Strategic leadership consists not only of the vision element, but also encompasses other wide-ranging factors. These 17 points from successful CEOs, offer winery leaders a powerful place to start exploring strategic leadership, deepen their practice – to continue raising the bar on their business’ ability to succeed.  These CEO have also contributed personal stories at the end of this article: When Strategic Leadership Pays Off.

First, there must a clear understanding of your business’ direction. Outstanding leaders have a vision and set the direction for their organizations. Establishing strategic direction involves a process that looks forward from the present, establishes a picture of what we want the business to look like in the future, and set guidelines and frameworks on how to move forward towards that position.

1. Steve Thomson, CEO, Cristom Vineyards: ‘Because it is the job of the CEO to shape a consensus of thinking, direction and vision for their company.’

2. Eileen Crane, CEO, Domaine Carneros:‘To think about the business that you want to create in big terms. You need a starting point, which will influence the location, style of winery, label, winemaking.’

3. Ellen Brittan, Co-Owner, Brittan Vineyards:‘It involves looking past the current situation and anticipating different scenarios that may impact the business, to include opportunities as well as threats or challenges. And then calculating what changes might be made to take advantage of the opportunities or minimizes the risks of the potential threats/ challenges.’

4. Steve Thomson, CEO, Cristom Vineyards:‘It is the ability to look well into the future, and to see around corners and strive to guide a company into an uncertain future. It is about making bets on long-term outcomes amidst great fluidity and when the stakes are very, very high, and predictability becomes less so the farther one moves out into the future.’

5. Joth Ricci, CEO, Dutch Brothers Coffee Co:‘It is about leading the creation, development and management of a strategy and system for your company. Strategic Leaders are many steps ahead of their team and must navigate a direction that others may not be able to see yet, but also not let the execution of the current business get off course. ‘

Communicating Vision is an essential part of strategic leadership. Vision should be communicated in a way that is meaningful and secures commitment from other members of the organization. Without this, teams cannot work towards the same goal and therefore find themselves at odds, slowing progress and impeding success. Strategic leaders translate strategy into action. The following points are essential for incorporating leadership vision into your organization. 

6. Joth Ricci, CEO, Dutch Brothers Coffee Co: ‘Strategic leaders know how to simplify a strategy that can be communicated across many platforms. Communication of the vision requires communication of its meaning, for leaders to be successful.’

7. Chris Sarles, CEO, Oregon Fruit Product:‘It is communicating your future vision for the company in a way that others to buy in and join in the process of achieving that vision. It takes an ability to act in the near term, plan for the long term, and build steps that bridge the gap from here to there.’

8. Ellen Brittan, Co-Owner, Brittan Vineyards:‘Winston Churchill comes to mind.  It is striking how often he foresaw political situations before they became obvious and began developing a comprehensive strategy on how to address them.  He was an incredibly gifted communicator; through his passion he was able to sway people to his point of view.  He had the intestinal fortitude to go against the majority and fight for what he thought was a better course of action.’

Strategic leaders always have a desire to challenge the status quo and improve the future. This engages their ability to envision the different ways their organization might perform better in future. Strategic leaders are always dissatisfied with the status quo; are change agents in their organizations; and are constantly asking questions: What has clearly been successful or unsuccessful in the past? What accounted for our success or failure? What can we do differently in the future? What can be done to change things for the better?

9. Deborah Steinthal, Managing Director, Scion Advisors:‘Strategic leaders challenge and question the present; and are constantly searching the horizon for new trends. They learn by building scenarios and models to frame their understanding and that of others.’

10. David Duncan, CEO, Silver Oak Cellars:‘Leaders should be focused on organization health, culture and morale. We learn from models of how not to lead strategically; from more scattered behaviors such as are exhibited by our President and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla for example. Good models include our Ranch Manager in Colorado: he has to feed the animals every day. He can’t miss this. It’s not about getting what you want. It’s about wanting what you got.’

11. Joth Ricci, CEO, Dutch Brothers Coffee Co: ‘Your business is constantly evolving. Strategic leaders know when to pivot or adjust a strategy that allows for their company’s continued success. A good leader is always making adjustments within the system.’

12. Chris Sarles, CEO, Oregon Fruit Product:‘Without a longer-term view of how the business will grow and evolve, you can awake up wondering, what the heck just happened, our business is in trouble.

Building, developing high-functioning teamsStrategic leaders realize that they must develop a team of other strategic leaders to achieve diversity of perspective and robust decision making.  They also engage with and listen hard to experts.

13. Eugene Keegan, Oregon General Manager, Jackson Family Estates:’The art of strategic leadership is certainly something that can be learned over time.  In fact, time is often a great teacher on the road to strategic leadership, as time translates into experience and manager confidence.’

14. Eileen Crane CEO, Domaine Carneros:‘Find a system and/or mentor to guide you and the team through this.’

15. Eugenia Keegan, Oregon General Manager, Jackson Family Estates:’Strategic leadership is available to anyone in any field at almost any time in ones’ career. It is not necessary to be the boss, but it is necessary to be part of a team or group. The first step in successful strategic leadership is the often the challenge of removing the ego, the “I” out of any group equation. As long as one is leading from this point of view, their ability to lead strategically wanes.’

