From the hallway, you hear an explosion of laughter, followed by another. Then there’s a long pause, and people begin to spill out of the conference room.
“That was fun,” said Kristi Marsella, vice president of talent management for E. & J. Gallo Winery. “Fact is, it is fun to be part of the largest family-owned winery in the world that is outpacing industry growth. It’s fun to own 25 percent market share in every category on the wine aisle. And even more fun to have done it on your own terms.”
Leaders at E. & J. Gallo Winery have avoided the scrutiny of Wall Street since the winery was founded more than 75 years ago, right after the repeal of Prohibition. The company’s current generation of leaders plans to keep it that way.
“We’re family-owned and that’s how we’ll stay,” said Joe Gallo, CEO and son of co-founder Ernest Gallo. “Families think in terms of generations, not quarters. We’re in it for the long haul, so we’re willing to make investments our competitors won’t make.”
One value that has stuck since 1933 is to search doggedly for the right opportunity, then invest in it — hard and fast. Joe Gallo chose a big one in 2009: his own people.
Beginning in 2009, Gallo simultaneously added two major systems into its people development arsenal: a bottom-up, homegrown management fundamentals curriculum and a top-down leadership academy.
A Unique Split
Gallo chose to create two parallel learning paths, one for management skills and the other for leadership skills.
“When we started to brainstorm all the subjects that fall under ‘leadership,’ the project just got too big,” Marsella said. “We split it into two projects: Gallo Management Fundamentals (GMF) and Gallo Leadership Fundamentals (GLF).” (See Figure 1.)
The management skills series targeted the entry-level supervisor, and the focus was tactical execution with a splash of strategy. That training was designed by a team of Gallo leaders from different functions and comes from several sources: Gallo-created; AchieveGlobal content; facilitated by Gallo; and handled by external training partners who customized the training for Gallo.
“The goal of our team was to get the best materials and most credible facilitators for each segment, whether that meant our own experts or hired guns,” said Shaun Stephenson, manager of corporate training for Gallo.
“When a Gallo leader is first assigned direct reports, he or she will go through six days of GMF training in two three-day chunks,” Marsella said. “Gallo leaders from all functions facilitate most of the 12 segments, which range from learning about Gallo’s organizational structure and grape-to-glass supply chain to performance management, coaching skills and financial skills. Every training day is opened by a different company officer who talks about their own experiences as a supervisor, laced with pearls of wisdom about leading people.”
Gallo Leadership Fundamentals — the series focused on the more strategic aspects of a leader’s role — has made the biggest splash of all. Jeff Bland, vice president and the head of production, operations and global supply chain for Gallo, was at first uneasy about Joe Gallo’s 2009 directive to have vice presidents facilitate GLF once they’d been through the course themselves.
“I’ve had a successful career, and I know what I’m doing,” Bland said. “But when they told me they wanted me to teach leadership, I got nervous. I’m no trainer. I wanted HR to do it.”
Today, Bland is one of the dozen vice presidents facilitating the training for the director and senior manager levels.
“We got some resistance at first,” said Michelle Lewis, global vice president of human resources for Gallo. “What really sold them was the feedback from focus groups made up of Gallo managers and directors who said, ‘We want to hear it directly from them.’”
Laying the Tracks for GLF
“The rest was easy,” said Rene Tomlinson, GLF project manager at Gallo. “We just needed to figure out how to help leaders fine-tune all the skills in the model — starting with the vice presidents.”
It was no small task. The team members pieced together their big ideas and called in additional help. Korn/Ferry’s Leadership and Talent Consulting Group partnered with Gallo to fill in the gaps and provide instructional design support.
“We sank our internal resources into GMF, so we needed help with GLF,” Marsella said. “There were subjects we just didn’t know how to train at the VP level. Korn/Ferry helped us materialize our plans. In addition, we had them facilitate the three VP sessions so we could learn from Korn/Ferry master facilitator Glenn Kiser, who certified our trainers.”
Gallo created, in partnership with Korn/Ferry, a leadership development program that captured the company’s history, core values and future focus. The centerpiece is the Gallo Leadership Model. On the heels of the winery’s 75th anniversary, Gallo staffers did some soul-searching about what has made the company a success. They interviewed current leaders, reviewed footage of speeches by Gallo leaders and archives of discussions with the founders, Ernest and Julio Gallo, and conducted focus groups at all levels of the organization. They ended up with a simple model that reflects Gallo’s DNA.
That leadership model is now turning up everywhere at Gallo. It’s built in to performance assessments, tied in to the 360-degree feedback process and embedded in career and development plans as well as interviewing criteria. There is also online training about the model.
“We knew from the beginning this had to be our own,” Marsella said. “There’s no other company built like us, so we had to tell our own story. The GLF team interviewed 75 Gallo vice presidents and senior directors to find out where they first learned the lessons that made them the leaders they are today. Those stories not only bring color and life to their model, but they are preserving stories about Gallo in the early years: many about the founders, Ernest and Julio, and the leadership lessons that have woven themselves into the fabric of the culture.”
Turning Learning Into Action
The capstone of the Gallo program is action. Individual leaders are challenged to apply the tools they’ve learned at GLF to one of their business initiatives, using other leaders in the class as consultants and advisers.
“I’ve been with Gallo for 15 years,” said Tom Gillespie, area vice president of sales for Gallo. “I have a terrific network of resources, but GLF has helped me expand that network across the business. I’ve gotten some of the best business advice of my career during this session.”
The GLF experience also helps leaders speak the same language and guides them on a personal journey to learn the Gallo leadership model. Along with short bursts of knowledge offered by a facilitator, participants learn from the stories of other leaders, craft their own perspectives to share, practice to hone the message and finally record their story for posterity.
Gallo leaders admit it will take continued investments to keep the momentum going, but they are committed to try. “We are thrilled with the results of the first two years of this strategy,” said Marsella, “and it’s made our leaders hungry for more. The good news is that we are finding ways to channel that energy and put it to work. Line managers help develop the courses and facilitate them. Our job is to lay down the tracks so those leaders can keep the learning going.”
“It’s changed the way people work, yes. But even more, it’s changed the way people feel. And now we have more resources than ever,” said Tomlinson. “Things move pretty fast around here.”
“It is clear that this program has had a profound impact on our future,” said Lewis. “Our leaders now speak the same language and can relate to the DNA that fuels our success. Every day we see key performance indicators that this investment in our leaders is paying off.”
Just as the roots of the vines feed the grapes and lead to a good harvest, this program is rooted in the culture, so it continues to feed the production of good leaders and the harvest of employee engagement. Marsella and a cadre of business-leader facilitators continue to drive the leadership fundamentals broader and deeper in the organization around the world. Like a fine wine, it will keep getting better.
Maryann Billington is senior partner for the leadership and talent consulting arm of Korn/Ferry International and provides consulting, executive coaching and leadership development as well as enterprise learning solutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.