#SWAAYthenarrative

Women, Whiskey and A Side of Equality

4 min read
Culture

When I decided to pursue a career in whiskey, I knew it might be an uphill battle. The spirits industry has a competitive edge and being a female in a male dominated space, I knew I needed to be ready to take on the competition. I never set out to be the first female ambassador for The Macallan Single Malt Scotch, but as I pursued my career with unrelenting passion and knowledge, I was able to land my dream job in 2016.

Today, one of the biggest challenges I face in my role is changing the fundamental stereotypes in society that have developed overtime and are now ingrained in our culture. For many years, whiskey advertising was solely targeted towards a male audience and it was widely assumed that men were at the forefront of whiskey drinkers. However, throughout my career this has steadily changed as more women have expressed their curiosity and interest in whiskey.

Not only are more women entering the spirits industry professionally, but there is also a rise in female whiskey drinkers. This is supported by female led groups like Women Who Whisky and Women of the Vine that break down barriers within the male dominated alcohol industry.

Today, one of the biggest challenges I face in my role is changing the fundamental stereotypes in society that have developed overtime and are now ingrained in our culture.

As the number of female led whiskey brands grow, it gives women the chance to learn and develop their passion within a like-minded community which then paves the way for women to pursue a career within this category.

My own journey started in 2006, when I moved from London, England to Louisville, KY. As the birthplace of bourbon, it was hard not to embrace the Kentucky's indigenous brown spirit and the culture established around it. I learned to drink and appreciate whiskey in a society where it was almost rude not to. Thanks, Kentucky.

As my passion grew, I became fascinated with the history, heritage and tradition and was eager to learn more. Originally born in Scotland, my family has a deep-rooted love for Scotch so it wasn't long before I discovered and fell in love with the amber nectar of my homeland.

When entering the industry I was inspired to see so many strong, intelligent women leading the way. Today, I am proud to say I am part of this movement to revolutionize the industry, by making whiskey more accessible to women and by empowering them with the knowledge and confidence to push back on antiquated stereotypes. It's exciting to see the culture of whiskey changing before my eyes. Throughout my time in this business, I have continued to see more women who have never tried whisky before attending events as they are eager to learn more and experience whiskey in a new way.

As the number of female led whiskey brands grow, it gives women the chance to learn and develop their passion within a like-minded community which then paves the way for women to pursue a career within this category.

The stereotype that women are less informed about whiskey than men is, surprisingly, still an obstacle that I continue to battle. When I first began working in the whiskey world, it was immediately apparent that I had to work harder to prove myself. I wanted to be an expert, which meant dedicating myself to absorbing every bit of information I could. I started with learning how to differentiate one whiskey expression from another using the color, tasting notes and smell. I researched what made each whiskey truly unique - where they matured their whiskey? How they matured it? What was the process? What was the difference between a whiskey that matured in sherry casks versus American bourbon casks? The more I learned, the more my confidence grew. The stories behind the whiskey and process of how the spirit is made is truly magical, but it wasn't until I started working in the industry that I could really see the craft, dedication and relentless obsession to quality that goes into creating the most admired Single Malt Scotch Whisky in the world.

Through my role I'm able to share a depth of knowledge that will help educate both men and women while dispelling the notion of whisky being "a man's drink" and that is something I really enjoy.

Recruiting new consumers into the whiskey category, particularly women, comes with its own challenges, not because they're intimidated by whisky, but because they're also intimidated by men who tell them they don't know what they're doing.

One strategy I love that makes whiskey more approachable is to pair it with something familiar. Most people don't know this, but whiskey actually pairs better with cheese than wine does. This takes a well-known occasion - wine and cheese - and puts a whiskey spin on it.

Whiskey and cheese works so well because whiskey has a higher alcohol content than wine, which allows for the rich characteristics of the spirit to bring out the bold flavors of the cheese. Flavor profiles that often get overlooked when pairing with wine or beer, shine through when paired with whiskey. And it's simple! Anyone could set this up at home for a gathering. It's also subjective, so you don't have to be an expert to pick your favorite pairs.

Through my role I'm able to share a depth of knowledge that will help educate both men and women while dispelling the notion of whisky being "a man's drink" and that is something I really enjoy.

Finding new avenues and experiences to introduce whiskey to any consumer that's standoffish is a struggle. But empowering people, especially women, to feel comfortable going up to a bar and ordering a whiskey is truly what makes me love the work I do. My job affords me the opportunity to share knowledge, despite being a female in a male-dominated space, and allows for me to champion other women, both in the industry and outside the industry looking to break in.

We need to be the change we want to see. We are continuing to see more and more women establish themselves as leaders within the category and if the advice I can share about my journey and the obstacles I've faced can help encourage other women to join in, than that's all I can ask for. I am truly proud of how far I've been able to come in the industry and will continue to push not only my fellow females to think bigger but will challenge society to as well.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.