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Eric Grams of Williams Selyem & Pebble Ridge wineries wins CFO award

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Eric Grams

Chief financial officer

Williams Selyem Winery, Pebble Ridge Vineyards & Wine Estates

7227 Westside Road, Healdsburg 95448

707-433-6446

www.williamsselyem.com

Eric Grams of west Sonoma County’s Williams Selyem and Pebble Ridge wineries wins one of North Bay Business Journal’s 2017 North Bay CFO Awards.

Professional background: 20 years in the wine business

Education: University of California, Berkeley

What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?

Traditional roles of accounting and financial reporting, banking, risk management, and tax planning and other regulatory reporting are important but, I think the most important role of the CFO is as a facilitator of company wide information into a coherent measurable plan. It is essential to develop a forward looking plan utilizing information from throughout the company to prepare budgets/forecasts/long term plans that create the framework and set the standards necessary to measure performance and meet the financial goals of the company going forward, not looking back.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry?

We were lucky and smart to be a direct to consumer brand from the beginning, but during my 20 years in the wine business the big change for small wineries like us has been the emphasis on DTC as direct shipping opened up in states across the country. This created obvious financial benefits for wineries but this transition was also impacted by industry consolidation which made working through the 3 tier distribution system more difficult for smaller wineries. It also has had a significant impact on vineyard values as DTC wineries can make returns at vineyard prices that growers

Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past.

Transition in leadership has been the biggest challenge we faced recently. We are lucky to have strong ownership and a good staff at the winery which allowed us to prepare and minimize problems during this transition. Variations in yields have also been a challenge and an opportunity. We were able to utilize some big yield years to smooth out revenue flows on low yield years to keep wine available to meet customer demand.

What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?

Build relationships throughout the organization and be a team player. Those relationships provide you with the information you need to make you more effective

What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment?

Be prepared and try to anticipate problems. Maintain an ongoing five-year plan, which can highlight risks you may face along the way and help you to avoid surprises. 6 P’s works! Make sure you have good relationships with bankers, insurance agents and any other important entities outside your company that understand your business and with whom you have developed trust

How do you think your business will change in the next five years?

Labor is the biggest question mark right now in the wine business. Hand made wine requires lots of hands especially in the vineyards where it all starts. It will be interesting to see how the shortage of vineyard labor affects grape pricing and, ultimately, wine prices. Technology is another area which evolves quickly and may provide new opportunities.

What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it?

Nothing specific. I have learned over the years to trust my gut. When something doesn’t feel right even though you can’t put your finger on why and you end up going ahead anyway, it usually turns out that I should have listened to that inner voice.

What is your most memorable business experience?

Building a new winery. That was something new for me and I learned a lot, some of it the hard way. I think most of my gray hair is attributable to that project.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

My friends would know this, but others I meet are sometimes surprised by my sense of humor. Financial people don’t always have the best reputation for enjoying a good laugh.

Eric Grams

Chief financial officer

Williams Selyem Winery, Pebble Ridge Vineyards & Wine Estates

7227 Westside Road, Healdsburg 95448

707-433-6446

www.williamsselyem.com

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