This month’s Core Connections Feature profiles Joe Gigliotti, Region President-Control States of Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC). Working with RNDC historical companies as a result of acquisitions and mergers for the last 33 years, Joe is a wine connoisseur (and becoming quite the bourbon expert), an outstanding leader, and a close friend.
How did you first break into the wine and spirits business? Was this career path always part of your plan?
I first started with a family-owned distributor (Forman Brothers) in Washington, DC that represented Gallo. Gallo is considered a leader in the marketing of consumer goods, the P&G of the wine industry. I was attracted mostly from the marketing side and certainly did not see it as career at the time. But, it was part of my plan to work for a privately held company and the Forman family was a great place to begin.
Tell us about the most memorable trip you’ve taken that involved a tasting.
There have been numerous trips, both fun and educational. Probably the most memorable is a trip I took in 2006 to France and Portugal. We were traveling with the owner of Louis Roederer Champagne, the maker of Cristal. So it started at their chateau and the cellars of the winery with great champagne and we moved on to Bordeaux. From there we flew on his private jet to Porto, Portugal, which was beautiful. The highlight of that part of the trip was dinner that evening in the mountains of Portugal where we had the oldest wines I have tasted. They were three bottles of Ramos Pinto Ports from 1955, 1924, and 1880. They were all good but unfortunately not for long once opened.
What’s the best bottle in your personal collection right now?
I have numerous bottles of port and red wine that the critics have scored high, as well as wines from my wedding anniversary and kid – ? birthdates. But my favorite is not necessarily the highest scoring wine, but one that I will treasure and probably not open. It is a bottle of Robert Mondavi Reserve 2004, and it is signed by Robert Mondavi and his sons Michael and Tim. What makes it unusual is that all three signed it about a year before Robert passed away, just shy of his 96th birthday.
What’s trending in wine/spirits right now? What are you seeing?
The big trend on the spirit side is whisk(e)y, in particular Bourbon. We see that continuing for some time. On the imported side, single malt Scotches are still very popular and prices continue to go up. Additionally, Tequila is hot across all price levels, with a trend starting towards Mezcal.
What’s the biggest change or shift in your industry that you’ve seen in the last 10 years?
There continues to be a move towards consolidation at both the supplier and distributor tiers. Large suppliers, mostly publicly held, continue to buy hot brands or smaller suppliers and drive sales through their larger distributor networks.
In my tier, the distributors, we too continue to consolidate. As I mentioned, I started with a family-owned company in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia that was about a $110 million dollar company. Through various acquisitions and mergers, we are now part of the second largest network in the US and do business in 23 states with annual sales of $7 billion dollars. By the way, we are still privately held.
What’s one thing about your business that you think would really surprise people?
I think most consumers are totally unaware of the three-tier system that was created as a result of the repeal of Prohibition by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. The 21st Amendment gave the states the right to regulate beverage alcohol as they desired for their citizens and the end result was the three-tier system (producers sell to distributors, who sell to retailers, who sell to consumers), although the laws and mechanics do vary from state to state.
Tell us about a time when you took a substantial risk that paid off (or backfired).
As a new VP/GSM in our Northern Virginia company, our largest grocery chain customer was about to move to a Category Manager partner for the wine category. We had enjoyed a favored vendor status and that was at risk as Gallo was the Category Management leader within the industry. I convinced our owners to double the size of the sales force, hire the ex P&G consultants who created Category Management and attack instead of protecting our turf. The results, after an exhaustive process, were that we beat out Gallo for the appointment as Category Captain.
Who has been a mentor to you? Tell us about them.
Of course growing up, my dad was/is a strong role model and mentor. As I began my business career, I was very fortunate at Forman Brothers to report to the owner of the company early in my management career. Barry Forman was one of the strongest leaders in the beverage alcohol industry among both the suppliers and distributors, which were numerous in the 80’s and 90’s. He clearly was ahead of his time as management transitioned from a dictatorial mindset to more of an empowerment style, and he gave me autonomy to make crucial decisions. While he sold the company in 1999, he continues to be a friend and mentor.
What kind of person are you looking for when you hire for your team?
I look for someone who is a strong leader and developer of people. One of our key responsibilities is to develop talent and bench strength. Additionally, they have to be accountable and instill that same culture with their respective teams.
What’s a lesson that you had to learn the hard way?
I was in the middle of a tough consolidation of two companies and while I was seeing a great deal of progress in our operational KPI’s, it hadn’t translated to the bottom-line yet. There was a fair amount of concern among the executive team and they did not come on board until the P&L reflected the progress. Lesson: The bottom-line is the bottom-line!
What’s on your iPod right now?
Too many 80’s songs and, surprisingly to some, some Hip Hop.
If you could time travel, what would you want to say to the college-age you?
While internships are commonplace now, they were not in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I would tell myself to get some other business experiences while in college.
One piece of advice for young, aspiring leaders:
Surround yourself with good people and INSPIRE them to excel for you and your team. I believe that people motivate themselves and as leaders we inspire them to do so.
Biggest Pet Peeve?
Telling me what you think I want to hear instead of what I need to hear.