Name: Robert J. Aldridge
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: St. Francis Winery, Sequoia Grove Vineyards, Domaine Carneros LTD.
Company address: 500 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95409
Website: www.stfranciswine.com, www.sequoiagrove.com, www.domainecarneros.com
Number of company employees: 250 plus 150 seasonal
Business Background: General Electric Co. various divisions and businesses around the U.S.
What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?
To drive the strategic business goals into clear tactical actions for all facets of the business with line of site to the financial statements.
What are the biggest changes you've seen in your industry?
The plethora of brands erupting from everywhere, wineries, retail and chain outlets, distributor owned, etc.
Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past?
Over the last few years of this recession, we have been able to sell our wine in the marketplace timely, but also in a way that does not create any long term negative impact on our brands. In fact we are now growing across the board. We have done that through a combination of new sales channels and some opportunistic new products.
What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?
Know the operating side your business and how they accomplish their goals. This way you can better understand what levers are available to the business and the impact of using them before you need to consider them. This will enhance your relationships and make you a better strategic partner with your president.
What's the best advice for weathering today's economic environment?
Ensure that you keep a higher level of liquidity than normal, so you have some options. Also, it is rare that the right way is all one way or the other, usually it is prudent to find something a little more in the middle during this unsettled time. We have a saying at the winery right now, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.
How do you think your business will change in the next five years?
I think we are going to see brands come and go even more quickly. It has become easier to create a brand and run with it as a fad, then turn it off and start another. I think we are going to see every major chain business or affiliated businesses (restaurants and stores) have their own brands and be looking to source those wines vs. buying name brand products.
What is a decision you wish you hadn't made? What did you learn from it?
When I was at GE Appliances, we took on more than a dozen initiatives in the same year ... we were very aggressive and pushed very hard, but we did not maximize the benefits on several of them. Now at St. Francis, we strategize on the top three to five initiatives/projects each year and really nail them, along with a few new ones that inevitably jump up during that year. We prioritize and rationalize tighter, and leave a little capacity to be opportunistic.