16. Eileen Crane CEO, Domaine Carneros:‘Put together the right team; this will take time. And then, really engage your team in strategic long-term, mid-term and short-term planning. Some of my best “ah ha” moments came from the leadership group (and sometimes from frontline employees). Listening is an important skill. Ask questions of the team. We use an open book management system so that we, as a group, can further understand the business.’

17. Eugenia Keegan, Oregon General Manager, Jackson Family Estates:‘The saying, “I am only as good as my team” is crucial to optimizing strategic leadership. There are programs and training that are specifically designed to ensure successive leaders are poised for continued success and professional happiness (classes, workshops, robust mentor program). Smart tactics include:

  • Distribute and share responsibility for project/assignment/ business.
  • Engage in free and honest conversation/facts.
  • Create an environment that is safe for new ideas and tasks/assignments at hand.
  • Make failure a successful outcome of brain storming, creativity.’

When Strategic Leadership Pays Off

Wisdom is defined as the ability to take the right action at the right time. Strategic leaders need this kind of wisdom to successful grow their organization.

David Duncan, Owner/CEO, Silver Oak: Figuring out how to mold distinct culture within our brand families –enabling ‘out of ordinary’ performance.

Chris Sarles, CEO, Oregon Fruit Products: Recognizing that as an 80-year old company doing more of the same, there wouldn’t be a company anymore. Setting a course for the future for Oregon Fruit. Getting others to buy in. Leading us to a new, evolved company – while ensuring people’s eyes/minds are focused in the right direction. That we “live to breath” by making sure we hit our current financial plans that will allow us to execute our strategic plan.

Eileen Crane, CEO, Domaine Carneros: What I enjoy most was seeing managers; assistant managers; and, best of all, simply employees taking charge of running their part of the business – coming up with suggestions and putting them in place. The esprit de corps has grown exponentially, team members enjoy work. It is fun to go to work. We have very low turnover rates. And, we have been more successful than ever before.

Steve Thomson, CEO, Cristom Vineyards: 36 years ago, in the restaurant business, the light switch flipped on when I learned that a higher level of consumer engagement and adventure with wine – built stronger brand ambassadorship.   

In 1983, I was managing a top restaurant in the Midwest. We served great meals and some of the more enlightened guests might have a glass or bottle of wine with dinner. In those days you could order any of the five, First growth Bordeaux for $100-200 a bottle.      

My local wholesaler had a winery representative in town that he wanted to bring to my restaurant. The guest was Rodney Strong, the founder of Rodney Strong Winery, a dapper and charismatic man. I was honored… but what to do with him all day? Someone suggested he could go around and say hi to people at their tables at lunch.  

Well this was so successful, we turned the concept into an impromptu prix fixe wine dinner that evening.  No one really had conceived much of a wine dinner as a marketing concept in those days – it was all new, though now days pretty ordinary. I was mesmerized with the experiential element to it. Wine became portal to a visceral story about people and land. We ran with it and it ended up shaping my career, first as a corporate food & beverage director for a major hotel chain and then ultimately, leading distribution companies and wineries.

Eugenia Keegan, Oregon General Manager, Jackson Family Estates: It is my hope that I lead strategically on a daily basis by following the motto:  Listen and Lead.

A big thanks to the strategic leaders who so generously contributed to this article!

  1. Eileen Crane CEO, Domaine Carneros
  2. David Duncan, CEO, Silver Oak Cellars
  3. Joth Ricci, CEO, Dutch Brothers Coffee Co.
  4. Chris Sarles, CEO, Oregon Fruit Product
  5. Steve Thomson, CEO, Cristom Vineyards
  6. Eugenia Keegan, Oregon General Manager, Jackson Family Estates
  7. Ellen Brittan, Co-Owner, Brittan Vineyards

ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Deborah Steinthal is Founder and Managing Director of Scion Advisors, a leading boutique, strategy consulting firm serving the U.S. wine industry. With a proven approach enabling business owners to position for profitable growth or for exit, she has worked alongside over 150 winery owners and CEOs; and has moderated over 80 Winery CEO Roundtables involving more than 50 top wine industry CEOs for over a decade. Deborah’s expertise is in the area of business growth strategy, family business transformation, and board and leadership development.

Based out of McMinnville, Oregon; born in Lima, Peru; raised in Belgium and Germany; Deborah has lived, worked and travelled globally. She is broadly published in the national business press, an invited speaker, panelist and widely quoted for research on key practices, such as such as How to Build a Pull Brand, Digital Commerce and Family Business Transition.

For more information call Deborah Steinthal at 707.246.6830.

Among her clients: Bledsoe Family Estates (Doubleback, Bledsoe family Wines, Bledsoe-McDaniels), Cristom Vineyards, Adelsheim Vineyard, Wine by Joe, DeLille Cellars, Woodward Canyon Winery, OVS, Willakenzie, Elizabeth Chambers Cellar, Patz & Hall Winery, Benziger Family Vineyards, Calera Wine Company, Delicato Family VIneyards, Cakebread, Spottswoode, Gundlach Bundschu, Luna Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Quail’s Gate Winery, Wente, J. Lohr, Choice Lunch,
 Cowgirl Creamery, 
Easton Malloy 
(producers of Peppermint Bark for Williams-Sonoma)
, and McEvoy Ranch.

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