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U.S. Wine & Spirits Distributors Unveil A Major Commitment To Diversity

May 2, 2018

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America trade group kicked off its 75th annual convention and exposition in Las Vegas, Nevada yesterday with a general session that featured outgoing president and CEO Craig Wolf, incoming chairman Barkley Stuart, Constellation Brands CEO Rob Sands, and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The morning program began with a montage of prominent wholesalers including Harvey Chaplin, Wayne Chaplin, Alan Dreeben, Bennett Glazer, Chris Underwood, Rocky Wirtz, Danny Wirtz, Charles Merinoff, Marc Sachs, and others recounting the humble beginnings of the middle tier in the U.S. and the commitment to family ownership that has helped it thrive since the end of Prohibition. Wolf, who will step down June 30 after 18 years with the WSWA to run for attorney general of Maryland, then officially opened the show, introducing new chairman Barkley Stuart, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits’ executive vice president and director of government affairs.

Stuart affirmed that the organization will continue to be a forceful advocate for the industry at all levels of government, while using data and analytics tools to reach consumers in new occasions. But he also announced a new focus for the organization: diversity.

Stuart’s theme as chairman, he said, will be to promote diversity, specifically aimed at working to end the pay and achievement disparity between women and men. “There are dollars in diversity,” he said. “Companies with greater gender diversity are more competitive and therefore more profitable.” He cited data from McKinsey indicating that the companies with the most diverse teams report 21% greater profit than their competition, and a Credit Suisse report that showed that a corporation with women on its board reports an above average return on equity.

“It’s the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do,” Stuart said. “Early adopters are going to reap big wins.” He added that women make 70% of alcohol purchasing decisions and represent over half of alcohol delivery customers. Finally, Stuart implored attendees to take part in the 2018 Women in the Workplace survey run by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, and insist on diverse candidate pools when hiring. “If we do not ensure that diverse ideas get heard, we’re not doing our jobs as leaders,” he added.

Following Stuart, Mast-Jägermeister U.S. CEO Jeff Popkin took the podium to bestow the Sidney Frank Innovation Award on Constellation Brands CEO Rob Sands. In accepting the award, Sands described the momentous changes across the business over the past three decades and the transformation of Constellation from primarily a dessert wine company into the cross-category powerhouse with strong brands across the wine, spirits, and beer arenas. Sands also echoed Stuart’s remarks on the importance of diversifying the leadership of the industry and closed with a note of support for the three-tier system. The reason the U.S. remains the largest, most profitable wine and spirits market in the world, Sands said, is because of the benefits provided by three-tier model.

The morning’s general session closed with a speech by Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State from 1997-2001 under President Bill Clinton. Albright began by noting the “tangible contribution” to both the U.S. economy—and diplomacy—offered by the wine and spirits industry, regaling the audience with stories of her days on the wine and food-intensive diplomacy circuit around the world. “Food and wine sends a message,” she said noting that on President Macron of France’s recent state visit to Washington he was served American wines aged in French oak. Albright then detailed the current state of geopolitics and international diplomacy, advocating for cautious optimism in regard to upcoming negotiations with North Korea and urging President Trump not to abandon the current nuclear deal with Iran. —Daniel Marsteller and Shane English

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