Leaving Corporate America
September 5, 2018
Ever dream of quitting your job and moving to wine country? Of course you have, because who hasn’t! There are a lot of former corporate execs here in Paso Robles. They might just give you the inspiration to follow your dream.
OWNER, THOMAS HILL ORGANICS
What was your role in corporate America before you came to join the wine community? I worked most of my corporate career in the sporting goods industry in product development, marketing and sales. I started out in New York City at the age of 22 working for the Foot Locker Corporation as a merchandiser. I was promoted to a buyer but soon realized I wanted to be on the other side, the design and manufacturing side, creating trends. I worked for companies like Starter, Apex One and Rival managing their product design departments. I then moved to California to work in marketing for Agron, the company who designs, markets and manufactures all of Adidas accessories. I finally went to work in sales for Adidas so I could move to Paso Robles.
What inspired/motivated you to quit corporate America? The real reason I left corporate American is I did not want to move. I had lived in Paso Robles for a few years and I loved it. However, all of my major Adidas accounts had closed. Adidas asked me to move to Seattle to take over the Nordstrom’s account. I had two weeks to make a decision. I was part owner of a 10-acre organic farm and asked myself “How hard could it be to open and maintain an organic restaurant?” It didn’t take long to realize it was the hardest thing I would ever do. Did I mention I moved here to retire?
Did anyone think you were off your rocker? Are you serious?? All of my friends thought I was crazy except for a few. About 60% of restaurants fail in their first year. But I thought I could do anything at that time. My dear friends the Gelfands, who own Gelfand Winery, were my biggest supporters. They helped me get the restaurant ready to open.
How did you come to choose Paso Robles as the backdrop to this adventure? I lived in Pasadena at the time and I was over the traffic and commuting. I fell in love with Paso on a weekend wine tasting trip. I decided “this is where I want to retire.” So when an opportunity came up with Adidas to move north I jumped on it.
Would you do it all over again? That is a really tough question as I think back at the first 3 years and the struggles I had, both financially and emotionally. Farm-to-table had not emerged and people thought we were a vegetarian restaurant. 10 years ago “organic” was a tough sell in Paso Robles. It didn’t help that my entrance was in an alley. If I had to do it over I would have used someone else’s money not mine to get started.
What has been your greatest reward? I did it, I took a huge risk and I made it past the 5-year mark and I am still in business! Honestly, there are two great rewards from owning THO. First, I love to see our guests happy. When they come to THO and have a wonderful experience it is the most rewarding feeling. Second, I love that I have built a business around what I believe in!
Marc Goldberg and Maggie D'Ambrosia
OWNERS, WINDWARD VINEYARD
What was your role in corporate America before you came to join the wine community? Maggie and I were both hospital administrators for 25-35 years at large hospitals across the country and lastly in 1989 in Los Angeles.
What inspired/motivated you to quit corporate America? We always had a fantasy to “live off the land”, being “flower children of the 60’s”. After visiting France, we were preoccupied with the idea of making a great American, Burgundian style Pinot Noir….since Marc had courted Maggie with a 1959 Romanee Conti. Marc also jokes he was tired of listening to all the doctors “whine.”
Did anyone think you were off your rocker? We took an 80% cut in salary and everyone thought we were crazy! But we were pursuing a dream, a fantasy. We took “bridge jobs” in Paso and planted our vineyard in 1990. There were about 12-15 wineries at that time.
How did you come to choose Paso Robles as the backdrop to this adventure? While running hospitals during the 80’s, we would spend weekends searching from Santa Barbara to Mendocino for the “terroir” that would support our dream. We stumbled on Paso and had some of Stanley Hoffman’s 1976 HMR Pinot Noir that had been influenced by Andre Tschelistcheff. That sealed the deal.
Would you do it all over again? Absolutely…Marc only says he wishes he had done it sooner. It was an ideal venture. We are so happy here, great friends, beautiful wine and food.
