Business goal for the next 12 months: I’d like to get back into the wine industry on an operating level; that’s really where my heart and family activities are focused. My wife grew up on a ranch in Sonoma. With partners, we planted vineyards there in ’93; we have about 200 acres. It’s through my Sonoma roots that I was introduced to Ravenswood Winery which we took public through a Dutch auction in 1999. It was the first Dutch Auction IPO for Bill Hambrecht after he started W. R. Hambrecht & Co. After Ravenswood was sold in 2001, I got distracted by other opportunities in other industries. I love the cultural aspects of wine and the sense of family and community that it embodies. Wine is an integral part of sharing time together, both in daily meals and on special occasions. I would like a chance to create another wonderful brand.
Advice you wish you had received: How to stay ahead of the curve with a very fast growing business that is capital intensive. It’s tough – in the wine business you always have to plan ahead for several years while still looking back at the inventory which is maturing and needs to be sold.
It’s always about people in any business, so I would have liked to have known more about getting a team of disparate people to work together successfully, while still having fun. Looking back at the IPO, all went very smoothly. We worked well as team and we were lucky that we had great wines and brilliant business people who took a chance on each other. Back then, smaller companies could still go public which I believe would be almost impossible today. One of the problems we have as a society is that it is so regulated it dampens access to capital markets. If we could relax a lot of the regulatory requirements around a public company we might see more activity and have more dynamic and open capital markets.
Best business decision: I have several that I’m fortunate to call good decisions. Working for Ravenswood is one. It was a wonderful experience with great people and great products. It opened a whole new world to me and I learned a tremendous amount. The decision to create vineyards in Sonoma county is one I’m also proud of because it opened a whole new avenue for my family that is truly multi-generational. I will never look back on that decision.
The decision to join E.D. Bullard company is another. It’s an amazing evolution of a company – we were too young to know it back then that the chances of a successful turnaround were low but it worked, and it’s now a thriving business employing hundreds of people.
Toughest business decision: The toughest decisions are when a company is faced with such dire circumstances that it is forced to make profound structural changes that affect human lives. The challenge is to communicate to both the survivors and those who are not part of the future so that, although they may not agree with the decision, they understand it. As the leadership of a company you have to be willing to discuss such decisions in an open manner and it’s never easy.
Person most admired: My wife is the person who has had the most profound effect on me. She is a wonderful, smart and active lady who has showed me that serving a community can be truly rewarding. I also admire my grandfather who was a wonderfully caring, insightful man, a man who helped many and who made personal decisions that took precedent over his career.
Like most about job: I like that I have a wide variety of really interesting companies to work with and the flexibility to manage my own schedule.
Like least about job: In many ways having several companies to work with makes me become very peripatetic; sometimes I just want to sink into something intensely. It’s easy to get thinly spread but it forces you to switch gears quickly and not lag.
Dream job: I always wanted to be Secretary of Energy. I wanted to marry science and the knowledge of oil & energy with the practical aspects of business; few people that can bridge the gap effectively.
BEHIND THE SUIT
Birthplace: Pasadena, CA.
Education: Thacher High School, Ojai, CA. Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Earth Sciences from Stanford. MBA from Harvard (“Stanford wouldn’t take me”).
Favorite book: “The Once and Future King” by T. H. White. This is a fantasy novel chronicling the life of King Arthur.
Favorite movie: American Beauty
Outside of work: I love the outdoors – hiking, fishing, SCUBA diving, and of course Family.
Community: Former President of the Board of Trustees of the Thacher School (Ojai, CA) for 7 years, on the Board for 12.
Former Member of the Board of Directors, The Carneros Wine Alliance.
Former President of Family Winemakers of California.
Former Councilmember and twice Mayor of Belvedere, CA.
Councilor for Save the Redwoods.
Family: My wife, Sandra Donnell. a son, Nathaniel, (29) and a daughter, Claire (27)