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Big Corporation Embraces Quirky Culture

Ravenswood has gratefully adopted some of Constellation's structure and formality.

September 18, 2003
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Related Topics: Mergers and Acquisitions
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Name: Constellation Brands, Inc.
Location: Fairport, New York
Business: Producer and marketer of alcoholic beverages
Employees: 5,000

In 2000, Constellation Brands was looking for a line of zinfandels to add toits portfolio of fine wines. At that time, Ravenswood Winery, in Sonoma,California, was growing the category at a tremendous rate and needed a cashinfusion to maintain its momentum, says Kimberly Dreyer, former head of humanresources at Ravenswood and now director of human resources for FranciscanEstates, the fine wine division of Constellation Brands.

    From a product perspective, the merger was a perfect fit. However,Constellation Brands is a big public company with a lot of structure, policies,and procedures, while Ravenswood was very relaxed and unstructured, Dreyer says."Constellation was formal and traditional in its approach to sales andmarketing, whereas Ravenswood was quirky and grass-roots." For example,Ravenswood's slogan, "No Wimpy Wines," is on everything from billboards to thekey chains, glowing super balls, and license-plate holders that the companyhands out at wine tastings, Dreyer says. "We have fun with our marketing, andwe are successful because consumers like what we do."

    When Constellation bought Ravenswood in 2001, employees were afraid that thecompany's unconventional approach would be squashed. "Our people heard the word`corporate' and the hair on the back of their necks stood up," she says. Buttheir concerns were unfounded. "The Franciscan team saw that our approachworked," she says. "They knew that it was what made us unique, so they leftthe culture intact."

    To make sure employees understood that the Ravenswood environment wasn'tgoing to disappear, Dreyer, along with the Ravenswood founders and Franciscan'spresident, Agustin Huneeus, called a Caw Caw, which is raven-speak for a companymeeting. In keeping with tradition, the function was held at the companybarbecue pit, complete with food and wines from Franciscan's other product linesto sample. "The Caw Caw was a time for everyone to ask questions, to cry, or tojump for joy," Dreyer says. And everyone went home with a sample case of wineto enjoy.

    The meeting was kicked off with a speech by Huneeus, welcoming the Ravenswoodteam aboard. "He showed us that he respected our way of doing things and caredabout our concerns," she says. To further acknowledge the company'sSpanish-speaking employees, the Chilean-born executive made all of his remarksin English and Spanish. His efforts went a long way toward easing people's fearsabout the future and building a relationship between the two companies, shesays.

    That's not to say there weren't a few changes. In the two years since thepurchase, Ravenswood has gratefully adopted some of Constellation's structureand formality, such as clearly defining all of the employee policies andprocedures, Dreyer says. For example, Constellation includes a section onstandards for ethical and legal conduct in the employee handbook, which coversrules on such issues as alcohol use and environmental standards. "Ravenswoodwould never have done that, but you need that kind of structure for the good ofa company," she says.

    Today the Ravenswood line is a dominant brand in the zinfandel market, and itcontinues to gain market share at an aggressive pace, fulfilling the businessgoals of the merger. Dreyer attributes their continued success toConstellation's respect for the Ravenswood way of doing things. "Ravenswood isa strong voice in the organization. We feel important."

Workforce, February 2003, p. 61 -- Subscribe Now!

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