Interview: Greg Akins on his 30th Anniversary
Mar 01, 2019
Name: Greg Akins
Title: President and COO of Wine Warehouse California
Hometown: San Diego, California
Number of years working in the wine industry: 30 years
While attending college, I worked part time in both restaurants and retail wine shops, which planted the early seeds of interest in the beverage alcohol industry and also established a burgeoning passion as a consumer.
After graduating and taking a rather unfulfilling job with a large, Fortune 500 company, I often considered what a career in the beverage alcohol industry would be like. Those thoughts lingered for a couple years and eventually led to taking some action in thoroughly exploring opportunities.
I engaged a number of people I knew in the beverage alcohol industry to get their advice and counsel on where they thought the industry was heading and to discuss various career options.
It was during those conversations that I first learned about Wine Warehouse. After then talking with several people who worked at Wine Warehouse at the time, I quickly realized this would be the right company to start my aspiring career in the quickly expanding premium beverage alcohol industry.
What advice do you have for young people looking to enter the business and climb the proverbial ladder as seamlessly as you did?
While it’s certainly important to set specific career goals and to have meaningful short and long term aspirations, I don’t think people should really fixate solely on “climbing the ladder.” Instead, I suggest first finding your area of strong interest and then focus fully on that specific job, while relentlessly striving to be the best you can be in that role.
Learn absolutely everything you can about that job, perfecting your competencies and constantly challenging yourself to be better. Continually validate the value you deliver, not only in your current role, but also to the organization as a whole. Learn and appreciate other colleague’s roles and responsibilities, and how they interact with your role and impact the overall company.
Most importantly, be patient and enjoy every aspect of your current job. All too often people are so obsessed with the distant horizon and the next steps in their career that they fail to fully immerse themselves in their current role, learn it thoroughly, and truly appreciate the moment.
If you can successfully follow the above advice, opportunities will inevitably unfold, but not before you have earned it and are genuinely ready for that next step in your career.
What are some things you enjoy doing in your free time?
I believe strongly in maintaining a healthy work-life balance and one that complements both professional and personal goals and aspirations. When not working, I enjoy quality time with family and friends, which more often than not involves great food and beverage. Favorite hobbies and activities almost always involve the outdoors and especially anything on or in the water.
What is your favorite varietal of wine? Favorite type of beer? Favorite spirit?
Like many of us in the industry, I’ve probably been asked this question more than any other. I don’t necessarily have a favorite per se and I really just enjoy the seemingly endless opportunities for trying something new and exciting, whether it be a beer, wine or spirit. I have been collecting wine for many years and there’s a little bit of everything in the cellar, but it is weighted more heavily towards Bordeaux. Likewise, my bar at home has something for just about every occasion. My beer selection changes constantly.
Early on, who were some people who made you want to grow with the wine industry? Who were your mentors and teachers?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many incredible people in our industry and from all walks of life, but those who’ve made the greatest impact on me and have most inspired my career choices, are individuals driven first and foremost by their passion for the business. Passion leads to enthusiasm and a desire to continually learn and grow. The most influential teachers in my personal life have been my parents.
The most influential mentor in my professional life has been James P. Myerson, Chairman and CEO of Wine Warehouse. Jim saw potential in me long before I realized where and how my career would develop at Wine Warehouse. He has always offered sound council and advice, been incredibly supportive, while continually challenging me to strive for greater heights.
“Everyday I am fueled to actively engage and support the people I work with, whether they’re colleagues, suppliers or customers. I also start everyday with the objective of improving on every aspect of my job. I’m always pushing myself to be better and that’s the strongest motivation in life.”
What are the best perks and experiences one gets from working in this industry?
The people you meet with a shared passion for the industry. An opportunity for continual learning and growth.
What drew you to work with Wine Warehouse instead of a corporate distributor?
I left the corporate world to join Wine Warehouse thirty years ago and never looked back! In joining Wine Warehouse, I joined a family.
What makes working in a family-owned business so special?
You feel as if you are an extended part of the family and not just a nameless employee.
How has your relationship with the Myerson family shaped you as a leader?
This is unquestionably the most influential force in my career development over the years and also effects how I approach my job on a daily basis. They have entrusted me to manage a company that was successfully built by three generations of sacrifice, dedication and unwavering commitment. My decisions and actions must always honor that legacy and fully align with their values, while also ensuring the welfare of the hundreds of people comprising the Wine Warehouse team.
How would you describe the WW family culture?
Generous and supportive, while creating an environment for employees to grow, develop and achieve their personal best in every aspect of their lives.
Can you speak to the WW core values – quality, integrity and family – and how they’ve shaped your working relationships?
Wine Warehouse core values are complementary to the values with which I was raised. To always act with honesty and accountability to build trust and achieve desired results. To foster a culture of excellence and to ensure long-term success, while honoring the worth and contributions of each individual in the organization.
What are the most important decisions you make as leader of WW?
I believe the most important decisions in a leadership role is centered around the empowerment of others and a leader’s ability shouldn’t be measured by their own advancement, but rather how well they advance the lives and careers of others.
Share a Wine Warehouse story about an accomplishment you’re proud of.
I’m most proud of the team we’ve built at Wine Warehouse. While we have a remarkable history and have employed many highly skilled individuals over the years, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a more capable, diverse and dynamic team than the one we have in place today. This team clearly reflects our key mission in recruiting and retaining the most talented individuals in our industry. As we work diligently in providing a comprehensive career development path for all our employees, I’ve made it my personal objective to ensure that the same doors that generously opened for me over the last thirty years are also accessible to anyone else who fully dedicates themselves to grow and develop within our organization.
THE ROAD FROM SALES TO PRESIDENT
I actually started in the Broad Market Division, in 1989, as a sales representative in a predominantly independent retail territory in San Diego.
Within that first year, I transferred to a more traditional Broad Market territory, consisting of a mix of on-premise and independent retail accounts.
I then transferred to a newly created Club Division, consisting of membership club-type accounts; Price Club, Costco, Sam’s Club, Pace and Price Savers.
This segment was expanding rapidly and was a highly disruptive force in the retail landscape. This created many opportunities to take on ever expanding roles and I eventually relocated to northern California to run the Club Division.
A few years later, I added the responsibility of managing the Chain Division in northern California, while still managing the Club Division statewide.
After a couple years in that role, I was promoted to COO for northern California and was responsible for all sales and operations for the ten years that followed.
In 2012, I was promoted to President.