What has been your greatest reward? The acceptance of the community and having the support, encouragement and love of our friends. We are happy that we were able to contribute to carrying forward the pinot noir history in Paso Robles.
Steffanie & Steve Anglim
OWNERS, ANGLIM WINERY
What was your role in corporate America before you came to join the wine community? We were solidly in the rat race. Steve was a true car guy – General Motors and then Nissan corporate. At GM, he worked about every aspect of the business, from the plant to product planning and marketing to finance. At Nissan, he was a finance guy, but once a car guy, always a car guy. Don’t challenge him on anything automotive. To this day, he can name any car on the road just from the tail lights.
I was a management consultant, doing global strategy and transformation work. The work was great; it required constant learning and problem-solving and persuasion. But the schedule could be grueling. Ironically, my oldest daughter is now a management consultant. I must admit that, when she called and told me she was making the career change, I teared up from laughing so hard. She clearly does not remember her upbringing.
What inspired/motivated you to quit corporate America? For me, it was homework by fax. I was working overseas extensively. When she needed help, our oldest daughter would fax her math homework to me, and I’d call her from the lobby of the client’s office to coach her through it. She was an accomplished clarinetist too and played in the District Orchestra. I listened to many a band concert via cell phone. About the same time, Steve’s company decided to relocate to the East, and Steve wasn’t quite ready to give up California. It was an opportune time for both of us to reassess how we were living. Steve had been making wine as a hobby for several years, and it wasn’t awful. That seemed like all the motivation we needed to chuck it and move to Paso to make wine!
Did anyone think you were off your rocker? Oh….pretty much everyone! Honestly, I think most people were simultaneously incredulous and 100% committed to supporting us. Personally, we could never have made the transition without the help of our families. They have been our biggest cheerleaders, salesmen, wine festival staffers – basically anything we asked. Professionally, we were fortunate to be embraced early on by some wonderful local winemakers, who offered space, equipment, advice, and, most importantly, the friendship and encouragement we needed to launch the winery. That culture is what sets Paso Robles apart.
How did you come to choose Paso Robles as the backdrop to this adventure? Steve and I are both from the Midwest, and Paso Robles feels very similar to the communities in which we grew up: small, tight-knit, smart, friendly. I especially fell in love with downtown Paso Robles the first time we stumbled on the Christmas Lighting Ceremony held in the Park Thanksgiving Weekend. Seeing the town come together to sing carols and drink hot cocoa just spoke to me, and was such a nice respite from Los Angeles. Steve appreciated the cocoa but was really more excited by the promise of Rhône varieties in the region. It was the early 2000s, and the segment was just starting to take off. We felt it was good timing. And the close proximity to some of his favorite Pinot Noir regions sealed the deal.
Would you do it all over again? Sure! Yes! Probably…Absolutely! That’s how the wine business feels sometimes…. We’ve been in it now for 16 years, and are learning something new every day. If we were starting from scratch today, we might tweak some things here and there, and avoid a few bumps. But, on balance, the choice to chuck it was a good one.
What has been your biggest adjustment? For me, it was the pace. Coming from global consulting, and having feet in both worlds for a while, was tough. I was accustomed to quick turnarounds and 24/7 everything. When we moved to Paso Robles, even McDonald’s closed at 9 pm. I think I have adjusted now – mostly.
Steve says his biggest adjustment was losing the infrastructure of a corporation. There’s no product planning, legal, accounting, or marketing departments to call at Anglim Winery. Just us. You don’t have 2000 people there to get it all done. So, Steve has had to learn to balance all of the elements: winemaking as an art, a craft, a science, and a business.
What has been your greatest reward? Steve gets to go to work every day crafting his wine vision from beautiful fruit grown by our friends and neighbors. That’s pretty amazing for a kid from Michigan. And, this is the only life our youngest daughter knows; it has allowed me to work in her classroom, and to be present at every band concert. It’s a privilege, honestly, to do something we love.