The Captain and the Retailer

Here is another story from Bob McBreen…

An East Coast retailer persuaded Seagram to hire his son. He started his career like most, calling on stores during the day and doing on-premise promotions at night. On this particular night he was working a Captain Morgan drink night and since he was the “new guy” he had to wear the captain suit.

It seems that he had a bit too much to drink, and in direct violation of company policy he decided to drive home instead of finding alternate means. Shortly after leaving the bar, with his reactions a bit dulled from sampling the Captain, he rear-ended the car stopped in front of him at a traffic light. Realizing that he was in a bit of trouble he decided that his best course of action was to get out of there as quickly as possible. He left the car and ran to a nearby business where he caught a cab home.

Once safely home he made another fateful decision and called the police to report that his car was stolen. This was just about the time that a police car rolled up to the scene of the accident. When the officer asked the driver of the car that was rear-ended what happen he said that he wasn’t really sure but the guy driving the car that hit him was dressed as a pirate and ran away.

As you can imagine it didn’t take long for law enforcement to figure out what happened and a few days later the young Seagram recruit was back working behind the counter at his family’s liquor store.

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Those Seagram Folks

I was talking to a fellow Seagram Alum the other day and the conversation turned to what made Seagram unique and where people are today.

He pointed out that ex-Seagram folks occupy top positions in many companies in the industry.

He’s right; all of the top 5 spirits companies have former Seagram people in very senior spots. When you think about it further, the Seagram folks play important roles throughout the industry – suppliers, distributors, retailers and service providers.

I suppose it’s because of a number of things that characterized the company back in the day. Perhaps it was the combination of self-confidence (some would say arrogance) and humbleness. A belief that there was a Seagram way to do things and getting it done didn’t have to be in an overbearing manner. Strength of conviction combined with respect.

Me? I think Seagram people learned to adapt, survive, flourish and succeed because of the common enemy. Sort of like a successful person who grew up with dysfunctional parents but knew he could survive if he relied on his siblings. In short, it’s called camaraderie.

They did us a favor by shutting the lights.

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Distributor Sales Rep

The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Of America (WSWA, for those of you in the business) will hold its annual meeting next week. There have been lots of changes in the second tier over the past few decades. From marketing to logistics to the people on the street, spirits wholesaler operations have become much more professional.

But it wasn’t always like that as this story from Bob McBreen who worked at Seagram from 1984 to 1990 illustrates. (Bob was a GM in Missouri and a Manager in Massachusetts.)

Bob was working in Massachusetts in the 1980’s when the 375 Spirits Co. (one of the Seagram companies) introduced Mumm Cognac.  The idea was to use the Champagne credentials to enter the highly profitable Cognac business. In typical Seagram fashion, the new product introduction to wholesalers was an elaborate affair held in a hotel ballroom complete with a French themed dinner.

After dinner the team got down to the business of introducing the product to the distributor sales people. The focus was on the quality, romance, and the story of selling a cognac with the specialness of the Mumm name.  They educated the sales folks on the geography of the Cognac region, the type of grapes used, the distillation process, and the magic of aging… with terms likes Angel’s Share, Grande Champagne eaux de vie, quality grade differences, etc.

After an extensive tasting session with emphasis on the different characteristics of such a high quality product, the salesmen were asked if they had any questions. One hand when up.  It was from a salesman who had been in the business for years. “Yes Irving, what is your question?”

“Does this shit come in half gallons?”

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