Samuel Whitmore, Owner Of Bag And String Wine Merchants

Each month, my weekly business column features a respected leader in our region who has been in their career long enough to have learned a lesson or two worth sharing. The name of this monthly feature is, Leadership Reflections.

You will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the featured leader’s leadership journey that led them to their current role. Most importantly, you will gain valuable insight from helpful “real life” lessons they’ve learned along the way. It is my hope that these life lessons will help to inspire a spirit of continued personal leadership development for everyone who reads it. Enjoy getting to know Samuel Whitmore this month.

Q: Tell us about Bag and String Wine Merchants.

A: Bag and String Wine Merchants is a boutique rare wine and liquor store located in the village of Lakewood. We place an emphasis on value and offer unique wines from around the globe. Our primary goals are to provide unparalleled service, wine education and a selection that meets consumers’ needs and budget. Our website address is www.bagandstringwine.com.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I attended the University of California, Davis where I earned a certificate in winery management and wine making. I also attended SUNY Empire State College where I earned a bachelor’s in business administration and management.

Q: Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?

A: Disclaimer: my answer is not to score points. I would have to say my father-in-law, Dr. Robert Berke. A lot of people would assume that a father-in-law would encourage their daughter’s husband and the father to his two grandsons to play it safe. In his nearly 30 years serving this community, he has had his ups and downs. He has always been a tremendous resource for advice and support. He saw an opportunity to create a better shopping environment for wine and spirits and supported me from the beginning. While I am no means a visionary, I did recognize a need in this area for something better.

The other person who influenced me was my previous boss and mentor, Tim Thornhill. He is a partner at Mendocino Wine Company in California. If anyone (demonstrates) leading by doing, it’s him. Tim is supportive and understanding without compromising on his expectations. He is the kind of person who makes you want to be your best without asking you to be. That is an amazing leader.

Q: When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?

A: Personality. I will always hire to personality, maybe even over qualifications. Throughout my 20 years in management, I’ve (witnessed) some terrible interviews – the kind where you find yourself wanting to answer a question for the candidate who has suddenly become almost mute. I would encourage anyone seeking a career or job to do three things: review your resume (better yet, have someone else review it); research the company, and practice your interview. It’s also wise to prepare for some anecdotal conversation (with the interviewer). People tend to hire those who they could enjoy light conversation with at the water cooler.

Q: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

A: Just one is hard. I see three. In order of importance, they are: humility, champion your employees, demonstrate what matters. A previous mentor introduced me to a saying from Truman, “You can accomplish anything in life if you don’t care who gets credit.” That saying supports championing your employees. Make them look good and you will look good. The last characteristic: demonstrate what matters – also supports humility. If I’m in the middle of something in my office and we have a rush of customers, I’ll be the first to grab cases of wine to bring out to a customer’s car. (When this happens), I’m reminded of my former boss who owned a winery in Sonoma. He was a multi-millionaire. One Saturday morning, I arrived before any of the other employees and there he was in the parking lot – picking up trash to make sure the winery tasting room entrance looked perfect. I recall this from over 10 years ago, and it still influences me today. Whether you lead a small business like mine, or a large corporation, your actions matter.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at ecipolla@jlnick.com or visit JL Nick and Associates’ website at www.jlnick.com.