about this idea and also talked to Radio

14:55 Cab here in Portland and said imagine this if if the inter internet and your

15:00 phone you can somehow get a and they’re like we’re in so started signing all these guys up to these three-year

15:06 exclusive agreements for the internet and um and the and the phone and it’s

15:11 like wireless it’s like wow this is pretty cool so within about two years we had the top 125 markets locked in we had the

15:19 backend technology delivered uh built out and so and then Pat using his connections uh he you remember the old

15:26 flip phones where you you had in the top little buttons and there was the little top five services in your phone like the

15:32 top we were IQ taxi was in all of those wow and uh it was really fasc because he had the Telecom connection he had the

15:38 Telecom connection so we had everything we needed um and it was really fascinating dealing with the taxi

15:44 industry because there was taxi Industries in in early 2000s that still had switchboards oh my gosh and they had

15:52 they had like phone systems that that were still dial you know pick up the everything was and and it varied from

15:58 taxi industry but uh taxi business to taxi business or region to region and then you’re also dealing with some

16:03 interesting colorful groups within the taxi industry and you know um and so it

16:10 was all very interesting and and the the problem that the taxi industry had was

16:15 that they were legacy based the problem that we had was that we were ahead of the

16:21 technology so you know the the problem that ultimately

16:26 sunk IQ taxi and and failure will be something I’ll be talking a lot about um

16:32 was um you couldn’t have the location based Services yet I mean that was five

16:38 six years away so and we couldn’t tell exactly where someone was to send the cab but I remember having the

16:45 International Taxi and Li..Livery Association the it remember having these many many conversations about it feels like you

16:53 guys need to evolve pretty quickly with your business and we want to be your partners in that

17:00 and they intuitively said yes most of them but they also said but only by our

17:08 rules and so that’s really what we found was that you know what what Uber should

17:14 have been should have been owned by the taxi industry they missed it and they missed it and the reason why it was

17:20 because they thought nothing could ever happen to us this is we’re too big to

17:26 fail we’re too ingrained to fail um and and you know a taxi medallion in

17:32 2013 um well the the height of a taxi medallion was in 2013 it was a million

17:38 dollars for a medallion in New York City and now it’s about $25,000 jeez because the industry was

17:44 completely disintermediated by technology when Uber came along and just said you know we’re not if you’re not

17:50 going to work with us we’re going to work around you and boy did they ever and you know it was such a highly

17:57 regulated you know taxis are so highly regulated and yet the Uber guys then ultimately Lyft and everyone else went

18:02 around them went around the regulations and just started pushing and the next

18:08 thing you know um you know these these families and these individuals have invested so much into their own taxi

18:14 businesses you know are it’s a shell of itself and and it was a cautionary tale for me to watch this um and Pat in his

18:23 you know great vision and wisdom knew that um we non-competes were up this was

18:29 probably not going to land the plane in time that so we and then 9/11 came oh

18:35 which was also life-changing so um all these things converged at once and so um

18:41 as part of that uh I was asked to go and abandon the taxi piece which was

18:48 hard because it was a failure and I was that was my first what I consider in my professional career something that

18:53 didn’t work um and but then I was asked to go into basically go

18:59 spend three out of four weeks for a long time in Washington DC and get to uh get to know the intelligence community

19:04 pretty well because um we our our main business now was activated and we were

19:10 using data sets and data sets for things um like uh accessing our phone data

19:18 records to help validate a loan things like that so it’s called IQ

19:23 411 what was cool about it though was that um those days same data sets uh were

19:28 starting to become very very useful in extreme risk mitigation scenarios so right after 911 the Patriot Act and all

19:35 these things started coming in and uh you know it was so funny because the piracy groups were so much more uh

19:42 relevant back then I mean we just our privacy is just like free here take a bucket full of it but back then the

19:47 privacy groups so we were doing things like uh Caps Two which was computer assisted pre passenger screening which

19:53 were things that were the kind of all this TSA Pre but back then the groups

