Monday, June 28, 2010

Kathryn Lindstrom of J Vineyards & Winery Honored for Women in Business 2010

Women in Business 2010: Wine: Kathryn Lindstrom
By Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff Reporter, June 25th, 2010

General manager and chief financial officer
J Vineyards & Winery
11447 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg 95448

HEALDSBURG – Passion and pragmatism drew Kathryn Lindstrom to apply her lifelong love of mathematics to navigating a number of luxury-tier wineries through their turbulent organizational and economic times over the past two decades.

At the helm since 2006 as general manager and chief financial officer, Ms. Lindstrom has been carrying out founder and Chief Executive Officer Judy Jordan’s goal starting in 1999 to create separate sparkling and varietal wine operations under one roof.

“I wanted a balance of strong fiscal responsibility with a drive for quality production and service here at J Vineyards & Winery,” Ms. Jordan said about selecting Ms. Lindstrom from other candidates.

At the same time, Ms. Lindstrom has been putting to use accounting, finance, operations and management skills developed over the years to keep the ventures moving during a challenging market for fine wines in the past two years.

“Now, for every dollar you need to get a significant return on assets and get the investment back at a higher rate,” she said.

Yet adjusting the momentum of a winemaking business, in which it can take four to six years from vine planting to bottle filling, is tricky, particularly when the economic currents shifted as quickly as they did in 2009, according to Ms. Lindstrom.

“It caught most of us in the industry by surprise,” she said.

Yet as challenging as financial forecasting is these days, J’s continuing transformation plus an increasing array of winemaking and sales metrics is helping the company stay on a more even keel, Ms. Lindstrom said.

For example, winemaking software now supplies even small wineries with information helpful in tracking costs and make precise adjustments. Also helping are computerized point-of-sale systems in tasting rooms as well as customer transactions and commercial banking both over the Internet. Decreasing costs for depletion data give operable information on a timely basis even to the small winery.

“Kathryn has risen to the occasion working toward finding new and innovative ways that we as a winery can continue our path of quality wine production and excellent service while driving fiscal responsibility and accountability through our winemaking operations,” Ms. Jordan said.

One necessary part of cost containment in challenging times is contract negotiation.

“You’re not always in a position of power, but you still need to go through with it and maintain relationships,” Ms. Lindstrom said. “Right now, there are short-term needs, and I need to balance them with long-term relationships.”

Key long-term bonds with growers of grapes are integral to the brand’s reputation. While working with Dick Arrowood at Arrowood Vineyards & Winery in Glen Ellen, she learned from him the importance of those relationships. Sometimes the winery needs flexibility from growers on contract terms to meet bottle sales, and sometimes the growers need similar help from the winery.

In fact, Mr. Arrowood is among her key career mentors, which also include Vic Motto and Mike Fisher, now with St. Helena investment bank Global Wine Partners.

“I worked hard to make choices that fit my career to get to this point,” she said.

Accounting and finance have been growing career fields for women since she started. In the wine business, many money-related departments have a large female representation. Ms. Lindstrom’s career used managing money as a course toward managing companies.

She graduated cum laude with an undergraduate business administration degree from Humboldt State University in Arcata. A top mathematics contestant in high school, she opted to concentrate on accounting in college rather than engineering or architecture, though she studied building design also.

After college she spent three years as a senior auditor in Deloitte & Touche’s Santa Rosa office in the early 1990s. From there she progressed to become an audit manager at wine-focused accounting and consulting firm Motto Kryla & Fisher in St. Helena, now called Frank Rimmerman & Co.

In 1995, she decided to learn more about running a luxury wine business, joining Peter Michael Winery in Calistoga as controller.

That led to her first management position, vice president and chief financial officer of Arrowood in 1998. She developed the management team and a marketing-heavy long-range plan.

Mr. Arrowood gave her a list of new disciplines to master, including the artistic side of the business. The allure of the luxury wine business is what attracted her to pursue wine accounting.

“The wine industry is a perfect blend of art and science,” she said.

Yet she found herself at first having more in common with growers, whose pragmatism had been honed over decades of agricultural variability.

In 2000, she was involved in the negotiations with Robert Mondavi Corp. for the acquisition of Arrowood.

At that time she was given the role of general manager of finance and operations of Arrowood.

In 2002 she was appointed as director of finance and administration for Oakville’s Opus One Winery, started in 1980 as a joint venture between Robert Mondavi Corp. and Baron Phillip de Rothschild S.A.

The professionalism brought with Robert Mondavi Corp. went up with Opus One, in having to report to an international board of directors, according to Ms. Lindstrom.

Constellation Brands acquired Robert Mondavi Corp. in 2005. A year later Ms. Jordan recruited Ms. Lindstrom to lead the remaking of J. Part of that included winding down a custom-winemaking contract with Remy for the 100,000-case-a-year Piper-Sonoma sparking wine.

That move worked well to position J for the 2009 crash in fine wine sales, because the extra capacity was put into producing a $20-a-bottle Cuvee 20 bubbly brand to reach a new sweet spot in ultrapremium wine pricing.

At J, Ms. Lindstrom heightened her food-and-wine sensory skill set through the chef’s creations. Such elegance, exemplified in the Bubble Room tasting salon, was one of the core values she worked with Ms. Jordan to develop. One of Ms. Lindstrom’s favorite parts of the job is communicating those values to the staff and then using those values as performance metrics.

“It’s about building momentum of the company culture,” she said. “It’s always been there, but now it is more structured.”

Link to Kathryn Lindstrom video interview:

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