Adam McBride is the owner and general manager of Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan, Michigan. Adam acquired Hickory Creek two years ago and is transforming it to become another great destination on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Just 90 minutes from downtown Chicago, the wine trail covers many wineries, breweries and several restaurants for you to spend a day, a weekend or longer.

Before Adam purchased Hickory Creek, he worked in corporate America, running a distribution facility with 120 employees. I recently interviewed Adam and discussed his experiences starting his new career as a winemaker and winery owner.

Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?

Adam: It’s about having a purpose for your change. To me, transformational means significantly changing the process, the organization or the culture. The first 90 days of your leadership are critical. You must listen to your team, quickly identify areas to improve, build momentum and enroll the team to drive forward. It’s important to have small victories early on. This helps establish your credibility.

Steve: Tell me about a change that was particularly rewarding or challenging.

Adam: I travel to many different wineries to learn different approaches and of course, to try their wines. Once I discovered a system to visually track open wine bottles used in the tasting room. We need to track this for inventory control and reporting to the Liquor Control Commission. I brought the idea back and announced the new solution to the team. We would implement it immediately. There was some resistance, and the team found a few things wrong with the idea. Based on this feedback, we agreed to run both our old system and the new system in parallel for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, and with additional input from the team, we adopted the new system.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of the change?

Adam: I simply kept the message in front of them – this will be easier, take up less room, and be much cleaner. Fruit flies are a problem in the tasting room during warm weather and the new system will eliminate most of this problem.

Steve: Please comment on any organizational challenges you’ve experienced, particularly taking over the business.

Adam: The three men who originally owned the winery were prescriptive. Employees were not able to make any decisions on their own. Changing this culture has been a challenge. I encourage my employees to make their own decisions regarding their work. If someone needs to come in and work a few extra hours to catch up, I let them make that decision. I also encourage is risk taking. Sometimes we try ideas and they don’t work. That’s okay, and I admit when I made a mistake. One example: The winery tried a version of food service previously and it didn’t work out. I wanted to try it again. It didn’t work the second time. For me, having the humility to try again, fail and admit it goes a long way to build your team and build trust.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Adam: Surround yourself with the right people. Set the vision. Trust your people. Ninety percent of the time, people want to do their best. Let them, and they might just surprise you and do more than you expected. My other piece of advice? Drink Hickory Creek wine and everything will be fine. It even rhymes.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve

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