19:59 are going no so we were involved in all that as well and um it was really

20:04 fascinating to spend time in DC and to feel that sort of patriotism and people

20:09 wanting to make sure that you know we were safe and uh the DC Sniper when uh

20:14 yeah you know Charles Moose that was probably right at that time huh it was and I spent I spent all three weeks there and oh my gosh oh but we our data

20:22 sets were being used to help you know again wow in in an indirect way but but our data sets were never the lead

20:28 product but they always fit into many many things so relational databases things like that so I’m just going to

20:34 pop in like in these two um companies that you’ve talked about with that where you were founder

20:41 um one your techn…timing is so prevalent in both parts of both of these stories

20:48 because one you were a little too early and then with this one sounds like you were just right on like perfect timing for them really to utilize yeah and and

20:55 I think the other theme is you know I’ve never done that before so so uh you know never did M&A before I didn’t go to

21:02 school for it didn’t go to school for wine no clue about that had no clue about the tax industry no clue about the

21:07 intelligence community or or anything like that and just got to go and do those things and and I think it’s just

21:13 you know sort of not being afraid to jump in and um and it really comes down to what’s thematic about all those is

21:19 just relationships yeah and and are you able to connect with people and one of the first things I

21:25 did was when I got to DC was um started working with Lexus Nexus because they

21:30 were they had they had all the GSA contracts and everybody and so we just became a partner with them but I said

21:37 hey I’d love to get to know a bunch of the CIA folks um I’d love to throw a wine maker dinner and have them all come

21:42 so we we we had a little we rented out of place in uh in Maryland and a bunch

21:48 of the agents and my gosh and uh the analyst mice mostly came and uh and I

21:54 used got some Sokol Blosser wine through a Sokol Blosser party you know I’m the most popular

22:00 guy and it’s really funny because one side story is is the CIA uh we’ go to

22:06 Langley all the time and uh and the we worked with the Librarians so yes there

22:11 are such things as CIA Librarians and we’d go there and work with them and uh they were really very stoic like you

22:19 know and and so but I got to I got to be an agent my own way because I found out

22:24 what their tell was and these two women who I was dealing with who are always they were always polite but they were

22:30 like you know uh I find out they’re big YouTube fans oh and so we start talking

22:36 YouTube and then next thing you know I’m sending him bootleg YouTubes from concerts and stuff and then finally one

22:41 of them says like fourth meeting and oh my gosh I’m so glad you’re here I want to show you something so we we’re in the

22:47 basement of the CIA headquarters which is I don’t even know what floor that is and they’ve got this giant map table out

22:52 and she goes and gets this big satellite thing that they put on this lighted map

22:58 table and she she says look at okay so this is Ireland and we go she go CIA is tracking

23:05 you and she said now look here’s this little house see this house well that road there’s Bono’s house but this house

23:12 right here nobody owns it so we’re going to buy it oh my God so satellite stocking that is amazing yeah so that

23:19 was kind of fun but but you know it was it was those kinds of things and um so then Cuson had an exit and it was sold

23:25 to Transunion and uh and I did some consulting for a while I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but um I I love

23:32 the idea of data aggregation and that was sort of what I was learning and and I I learned so many um lessons from

23:39 Pat just around owner versus renter and don’t let best get in the way of

23:45 better and you know we’re in the possibility business and all of these kinds of things that just stuck they

23:50 just they were things that okay um yeah those all make complete sense to me um

23:56 and so then I I did a little consulting uh and then this this itch that I need

24:02 to scratch around World War II kept coming back and I thought well why don’t we build a database that aggregates all

24:09 the World War II veteran stories into a free database that anybody can contribute to or access and uh so I

24:17 started working on that and um at the same time I met a a couple of guys that

24:22 were starting a mobile wallet company and so I started doing those two things kind of simultaneously but but with the

24:29 uh with the veteran say it started and uh as I started you the word was getting

24:35 out I was looking to do this I started getting more um hard drives and little things sent to me not from World War II

