Wanted: CEO For A Winery, No Experience Necessary

Harvard MBA Daniel Schmid is looking for a CEO for his family’s winery in Austria. No wine experience necessary to apply

For a good number of MBA students, becoming CEO of a company is something of a long-term goal.

But Daniel Schmid, a Harvard Business School MBA student, is looking for a CEO for his family’s winery in Austria, and he wants a smart, highly motivated person to take on the job–either before or immediately after earning an MBA. Schmid, who has no interest in running the business and intends to return to McKinsey & Co. when he graduates this spring, is thinking of it as a “gap year” program for a young professional who wants to be “CEO For A Year.”

He’s targeting young professionals who want to use the experience to go on to prestigious MBA programs or a career in management, though Schmid is also willing to consider newly graduated MBAs who want a shot at the job. The CEO would essentially run a 20-acre farm that in a typical year would produce 5,000 cases of Grüner Veltliner. In Pillichsdorf, Austria, about a 15-minute drive from Vienna, the farm has been in operation since 1661 but it is now down to producing just 1,000 cases a year.

A 100-DAY MENTORSHIP BEFORE YOU RUN THE SHOW

The “program” for his recruited CEO includes a 100-day mentorship from Schmid and his brother, Josef, the expert winemaker, after which the CEO would then implement a plan to take the Schmid Family Winery to the next level. “In your first 100 days, you’ll learn the ropes,” says Schmid. “You will shadow every role. In the vineyards, you will drive a tractor. And on the 100th day. you will decide what the priorities are for the rest of the year. On top of that, you will have some coaching from established CEOs and business leaders who I know.”

Schmid concedes his scheme is unusual. But his 82-year-old father is retired and his winemaking brother has no interest in the business of the winery. “My brother loves making wine but he does not love running a business,” says Schmid. “No one in the family has the capacity to fully run it from day to day. It is a business that has everything in it: you will learn how to sell, how to manage inventory, how to organize events, and how to manage a team.

“It’s kind of a crazy thing to do, but we are doing it out of necessity, and I don’t think we would get the kind of talent that would traditionally go on to HBS or McKinsey. We are trying to attract that kind of person. It is currently not a healthy business so it will be a good transformation opportunity for someone who gets the job. After the first 100 days, we’ll have an exchange of ideas on what needs to be done. In the end, that person has the boots on the ground and they will do it. He or she should know where they are going and believe they can make it work.”

‘YOU WON’T BE SIPPING PINOTS ALL DAY LONG. IT’S TOUGH WORK’

His ideal candidate? “I envision someone who does not have a winery background,” he adds. “I envision it to be someone who later on may want to do an MBA and has high hopes for his career and wants to use this as a learning opportunity. Maybe it’s also someone who just got an MBA and wants one year before doing something more conventional. You will learn from the ground up. The selling is very tangible. You will sell at a farmer’s market. You will drive a tractor in the fields. You will figure out how to import wine into the U.S.

“You will definitely be a wine expert by the end of the year,” Schmid adds. “But I don’t want to paint only a rosy picture. You won’t be sipping pinots all day long. It’s tough work. It’s a tough industry. It is not for someone who wants to sit in an office every day. You will get your hands dirty. You might have to put in long hours week after week. But it is a good business challenge.”

And Schmid sees another plus to the job as well. “It is an experience you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Every time you sit at some fancy dinner and you order a glass of wine, you could say I ran this company for a year. That is a nice side benefit.”

The Schmid Family Winery, just outside Vienna

APPLICATION DEADLINE: MARCH 20

The CEO will live on the farm and be fed from the nearby farmers’ market. The person would get a stipend of 200 to 300 Euros a month to cover what Schmid calls “weekend expenses.”

Schmid says the assignment could stretch beyond a year, if the CEO does a good job and wants to continue in the role. “It’s up to them,” he says. “If after a year, they say this is my life and they have done such a stellar job, then maybe. We would work things out. But going in there is no expectation that they would stay longer than a year.”

Meantime, he expects dozens of candidates to apply. “It will be extremely competitive, more competitive than HBS,” he believes, because only one person will get the job in the end.”

Schmid has set a Feb. 28th webinar for would-be applicants to the job. He’ll answer questions and explain in detail the process to apply. There is an application deadline of March 2oth for what he is terming “a motivation letter.” “They have to explain what they are in it for, what kind of drive they have, and what they are hoping to learn and what their mindset will be going in,” he says. Then, it will move pretty fast. We will have interviews the week after that. You will talk to me and my brother and then by the end of that week, we expect to send out confirmations. We might want to meet them for half a day before offering the job to one person.”

While speaking German is a requirement for the CEO job, he’s also looking for an English-speaking chief of staff who would report to the CEO.

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