Fine wine Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Somebody once told Bill Terlato, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

The president and CEO of Terlato Wine Group Ltd. still remembers that advice, which is one of the reasons why he finds creating a vision so important.

“If you want to lead, you have to determine where you’re going to go,” says the leader of the company, which is the $250 million parent company of several independent businesses specializing in the marketing and production of wines.

While you need your senior team to be involved with tactical and some strategic actions, you need to be the point person when it comes to vision.

“It’s very hard to have multiple people setting the vision,” he says. “I compare it to driving a car. It usually works best when one guy has got his hands on the wheel.”

Smart Business spoke with Terlato about how to get where you want to go.

Stay focused on the goal. We are just reminding ourselves constantly. If you know exactly where you want to get to, it seems like the road kind of just unfolds. The best way I can describe it — this is something I observed when I was young — in school, they do these aptitude tests. They give you these little mazes, and you are supposed to start at one end and work your way back to another. I was finishing these things a lot faster than everyone else in the class, and they didn’t understand how that was happening. They gave me one and watched how I did it. The way I did it was, instead of starting at the beginning, I started at the end and worked my way back to the beginning. I think it was just the way our mind works — start where you want to be and work your way back. All of a sudden, the road of how to get there will unfold before you.

Communicate and explain your passion. I have three children, 23, 20 and 17 years old. The first thing we always tell them is, ‘You should do what you love,’ because sometimes work can be tough, and it’s not always the most rewarding. If you don’t love getting up in the morning and attacking all of the obstacles and challenges, it makes it that much harder. Really, it has to be something that people have a passion about.

Then it’s always good to have some ability, as well. Maybe natural ability or maybe developed ability. I’m a passionate amateur golfer, but as much as I would want it, I probably wouldn’t be successful on the tour.

You have to match that desire for what you love with some ability to execute that. (Passion) is something that (employees) witness on a daily basis. It’s something that is consistent. It’s not something that you turn on and off. It’s something that you live every day. It’s setting high standards for our people of our expectations of them. But it’s also that those are no different than the standards that we set for ourselves. It’s a certain amount of leading by example.

Explain the reasons why. It’s something that I personally need to develop even more because I’ve learned that I will tend to be prescriptive. In other words, give people the answer to the question rather than walk us down through the thought process of how I arrived at the answer.

Giving people the answer isn’t the best way to do it. It’s quicker and maybe more efficient when you are busy, but it’s not the thing that really develops their own thought process. That’s one of the things that I’m working on trying to improve is my communication with people and walking them through not only what the answer is but how did I get there.

(I’m) working on being a better listener and also taking a little bit more time to have discussions with people. No matter how challenging things are, no matter how many things you have in your desk that need to get done, you have to take the time to be able to explain things to people if you want them to grow.

The way to do that is keeping your eye on the bigger prize. The bigger prize for me is that I am able to teach our people how we think as a family and how we do things. Eventually, it’s going to take some things off my desk.

Get buy-in. You have to be able to inspire people. Now, people have to believe in where you’re going and what you’re doing and your plans to get there. They also have to feel they can play a role in helping that to happen.

People see a certain amount of success, and people like to be involved in successful operations. I think that they see that there is an opportunity for success there. People admire the fact that people are really driven toward a goal. They admire that there is a strong focus. You have to set an example. People see the dedication of our family. Usually they will start to get calls or e-mails at 6 o’clock in the morning, and they’ll usually end around midnight. It’s not because we are trying to set some record for the most hours worked, but it’s just because something needs to be done and we aren’t satisfied until it is.

How to reach: Terlato Wine Group Ltd., (847) 444-5500 or