24:41 but from Iraq and from Afghanistan wow wow and I was looking at these things and like holy cow these are we there

24:49 just wasn’t anything like that that was that existed from an individual’s perspective from World War II so but

24:56 here these you’re getting to see and it was most striking was there a lot of young guys 20 19 20 21 year old kids out

25:04 in war and these are the Oregon National Guard that really I started getting a lot from and um ID started the a little

25:11 organization and it was Scott Laney was the guy that basically founded uh veterans legacies and it we called it

25:18 back then the national combat history archive and um so we were doing this and

25:24 uh the idea was why don’t we make a documentary film and of course never done that before right so well okay

25:30 let’s do that so uh found out I found nine Oregon

25:36 National Guards eight men and one woman and interviewed them brought him into a studio not unlike here sat him down and

25:42 just had him talk just asked him questions just again it’s the human condition I wanted to learn and it was

25:49 life-changing absolutely life-changing so um nine months later the film This Is

25:55 War memories of Iraq came out and uh it was really fascinating and the U the

26:03 gist of it is is that we ended in a bunch of film festivals that won a bunch of film festivals and uh I got a call from the Veterans Administration and

26:09 they said we’ve seen your film and we’d like to make it our official uh training film uh for family members and for you

26:17 know for our staff because it’s it’s so real and it was like holy cow and then

26:22 we we we did a 20 city in Oregon tour where we got movie theaters to make it

26:27 free they donated the time and uh what was so powerful about all of this

26:34 was we’d show the film which was one thing but then at the end of the film many of the guys that were in the film

26:40 would come up on stage and they would um yeah and it was it was yeah it was

26:46 powerful and um we uh we went down uh Frank Dolsage from Pacific Seafoods lent

26:52 his uh his jet and we were able to fly um many of them down to Los Angeles uh

26:58 for a film festival that we won there Suzanne de LaRentis Film Festival Cinema City and uh they ended up at at Ed

27:05 McMahon’s house out with Ed McMahon and uh and they they they’re in their dress

27:11 blues and they were they stole the whole festival because they look so good and and uh you know and the film was

27:17 recognized for uh you know achievement in documentary film making and and it was really cool

27:23 um but the thing was was that it what I what what hit me the hardest about all

27:28 this was that we suck as a nation in reintegrating our our folks back and so

27:33 um hearing their stories of of not only their own personal stories but of many of their friends about what it means to

27:41 be in asymmetrical Warfare meaning you don’t know when you know World War II the Germans were over there in in

27:48 asymmetrical Warfare they they’re amongst us and you never know I mean when someone’s going to come out and go

27:53 boo you know that or if that bag is going to explode on the side of the road and so we’re just completely ill

27:59 equipped to deal with that as a society and I think that you know with things winding down now it’s it’s I’m hopeful

28:06 that we’ve learned a lot as a as a nation on how to take care of our veterans um so and then uh a year later

28:14 one of the sergeants from the first film said love it if you would make a you know a story about Afghanistan because

28:20 no one’s telling their story and so I met with a couple of the guys there and they said um they told me that that this

28:26 little 16 man all volunteer unit deployed to Helman Province and Helman province is like oh yeah in Afghanistan

28:34 um they deployed there and um they came back as the most decorated unit in Oregon National Guard history and uh so

28:41 it was their story is tremendous and so I was able to tell that story as well Shepherds of Helmond um was the name I

28:47 came up with but they got to know these guys and and I really focused on six of them I kept it a little bit more small

28:53 and tight and uh these and all these guys are just like I love all of them is you know they’re just amazing amazing

29:00 people um and and you know the the the most humbling part about all of this was

29:07 you know several of them came and said you know the film gave them the permission to talk and and a couple of

29:12 them said it probably saved their lives yeah right and so those are the kind of things where it’s

29:18 like yeah so I’m you know and I think in the pantheon of any of the things I’ve

29:23 ever done in my life those will stand as probably the the things that um that matter the most to me because I’ve seen

