Hoya Highlight: Jeffrey Schiller (MBA'08)

Jeffrey Schiller

Associate Director Marketing, Deustch Family Wine & Spirits | Author of Wine Hack

Tell us about Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. What is the history behind the company and what makes it so unique?

We're a family company that has been importing wines to the U.S. for 35 years, building big consumer brands like [yellow tail] and family-owned labels from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and all over the world. Small, family-run companies can be a mixed bag, but if you've cut your teeth at a big company, they are refreshing. The focus on quarterly profits and the potential gyrations that Wall Street can force on public companies are checked at the door, and instead you can focus on building brands for long-term value. So the decision-making is smarter and, of course, the culture is fundamentally different. We have a real community of people passionate about wine! There is nothing better than finding passion in your work. That passion even led me to write a book, something I never dreamed of doing, but it has been an amazing experience.

What characteristics or skills do you feel are necessary for one to possess to excel in your industry?

Sturdy liver? Nah, just kidding. Creativity, passion, and leadership. I'm not sure these are unique to my industry, but having the curiosity and passion to birth, nurture, and champion good ideas is what sets leaders apart in wine and spirits. And leadership isn't just about a good concept or enrolling an organization in that good thinking—executing it and bringing it to life in a way that drives your business will keep you well paid and on a path to more opportunities.

Tell us about your book.

It makes me crazy that there is still so much confusion and anxiety connected with wine, it should not be laborious to find wines you like on a regular basis. But it isn't the consumer's fault, it's the failing of the wine industry for not giving people the right vocabulary. We have to stop with the ridiculous, flowery descriptions—"dried cranberries, wet stone and tobacco"—these esoteric flavors don't actually describe the wine, they are just one component of the experience. I wanted to offer people a new way forward, something that would eliminate the confusion and anxiety of wine. It was fun to write.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your career and how did you overcome it?

Staying sober between all of the wine tastings? Nah, just kidding. Believe it or not, for all of our apparent romance, complexity is our issue. You have lots of competition—there are over 200,000 SKUs of wine sold in just New York alone—and all of those wines have to fit through the same funnel. There are big box retailers like Costco that compete with your mom and pop liquor stores, who in turn compete with Safeway, Olive Garden and your favorite corner bistro. So finding a way through this complex route-to-market is challenging: the largest brand in the wine industry has a 1% share, and the smallest has something smaller than a 0.0000001% share. It takes sound strategy and creativity to come out on top.

How do you think your time at Georgetown has influenced your professional values?

For me, the Georgetown community has left a powerful imprint. I never felt that success had to come at the expense of anyone else or any values I hold dear. Georgetown taught me to view the world in a way that builds communities, inspires, and uplifts. There are still too many companies focused on extracting value—these companies will soon be dinosaurs. You don't have to choose success at the expense of your community. In fact, there is nothing more rewarding than achieving success with or because of your community. Georgetown taught me that, and I don't see any other place that leads by example like the Hoyas.

Do you have any philanthropic or service-related passions?

The cause nearest to my heart is the Bethany House in my hometown of Cincinnati. My mother is the executive director and she works tirelessly to combat homelessness and provide emergency shelter for women and children in need. I've also had the privilege of raising over $400,000 for our troops, first responders, and their families. Another perk of being a family-run company is that we are active in supporting our nation's heroes, working with Operation Homefront, the Gary Sinise Foundation, and the National Volunteer Firefighter Council—all are amazing organizations that tackle serious issues affecting those that sacrifice so much for us.

What was the last book you read?

The Last Lion. Churchill was a beast. And quite fond of the drink, which I appreciate.

Any parting words of wisdom for your fellow Hoyas?

Work hard and follow your passion. Nothing bad comes from either one of those things. And for aspiring wine connoisseurs—try my book! #LearnByDrinking