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Sun Worshiping, Moon Chasing, Fun Seeking: 5 Questions with J. Smoke Wallin



J. Smoke Wallin’s latest endeavor, Beach Whiskey, is “an American whiskey made for sun worshiping, moon chasing, fun seekers. A whiskey for the wise and the whimsical. A whiskey for those drawn to the water, the waves, who welcome a little wickedness…”

Wallin is a brand incubator and global sales, marketing and brand distributor. He serves as CEO of Taliera, LLC and co-founder and CEO of Beach Whiskey, LLC.

 

Below, he discusses his extensive experience in the beverage industry and the impact joining Young Presidents’ Organization in 2003 had on his life.

1.
What was your first job or business?

 

I joined Seagram right out of Cornell University as a RAM (retail account managers). This was the training program, and I learned the basics of merchandising and selling from the best-managed beverage company in the world at the time. It was a valuable way to start my career in the beverage industry.

 

2. What is the most difficult leadership lesson you’ve learned?

 

In 1999 when I was 32, I created eSkye.com, the B2B internet company for the alcohol business. I raised more than USD55 million from venture capital investors and grew my team from zero to 122 in 18 months. When the dot.com crash happened and the venture community was running for the hills in all deals, some of them came after their investment in my company. These were some of the largest funds in the world and a very powerful group of investors. I did not allow myself to be intimidated by them and stood my ground. I ended up buying them all out.

 

During this time, I had to shrink the company down to a team of five. I personally had recruited and hired most of the team and so letting more than 100 of my team go was the hardest thing I had ever experienced. I chose to personally let each person go and to be up front and honest with them that it was not their fault, but rather, our situation. Most of those people took it well and understood. I also committed to helping as many of them get placed in new companies as I could and actively helped by using my network. I can honestly say I’m good friends with most of that group of people today.

3. What is your favorite beer, wine or spirit and why?

 

Beach Whiskey. It’s my newest creation and bringing whiskey to the beach is not just a brand, it’s a movement. I welcome all of you to join me.

 

4. How has being in YPO positively affected your business or leadership?

 

In 2003, when I joined YPO, my kids were 13, 11, 8 and 3. Today they are 26, 24, 21 and 16 … wow nothing like kids to express the passing of time! Since then, I’ve been blessed with a lifetime’s worth of experiences both professional and personal as a direct result of YPO. This was not an accident. It did not just happen to me. You see, I don’t believe in doing things part-way. Either you commit or you do not. When I joined YPO I made a commitment to give and get as much as I possibly could.

Henry David Thoreau said, “True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.” This is YPO.

From Australia to India to the United Kingdom to cities throughout the U.S., YPO members have been welcoming and helpful to me and my family. I know this because I dined at their homes, visited their businesses, attended their events and engaged with them in business. I know the last 12 years of my life have been greatly enhanced by this commitment.

 

5. One insight he would like to share from Seth Godin’s TED Talk:

 

Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.

 

I believe brands have to figure out how to reach their tribes and how to engage with them. Notice, I did not say “create” their tribes. This is an important distinction. I believe tribes are discovered not created. Brands who overtly try to create one typically struggle. If a following is not organic, today’s savvy consumers sense it.  I think brands can make themselves relevant and worthy of a following and then as that following begins to show signs of life can play a role in fostering and accelerating it.

 

YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™. For more information, visit www.ypo.org.