29:29 the impact and uh storytelling is everything and uh you know it’s it’s

29:35 it’s kind of like wine making it’s like you to make a great wine you got to start with great fruit and then just get

29:41 the hell out of the way you know do this little manipulation as possible but make sure you’ve got great fruit and and this

29:47 make sure you’ve got great stories and these are all really powerful stories and then you know my job was just to

29:53 knit it together and try to put it make some sense well and I think it helps that you had such a passion

29:58 for it too that you know obviously you care and that it’s always people see it

30:06 they feel it and when somebody cares then it allows them to open up more I

30:13 agree and you know part of my journey was uh understanding my father so my policeman father um was always a we’ll

30:20 call it a hair trigger temper and uh and you know was angry a lot and um what I

30:26 came to realize was that my dad dad had survivors’ guilt and it was through working with

30:31 them so it was as therapeutic for me as it was for them because my dad’s unit he was a military combat policeman and

30:38 during the Korean War and he was held off the plane that ultimately flew off

30:43 because he was a hell of a baseball player and he was actually drafted by the Yankees but um he ended up uh his

30:49 unit they took I think three or four guys off off of the the Battalion and the rest flew up they flew to Tokyo then

30:55 they flew to Seoul and then they truck them up the front lines and this is right when the Chinese had attacked across the yo river by the million and

31:03 uh they retired the colors the next day so he lost all of his friends oh my gosh

31:08 and so he never played baseball again and so all these things but he lived with that and he never back in those days you weren’t given the permission to

31:14 tell your story abut to deal with that and so it manifests it always manifests right and so that that allowed me to

31:21 understand my dad by listening to many of these guys who you know some still won’t tell their stories the World War

31:26 II veterans is like they live these they had these incredible experiences and yet rarely would they talk and if they did

31:32 talk it was to usually to someone like me who had some knowledge so um I’m proud to say that I have a had so many

31:40 wonderful extra grandads that I like to call them of stories that I could go

31:45 hours and hours about each one more incredible than the next but the one I will tell you uh from the World War II

31:50 piece was Bill Site who changed my life too he was a B24 pilot and he was

31:56 stationed out of Italy and if you’re stationed out of Italy it means you you didn’t you didn’t have the restriction of missions so like in Europe or in

32:03 England it was 25 then 30 so he flew 90 missions oh my God nine zero 90 missions 90

32:09 missions and uh so uh but every time you’d see him he’d stand up he’d take his hat off he had his little oxygen

32:16 tank he brought behind him say Bill how you doing he go every day is a gift wow and uh and I and I know the things that

32:23 he went through because he told me all those things and uh and I know that that every day was again for him he was just

32:28 to give you an idea he was picking plexiglass out of his back of his skull until the day he died so um so I taught

32:36 my boys that that every day is a gift right that was the thing that I wanted to impart from Bill and have that live on so remind my boys that every day is a

32:44 gift and um so you know these are these are things that I think give you humility in life um and uh I think

32:51 failing and um and and learning from others and understanding your where you

32:56 fit in the world are you know humbling and so you know hopefully it allows you to make a more introspective leader gosh

33:03 absolutely there’s so much I mean well I wrote down I wrote down some words that

33:09 I felt were really powerful and you know the it’s it’s about learnings

33:16 and how we evolve as a person but the words I wrote down was failure you

33:22 talked about that timing that was funny how you jumped in with timing mentoring

33:28 relationships and humility and you take those five things as you listen to your

33:33 journey of where you are today how do you take that and and implement it as a

33:42 leader in a fast growing evolving

33:47 organization yeah it’s uh you know part of it is the talent that you surround yourself with um or and it also starts

33:53 with who you work for and you know this isn’t my company I I work for someone um

33:59 who is absolutely a Visionary um and a entrepreneur and just a a steward

34:08 of the right I guess and I when I say the right I don’t mean politically I mean just doing the right thing

34:13 um as I as I was thinking about what I wanted to do next I got involved in a mobile wallet

