Great Brands = Great People: Keys to Effective Talent Development

In every organization, the right people are critical drivers of a successful brand. But how does your organization develop the next wave of talent that will be successors for today’s leaders? And once you identify these emerging executives, how do you put them on the succession track?

Garrett Sheridan: When it comes to talent, it is a topic that is top of mind for CEOs and all of the C-suite and our clients. There is very low unemployment. Companies are struggling to lure employees from one company to theirs, so they are trying to strengthen their employee value propositions. The other thing we are seeing a lot of is that they are investing more in succession planning to identify high potentials early and give them different experiences than they might otherwise have if they left them in very traditional career ladders. How do you think about that and what do you do to develop the next wave of sales leaders and ultimately your successors? How do you think about that?

Bruce Jacobson: We spend a lot of time thinking about succession planning and talent development. Because we know that great brands are a factor of having great people. You don’t have great brands if you don’t have good quality people helping build them from a marketing standpoint or a selling standpoint and keep them strong in the marketplace. You have to be able to have wonderful people to be able to do that, and keep them around so that you keep that talent pool strong.

So we do a number of different things. From a recruiting standpoint, we have recently become much more aggressive on our diversity and inclusion side. We are attempting to build our selling and marketing organizations—and organization as a whole—to be much more reflective of the consumer base that we service. And what we find when we do that is that we bring better solutions to a broader perspective of the marketplace when we have the opinion, the idea, the foresight of what the marketplace is looking for from individuals that have diverse backgrounds. It is working really well for us. We are still relatively in the early stages, but I am proud of the progress we have made while we have been focused on this the last several years.

And then once you get the right people in the organization you have to help them grow. You mentioned a succession planning. It is a critical piece. We do much the same thing I would think a lot of companies do. We look for our high potential individuals, the ones that have high performance and upside, and then we invest in them. For the entire organization we have a Constellation University, that has a broad range of learning experiences that can help give the individuals opportunities to learn more about what it is that they are working on, anything from business analytics to early stage management. We have a couple of very specific programs we are working on right now. We have an emerging executive program. These are individuals that are in critical middle management roles that we see being able to step in the upper management over the course of time. We have partnered with Harvard and Harvard Business publications to be able to create a curriculum that is specialized just for them. We just finished a cohort this week and, I’m thrilled with the people went through it and the reaction they got out of it, and the skill sets that they have been building over the course of time. We really reinforce how they can now use that information and skills they have built to also build their team’s (skills). And that’s what is so important behind it.

GS: I know you are busy, but I also imagine that you drop in and spend some time with those people — the high potentials, or the people in University, certainly on the sales side or maybe more broadly.

BJ: It is broader than that. I am the executive sponsor of the emerging executive program. It goes across our beer, wine and spirits business. It goes across the functionality of sales, marketing, supply chain, all of the operations side, financial, legal and the entire organization; high potential candidates from all the functional areas of our company. I do take it very personally. I love doing it. I love seeing people grow. It is amazing when you watch; you can almost see the light bulb come in over their head when they ‘get’ a concept and they start applying it. It is even more rewarding when they come back to the class and give you a success story and say, ‘Last time we talked about something, I have applied that, and this is my result.’ You see the energy and they feed off that. It is great to do that.

GS: Final question on talent. You’ve been very successful growing your career, from Crown Imports and now at Constellation Brands, into a broader and bigger role. What advice would you give to somebody who is starting out either in your business, or maybe general advice to somebody who wants to be in sales or in a commercial role?

BJ: To me, the big thing, and I’ve learned this very late in my career. One of my sons and I were actually on a chairlift in Breckinridge, Colorado, talking to the people that ride chairlifts with you, because you’re never alone on a chair lift. This particular day we were riding up the hill with the ski patrol gentleman who had just retired from a business in Denver. He was talking about one of his friends, and he said his friend had a mantra that in the first part of your career you need to be great at learning, the middle part of your career is all about earning and then at the end it’s all about returning. So learn, learn and return. To me, that was a new concept of the time; this was probably about 15 years ago. And I have really adapted that over the course of time, although the change that I have made to it is that you don’t do those things in sequence, you do those things all the time. You should always be thinking about how you are stretching, learning and growing yourself. As an executive, that helps your organization see how important it is—if you, as an executive, are investing in yourself that way, they will invest in themselves that way as well, or are more likely to.

On the earning part, we should all earn what the value is that we are driving to the company, so we should never be shy about saying ‘I think I need more resources,’ to here to help this from a personal standpoint, if we really believe we are driving that forward. And you should always be looking at that.

And the last piece is returning. Returning can be in mentoring or community service. It can be done in so many different ways. Often, I will hear people early in their career say, ‘I like the return idea, I just don’t have enough experience to do that.’ The answer is that if you are in the business world, there are people in college that want to be in the business world. Talk to some of them. If you were in college, talk to people who are maybe graduating from the same high school that you graduated from. Spend time with them. Whatever it would happen to be, there is always someone that looks up to and aspires to be in the spot that you are, and you can help them understand how to get there. And I think one of the greatest gifts that executive can get is mentoring and sponsorship.
GS: I love that. In our business our brand is the people, and they go up and down the elevator every single day. So from day one we need to have that strong development orientation in terms of returning. Even our youngest people can work with our interns and impart knowledge to them. I hope that our partners do the same thing to grow the next wave of leaders in our firm.
BJ: That ensures multi-generational success versus a short window of success where you might be onto a great client or hot topic or great product. But if you’re not developing the next wave of leaders that are going to develop the next waves of products that you are selling, or nurture the next client, it is not sustainable and it is going to come to an end at some point in time. And that can’t happen on our watch.
GS: Which makes talent such a critical component of the flywheel of growth
BJ: It absolutely is. No question.

Other videos in this series:

Growth Through Data and Customer Insights

Creating a Distinctive EVP

Meeting Challenges to Drive Growth

Establishing Sales and Marketing Alignment

Facing Competitive Threats: Constellation Brands and the Craft Beer Industry


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