34:19 company and uh that was uh that was a uh right around um 2008 we started doing it

34:27 we all remember 2008 oh yes and uh and it kind of uh didn’t it we we were so close in a couple of times it was it was

34:34 again he’s talking about humility and failure um we were so close with a couple of things and It ultimately just

34:40 didn’t happen and so you know it it it was hard because at that same time I had

34:46 had in my own personal life I’d lost within a very few short months I lost my

34:51 mom my dad and my best friend oh my go and so you know part of me wanted to save something that I could save cuz I

34:58 couldn’t save them and I wanted to save this startup and it was really um maybe the hardest time in my life um because I

35:05 had to um I had to let go of that too um because I was going to run it right into

35:11 the ground I was going to just go right into the side of the mountain with it because it was just like no and my wife

35:16 was like yeah yeah nope and uh you know and and and her her sort of checking me

35:26 and helping me you know and lovingly doing so but still doing so you know helped me pull out of that but it was

35:32 hard I mean it’s we all have to grieve and we all grieve in different ways um you know I’m still grieving I mean you

35:38 know that’s a huge loss and uh and to have it all hit you once when I really hadn’t experienced loss other than a

35:45 grandparent or two which is enough but but to lose that kind of core um so that all set me sort of rethinking things too

35:52 about who am I what do I want to do and uh you know the the one constant thing was the

35:58 connecting with the veterans and the World War II stories and continuing to do that which was important to me but I

36:03 also thought you know what do I want to do is like what’s the next big adventure and someone had said that Bill Stoller

36:09 was looking for someone to come in and you know run his company and so I I met with Bill and uh

36:18 we had dinner and we talked and it was like ah yeah I love Bill he’s great and but

36:24 do I really want to get back in the wine industry and so I asked him do you want to do and he goes well I’d really like to scale it and I thought well that’s

36:31 interesting okay let me think about this and so went out and met with him uh about a week two weeks later and um went

36:39 out and to and was at Stoller because we’d met offsite and I drove out there and U

36:44 it was this beautiful November day and uh it was just that fall fog and it’s

36:50 just the property is so gorgeous and I met Melissa Burr who’s now been the wine

36:56 maker for over 20 years years I met her and she was amazing and and met some of

37:02 the staff and I I was driving home and and uh I

37:08 called my wife and she goes what do you think and I said I think it’s an unassembled Ferrari and I got the rent

37:13 is what put it together and so so then uh you and right after that um you know I I

37:20 join well actually Bill’s wife at the time had just died and so um things kind

37:27 of went off track for a little bit and so I joined the company in in March of

37:32 of 2012 and um as I was standing there um I think

37:39 the first day and we’re Bill and I are standing out there and we’re looking West there’s always this spectacular sunsets and and Bill will always say

37:46 little things that are somewhat zenish and he just he was looking West we’re both looking there not really saying

37:51 anything and he goes you know I want to build businesses that last at least 200 years and that’s that caused my head to

37:57 Explode coming from the startup culture and all that and it was there was something

38:02 really like being wrapped in a warm blanket about that but also feeling a tremendous amount of responsibility

38:08 around that to have that kind of vision and that sort of wherewithal to to to

38:14 know that this is going to survive all of us and and that the goal is to keep it going I felt like okay this feels

38:20 like this is for me and uh and at the time in 2011 so the vintage before

38:25 because I hadn’t experienced vintage yet we made 99,100 cases of wine and so um

38:32 that was sort of the beginning and we had I think a staff of 13 and so share with us where you are

38:38 today we have 175 employees and we made 260,000 cases of wine holy cow yeah and

38:45 um you know and some of the people that I got there at first you know I think one of the lessons I’ve learned is you can’t save everybody you know you you’ve

38:52 got an owner versus renter right that mentality don’t let best get in the way of better sometimes uh so so some of

38:57 these folks were happy with a sleepy little Winery and um I represented like some danger sure new this guy is coming

39:06 in and uh and but I’ll give you an example and we were talking about earlier um about you know hiring people

39:13 and uh I I’m never a big believer in in dogmatic thinking and I don’t believe that necessarily just because you’ve

39:19 done something before it means that you’re the most qualified to do it and early on um I start I would call up Bill

39:25 and I’m say I’m going to do this or do this and he’s what and uh one of those early on was I said it’s time for us to

39:31 hire Business Development and let me tell you that’s obviously in Tech that’s like of course yeah in the wine industry

39:38 it’s like what what’s that do right and so I said I’ve I’ve got a guy I want to hire him and and uh his name is James

39:45 Falby and uh James is recommended to me and uh he uh James was 10 years season

39:52 head to season ticket sales for the Portland Trailblazers mmhm and so I we’re walking

39:58 kind of doing the Bill to him now we’re walking along the vineyard there and I said what do you know about wine he goes I don’t know anything about wine he goes

40:03 I like whiskey I said great you’re hired because what he knew was people people yes and um and James is very quickly uh

40:12 if if Stoller is out there and somewhat ubiquitous especially in the business Community he gets a lot of that credit

40:18 um so it’s really you know the great honor for me has been to build a

40:24 team and uh and I’m proud to say that that we have as many women in management Senior Management as we do men and you

40:31 know I I I love finding those people that that have the natural

40:36 curiosity to um to want to be part of an adventure so is that the pivotal quality

40:43 you look for when building teams is it just you know what what are the qualities that that are going to

40:48 synergize with with the culture you’ve built absolutely curiosity is is is one

40:53 of the top ones um but being a good collaborator mmhm um you know someone that

40:59 that has the also has the humility to not build silos or to be you know put

41:04 themselves I like to say that you it’s got to be brand before product it’s got to be um person uh company before the

41:12 individual and we’ve got to we’ve got to understand that we’re all in this Grand adventure together and and they got to

41:17 they got to also want to make it fun this has got to be fun we’re not curing cancer yeah we’re also in a luxury business and in wine you know we can all

41:25 go as hard as that is to imagine we could probably go our entire lives without drinking wine and be okay I’m

41:30 sorry I I I don’t think I heard that correctly right I mean it seems it seems

41:36 like like that’s just crazy thinking but but I have the You Know Rich the

41:41 perspective that they can and so we have to work very very hard to make sure that we’re building brands that ident that

41:47 people identify with and that um you know in terms of hiring I like to say

41:53 this should be the hardest job to get and the most painful job to leave um you know I I think that as we started to

41:59 scale the company and we started to add those key people um you know it it’s it was trial and error and not everybody’s

42:06 you know stuck but um but we kept evolving the organization um and there’s really two

42:12 halves of the story there’s the 2012 to 2019 and then there’s 2020 and on yeah

42:20 and uh you can look at the hockey stick that was from 2012 to 2019 and the thing

42:26 is is that was sort of reminiscing about this some of the things that were really big deals uh back then were like screw

42:34 caps yes oh yeah and the industry was all up in arms around Purity laws and conjunctive labeling and that was

42:40 there’s a lot of division within that about whether not you know it should be 100% pan water 95% these were things

42:46 that people were up at night just like oh my gosh you know those were the things wow 2020 comes along and that’s

42:53 when things get really crazy and uh I think that that’s what defined us um

42:59 when the pandemic happened um many of the wineries decided that

43:05 they were going to um uh lay people off you know then so they could get benefits

43:12 and things like that we every February we have our retreat and in February of

43:17 two 2020 we were very very proud of ourselves because we’ done a SWOT and

43:24 we’d put up everything you can imagine on that wall about what could go wrong and we had an answer for it and so uh if

43:30 someone had come in and said that there would be no American restaurant industry for the entire year that there would be

43:36 a pandemic that there would be a tasting rooms closed and then on at the end of it there would be the worst smoke event

43:42 in the history of our industry you know we would have taken that person out hadn’t drug tested it’s like yeah you know come on let’s be reasonable here

43:48 but that’s exactly what happened and uh we had a very ambitious budget set for ourselves for that year which was based

43:53 on the continuum and the and the sort of projector yeah the tra trajectory of the growth that we had already had we were

44:00 hockey sticking and our production was growing from you know 12,000 cases 14,000 cases then it was 20,000 then

44:07 40,000 then 880,000 so we’re growing growing growing and so it was just an extension of that and so we had we’re

44:14 planning on producing 160,000 cases in 2020 because of the smoke event we

44:19 produced about 80 just to give you a perspective but or but that didn’t

44:24 change all of the things around what our ambitious plan were and so at that same time a lot of our peer wineries were

44:31 starting to immediately lay people off once March came of 2020 and that’s when

44:36 it was clear there was something going on um so I pulled our entire team together and I said no one’s getting

44:43 laid off and but we are going to have to be agile we’re going to have to reimagine the business because we obviously don’t

44:50 know how long this is going to last and if it lasts a week that’s awesome but if it lasts longer we’re going to have to

44:56 really imagine what what it’s going to take and so um I put together a little

45:01 advisory Council of our within our own team and you know I have an ex XCOM team and then a larger senior management team

45:09 and we just started whiteboarding and figuring out what we could do and uh you know this is I think was us at our best

45:15 because we were innovators and this is what I’ve I’ve I’ve run this company like a startup since I got there and I

45:20 think this was the payoff was that you know again the wine industry is very like the taxi industry it’s very Legacy

45:27 I mean you plant things in the ground and then you harvest those things and that’s how it works um but Innovation is

45:33 not always first and foremost especially around adapting to an extreme Market

45:39 event like this and U and that’s what we did and um we also started that’s when I

45:45 started the program of feeding people so to this day we provide lunch for every one of our staff members it became you

45:52 know we institutionalized it then and it became that for us going forward and so

45:57 to this day when you work for Stoller you get lunch and it’s a great thing because it’s communal it also connects people

46:02 they sit down and it’s wonderful always to see different departments eating with each other and we have a culinary team and it’s you know one of the other

46:09 things that Bill Stoller hates is waste and I do too and so you know when we have a big event you know our chefs are

46:15 very good about you know what they produce and then they if there’s anything left over people get it for

46:20 lunch in next year not a bad thing given some of the food so you know all those things started to add to our culture

46:27 amplifying um just just changing though and morphing and the expectation was

46:32 come up with another idea let’s try it there’s no bad ideas and so and we also liberally looked at what other people

46:37 were doing that was successful we and we adapted to but at the end of the day we knew that people wanted to still feel

46:43 connected so we took our staing room staff that normally excuse me that normally um is

46:51 waiting on people and we cannibalized those guys and we turned them into inside callers and I didn’t ask him to

46:57 sell anything to people what I asked him to do was check in on them yeah just how you doing and I learned that from my

47:04 military history because what George Patton did uh when he during his dash

47:09 across France was he took all of his military policemen and he turned them into his eyes and his ears he fired them

47:15 from being military policemen and he sent them up to the front line had them gather information and bring it back because he’d run off the map and I

47:22 thought why don’t we cannibalize our staff and turn them into something else too and that was inside cerss and we had more compliments and more comments from

47:28 people that just wanted to be because again everybody was scared and loyalty and loyalty right and so it was just

47:35 connecting and so I think there’s always a way out and I think that’s the message

47:40 is that we don’t know we it was 2012 to 2019 and there’s 2020 to now and

47:45 everything is changing and it constantly is changing but I think what doesn’t change is relationships connections

47:52 people want to feel like they’ve got a place they can escape to or something that makes them feel good those are just

47:58 basic human conditions and so if you don’t get too clever about those things you can you can help with that but I’ve

48:05 said this from the the very minute I got to the winery is what business are we in

48:11 and uh they they I got some crazy looks at the beginning because it’s like well obviously the wine business but it’s

48:18 like beyond that we’re in the sales and marketing business I believe that we should sell wine like Nike sell shoes we

48:23 sell brand we sell experience we sell relationships we sell many other things besides that and that’s really what’s

48:29 important and so everybody that works there has to buy into that system and so

48:34 when you get everybody kind of rowing in the same direction um and and the idea is you know I I believe the leadership

48:40 style should always be that this is an adventure that we’re on this should be fun and that everybody is empowered it’s

48:46 a very collaborative flat organization I want people here um that the the newest

48:51 person has got a path forward if they want it and just go grab it and so those

48:57 are those are the the things that have put us to where we are today I think this is an incredible journey and we

49:03 talked about this early on about how again wine technology timing failure all

49:12 has made who you are today but what’s that one piece of advice you would have

49:17 given your 20-year-old self be

49:22 fearless you know even younger be fearless um just there’s a way out of everything

49:29 there’s something to be learned from everything you do and just do it don’t do not let take counsel to your fears

49:36 just go out and plunge in that’s I give that advice to my boys I love it I love

49:42 it too wow very powerful the last question we ask all of

49:47 our guests is what does hiring for good mean to you I know we haven’t talked too

49:52 much about hiring but you’ve given so much wisdom regarding building teams it can mean a lot of different things uh

49:59 what would your interpretation be well it’s it’s really easy for me um it

50:05 starts with the the founder of the company Bill Stoller and I I I want to

50:11 always learn from whoever I’m around and if it’s the the staff or specifically

50:18 someone like Bill Stoller who we could all learn from trust me he’s amazing human being um he built the world’s

50:23 first lead gold certified Winery so it’s a it’s an it’s a testament to environmental design and so everything

50:29 when I got there everything was about the environment everything was about sustainability um sammon safe and you

50:35 know lead and live certified and all these things that that are beneficial and so we start with our

50:41 foundation and then we went out and got b-corp certified benefit b-corp certified and so that’s a rigorous process to go

50:47 through is to get bore certified but we it was easy for us because we’d already done so much of the work but bore isn’t

50:54 just about sustainability and the environment it’s also sustainability in your Workforce and sustainability in

51:01 your community and so we do a lot to support our community um and and I’ll

51:07 give you an example is uh Bill acquired the Evergreen Aviation Space

51:12 Museum and which is tremendous and I’m on the board of that and I I got to help write the plan to convince him to do so

51:19 as a historian but also it’s the right thing to do and um and it’s a it’s a tremendous asset but we also do much to

51:26 support our community in in philanthropic ways that around education around issues of poverty and hunger

51:32 because it’s the right thing to do um and so and then and then you know nothing makes Bill or I happier than

51:39 having generational families and I’m one of those guys because I’ve got my son working there and uh and uh that’s

51:46 that’s one of the things that I didn’t even talk about but during that pandemic is we went to visual storytelling and we

51:52 have an in-house visual visual storytelling team because nothing brings the power of that place home better than

51:59 watching it or seeing it sure yeah and so those kinds of things are all really powerful so um I I don’t think that you

52:04 can look at one leg of a stool when it comes to that what what that means I think it means that you’ve you’ve got a

52:11 robust view of where you fit and everything and I think my responsibility

52:17 to the staff is I have to be consistent and and I have to be transparent and I

52:22 also have to come every day with my aame you know and if I don’t I expect them to somebody to come and take me

52:27 take me out and replace me wow well um I’m I’m just filled with gratitude thank

52:34 you thank you for sharing Gary absolutely and and what a bunch of learnings that I’ve learned today so

52:42 thank you yeah thank you both yeah truly a pleasure thanks for joining us today at

52:49 hiring for good if you were inspired by our conversation don’t forget to like follow And subscribe wherever you get

52:55 your podcast and if you want to learn more about our Executive Search Services check us out at www.hiringfor

53:03 good.net or our company website Acumen Executive Search thanks so much and

53:08 don’t forget to join us next time for another in-depth conversation about transformational leadership until then

53:14 have fun